Characters

The short story “The Whale” by Witi Ihimaera features a central character, the old man, and some episodic characters, such as his niece Hera and the collective character of the people in his village .

The narrative follows the old man's perspective and his thoughts. He is a round, complex character, who changes as a result of the action. At first, he gets angry when he sees his culture starts dying and at the end becomes almost resigned with this situation.

The old man's niece belongs to the younger generation and the old man believes she can be a keeper of Maori culture . As a little girl she is fascinated with the old man’s stories , but she grows up and moves to the city. When she returns to visit, she finds it “difficult to reconcile the Maori way with the Pakeha way” . She refuses to return to the village but eventually agrees to take a book of ancestors the old man gives her. The man is confident that she will find her way back to Maori culture .

The collective character of the Maori people from the village is mentioned throughout the whole story from the old man’s perspective. The man sees the older generation as a keeper of traditions, but they have all died except him. The younger generations are described as having abandoned both their village and their culture for a different life .  Those who are still in the village lost the language and the respect for their traditions . As the old man puts it: “And the young, not understanding custom, do not come to this meeting house with respect, nor with aroha. They look with blind eyes at the carvings and do not see the beauty and strength of spirit…” . Overall, they are more attracted by the ways of the white man and his culture and have lost contact with their ancestral heritage.

You can read the old man's characterisation in the next page.

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