Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors -- Leading Questions

Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors -- Leading Questions

Members of English 27, Brown University, 1997

1. Duff uses Joycean style, pschyco-realist, train-of-thought narration in Once Were Warriors. This style allows the reader to envision the "Maori sub-culture" from the point of view of Beth Heke. The story of this one family presents some important psycological perspectives of cutural disempowerment among Maori people of New Zealand. "These are my people. I love em. Or so she forced upon herself" (6). The theme of self-hate seems to prevade the narration like an unresolved threat. Beth refers to the people of the Pine Block as "mirrors of her own existence" (1). Many times she feels like at "traitor in her own midst because of her thoughts so often turned to disgust, disapproval, shame, and sometimes anger, even hate" (2). Does Beth ever resolve this self-hate? How can we see Grace and the other children dealing with their own feelings of disapproval regarding their community and their family? [Brandon Brown]

2. Duff has two chapters entitled "They Who Have History." Repeatedly he reminds us that the Maori have a history, yet they lack a history. In what ways does the funeral exemplify the past and present, this struggle with history? Duff employs the term history in many different ways in the novel:

"History. (He's got history, Grace and Boogie Heke, and you ain't.)" (29)

"He is saying Beth, that we are what we are only because of our past. . . and that we should never forget our past or our future is lost. . .Beth wondering if perhaps that was what ailed her people: their lack of knowledge of the past. A history." (118)

"Oh, aren't (they) we a together race when (they) we're like this? History, that's what they are. They are history and therefore so are we, and who needs anything else when you got the strength of history supporting ya?" (121)

Why do the pronouns continually shift from first to second person in these quotations and in the titles as well? [Kate Cook]

3. In Once Were Warriors Duff focuses on the difference between inside and outside, represented by the characters' inner dialogues that often do not match their actions, the motif of doors between disparate worlds (the waiting room and the courtroom (30), the street and McClutchy's (54)), and the depiction of cultural belonging (between and within Anglo, Maori, and Chinese cultures). How do narrative technique, language, and the motif of mirrors, or mirroring, relate to this dichotomy? [Erica Dillon]

4a. Geographies, landscapes, boundaries, and spaces have functioned as metaphors for border crossings, cultural collisions, and colonial relationships. Once Were Warriors begins with a description of home that clearly establishes the physical separation between the Maori in government housing, "two storey, side-by-side misery boxes" and the big house next door, spacious and secure in "rolling green pastureland" (1).

At the courthouse and McClutchy's bar, doors close, defining the separation between two different worlds. Driving to a Maori bar, Jake and Dool drive through Pakeha and Maori neighborhoods.

"They're like strangers--they are strangers, to most Maori I know. May as well be from another country the contact the two races have" (37). The act as if from different countries (compare to Sour Sweet).

Compare the intersection of physical and psychological divisions in the texts-- are there differences among the texts in which characters cross borders, in which racial miscegenation occurs, and in which the story unfolds in one nation?

4b. Compare luck in Sour Sweet and Once Were Warriors (11, 15). In Sour Sweet luck was connected to tradition and superstition. Is there also a relation between luck and colonization in these texts? (a lack of personal control, self-determination given more powerful forces).

4c. How does the pride Jake feels for his people, who have soul, rhythm, and passion (52, 53) compare to Lily's cultural pride (and arrogance, sense of superiority)?

5. What effect does Alan Duff achieve by writing "People doing scenes all over. All ov-ah" (66), and even spelling (sumpthin, or fuckim), in the vernacular? How does the juxtaposition of a highly perceptive (consider the interpretations of emotions, feelings, such as "the way men of violence defer to those they know or perceive as their physical betters" (54)), omniscient narrator with frequent vernacular narration affect the reader's experience of Once Were Warriors? [Jeremy Finer]

6. Just as Grace climbs the brick wall to see the other world of white people, Alan Duff breaks down a wall to let the reader see the postcolonial Maori world. Does the reader become a trespasser into the raw world of the Maori people? Are we invading their world just as the English invaded two hundred ears before? How do notions of territory and boundaries come to play? Look at the brick wall dividing the Hekes from the Tramberts, Jake's ownership of McClutchy's bar. How does Beth spy on her own people? [Laura Gelfman]

7. "Jake winking at her. Beth hoping it meant what she thought it did. Careful not to wink back because he didn't like the woman to be the instigator of that particular activity, nosiree he didn't. Sex was a man's choice first and foremost; in fact, a woman was careful she didn't show she enjoyed it too much or it made Jake wild, he'd start asking questions, or sulk, or not touch her for another month. But she had her ways of reaching her objective without Jake knowing she'd reached such a height."(14) Duff's book is filled with sexuality. Does the attitude surrounding sexuality, especially that of women, correlate with other aspects of the Maori culture? Why or why not? [Phoebe Koch]

8. Compare the position of women in Maori society as depicted by Duff to Emecheta's portrayal of the subjugation of women in Nigeria. According to Duff, does this situation exist as a result of problems in modern day Maori society or is it an intrinsic feature of the Maori culture of old? [Jennifer Gin Lee]

"Luck. A woman wasn't so sure about this luck business that it was really luck and not just plain hard work, self-motivation." (15)

"The magistrate was wishing Mark luck -- luck. Asking for the next case. Just like that." (29)

Whether the situation at hand involves Jake beating Beth, Boog being placed in a foster home, or the difference between life in Pine Block and the Trambert house on the hill, Beth and Grace seem to consider the concept of luck ludicrous. What does this outlook imply about women? Maoris? Whites? [Laura Otis]

9. Jake feels oppressed by Maori culture as well as Pakeha culture, and it is upon revealing this conflict that Beth observes that "Us Maoris used to practice slavery just like those poor negroes used to endure in America... Yet to read the newspapers, on the TV every damn day, you'd think we're descended from a packa angels, and it's the Pakeha who's the devil. Clicking her tongue: just shows, we're all good and we're all bad" [97]. How do the solutions offered by the pinstriped "Maori priest" deal with the complicated heritage of the Pine Block Maoris? [Elora Lee-Raymond]

10. Consider the passage:

The hell you mean, Maori way? You call yourselves Maoris? ...Can any of us in this room speak the language? What do we know of our culture?...She told them the Maori of old had a culture, and he had pride, and he had warriorhood, not this bullying man-hitting-wornan shet, you call that manhood? It's not manhood, and it sure as hell ain't Maori manhood. So ask yourselves what you are. (22)

What statement is Duff making about culture and colonization in this passage? Is it possible for a community not to have a culture? Is Duff insinuating that the dysfunctional subculture of Pine Block is a responce to the void left by the British stripping of pre-colonial Maori culture? [Uzoma Ukomadu]

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