The old man

Outer characterisation

The old man in the story “The Whale” by Witi Ihimaera is unnamed. He is only referred to as “old kaumatua”, “old one”, or “Koro”, which means “elder”. This implies that the man’s individual name is not important because he is a typological character: the wise old man. Describing him as old is symbolic of his life experience and the wisdom and knowledge that come with it. The only other physical detail mentioned about him is the fact that he has poor eyesight as “his eyes dim.”

The story reveals that he was born and lived in the same Maori village all his life and that his family are all dead: “In this whanau, this old one is the last of his generation. All his family, they have died.” He used to have a wife, brothers, and sisters, but it is unclear whether he had children of his own or if the children mentioned are only those in his extended family . He still has a niece named Hera who lives in the city.

The man’s house is on the beach: “his own house lies on the beach, apart from the village.” Finally, the story reveals that the man is expecting to die soon.

Inner characterisation

The old man’s inner characterisation is constructed by conveying his thoughts, memories, and actions. These show him to be a complex character, a symbol of Maori wisdom.

Relationship with the Maori people

The old man’s actions and his relationship with the people from his village and culture are important character-building elements. From the beginning, we find out that he is visiting an old meeting house in the village, ...

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