The Sacrificial Child in Maori Literature: Narratives of Redemption by Keri Hulme, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, and Alan Duff
Abstract: This study is an examination of the theme of the sacrificial child in four of the most well-known novels by Maori authors published in the 1980s and 1990s: Keri Hulme’s The Bone People (1983), Patricia Grace’s Potiki (1986), Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider (1987), and Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors (1990). The motif of a special child whose death is the pivotal event of the narrative functions partly as a symbol of the destructive marginalization of the Maori people in colonial and postcolonial New Zealand, but it is also given a redemptive significance in that, in all the novels, the child’s death has the effect of healing and strengthening its community or family. In The Sacrificial Child in Maori Literature: Narratives of Redemption by Keri Hulme, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, and Alan Duff representations of children are studied from the perspective of childhood studies, which describes the cultural construction of childhood taking into account the power structure which subordinates children to adults. This perspective makes it possible to see that the representations of children in these novels often fall back upon a Romantic idealization of childhood as a pre-social state, involving associations to Nature and Origin, that positions children outside the normal subjectivity of the adult. A traditional Maori construction of the child as a sign of continuity is also present in the theme of the savior child who is revealed as a reincarnated ancestor. In this study it is shown that the use of childhood to evoke transcendental values favors a static image of the child as either a symbol of the future or of a utopian otherness. The sacrificial child is the most intense expression of this function of childhood in fiction, a function that immobilizes the image of the child and precludes representations of children as equal agents or subjects.
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