The Whale

This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Whale” by Witi Ihimaera. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for its interpretation.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Whale” (1987)
Author: Witi Ihimaera
Genre: Short story

Witi Ihimaera (b. 1944) is the pen name of Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler, the first Maori novelist published in New Zealand. Ihimaera writes short stories and novels which explore Maori culture in today’s world.  Ihimaera also worked as diplomat for New Zealand, stationed in the US and Australia.


Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide:


The title of Witi Ihimaera's short story, “The Whale”, will probably lead readers to expect the story to revolve around a whale, either literally or symbolically.

Reading the story, the title is shown to be symbolic, as the action of the story does not focus on the whale until the very end. The story contains references to two different whales. One appears in a Maori legend:

This is Paikea, riding a whale across the sea to Aotearoa. He was told not to let the whale touch the land. But he was tired after the long journey, and he made the whale come to shore. It touched the sand, and became an island.

The legend refers to an ancestor named Paikea who rode a whale to New Zealand, which is called Aotearoa in Maori. When the whale reached the shore, it turned into an island, now known as the island of Whāngārā. The story is symbolic of the Maori connection with marine animals and nature in general. It also suggests that the whale is a symbol of Maori settlements and culture. This ...

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The Whale

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