Witi Ihimaera’s short story “The Whale” was published in 1987. The references to cars, trains, and buses suggest the events take place in modern times, probably contemporary to the time the story was published. The events in the story start at sunset and end at night , but part of the narrative is a recollection of past events from over the course of the main character’s adult life .
The physical setting is a village in New Zealand , as suggested by the characters which are Maori and the use of Maori words. The main character, the old man, is described mostly in the meeting house of the village. The meeting house was a place of gathering in Maori culture after Europeans came to New Zealand. The creation of these houses was a way for the Maori to keep their culture alive. In the story, the house is depicted in detail The house is important for the old man who perceives it as a sacred place. At the same time, the house is symbolic of the old man himself, as it is abandoned and decaying – just like the old man is the last of his generation The house is also depicted in the past, when the old man explained its significance to his niece:
‘Hera, this is not only a meeting house; it is also the body of a tipuna, an ancestor. The head is at the top of the meeting house, above the entrance. That is called the koruru. His arms are the maihi, the boards sloping down from the koruru to form the roof.’