COMMENT CLOSELY ON THE WRITING OF THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE, PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE WAY THE CLIMAX OF THE STORY IS PRESENTED.
It was my mother who told us there were people coming. She had taken the telephone message while we were out of the house, and Jim was at the school.
‘Who are they? ‘My father said.
‘I couldn’t understand very well. It was a bad connexion . I think they said they
were the people who were here before.’
‘The people who were here before? What the hell do they want here?’His eyes
became suspicious under his frown.
‘I think they said they just wanted to have a look around’
‘What the hell do they want here?’ my father repeated, baffled. ‘Nothing for them
to see. This farm’s not like it was when they were here. Everything’s different. I’ve
made a lot of changes. They wouldn’t know the place. What do they want to come
‘Well’,my mother sighed, ‘I m sure I don’t know’.
‘Perhaps they want to buy it, he said abruptly; the words seemed simultaneous with
his thought, and he stiffened with astonishment. ‘By God, yes. They might want to buy
the place back again. I hadn’t thought of that.Wouldnt that be a joke? I’ sell, all right
-for just as much as I paid for the place. I tell you, I ‘d let it go for a song, for a
bloody song. They’re welcome.’
‘But where would we go? She said, alarmed.
‘Somewhere,’ he said. ‘Somewhere new. Anywhere.’
‘But there’s nowhere, ‘she protested. ‘Nowhere any better. You know that.’
‘And there’s nowhere any worse,’ he answered. ‘I’d start again somewhere. Make
a better go of things.’
‘You ‘re too old to start again’, my mother observed softly.
There was a silence. And in the silence I knew that what my mother said was true.
We all knew it was true.
‘So we just stay here, he said. ‘And rot .Is that it?’ But he really wished to change
the subject. ‘When are these people coming?’
‘Tomorrow, I think. They’ re staying the night down in the township. Then they’re
coming up by launch.’
‘They didn’t say why they were interested in the place?’
‘No. And they certainly didn’t say they wanted to buy it. You might as well get that
straight now. They said they just wanted a look around.’
‘I don’t get it.i just don’t get it. If I walked off this place, I wouldn’t ever want to
See it again.’
‘Perhaps they re different’, my mother said. ‘Perhaps they’ve got happy memories of
‘Perhaps they have. God knows.’
The story, ‘The People Before’, is told from the perspective of the first son of a farmer. In the early part of the story, the narrator dwells more on the sacrifice of his father in buying the land, salvaging it from the desert and turning it into a profitable, arable land. This comes with the pride which he derives from transforming the land. However with the advent of an economic depression, the land suddenly loses value and this comes with its attendant lost of morale and self-esteem of the father .The news being relayed by the wife of the farmer that some people are coming to see the land, apart from being the climax of the story, brings a new twist to it, in giving more insights into a lot of concerns in the story.
The suddenness of the news of the coming of the Maoris creates much effect.Though, the title of the story is, The People Before, there has been no glimpse of who they are before now. Their identity or name is not given.However, with the statement, ‘there were people coming’ in the first line of the extract, a kind of suspense is created of who these people are. This sense of anxiety is not only reflected on the readers, but also on the characters in the story. This is aptly shown in the number of questions asked by the father in the story. There is the first one of, ‘who are they?’to the last one in the extract, ‘They didn’t say why they are interested in the place?’Apart from the questions, the body language of the father is so obvious, that could not but pity him. His looks is such that ‘His eyes became suspicious under his frown’. This sense of discomfort is even reflected in the sentence structure of not only the father, but other members of the family. The sentences are mostly simple and short to depict the sense of tension and unease in the atmoshere.
This extract reveals more about some of the characters. Though the mother has been presented in the earlier part of the story as a docile house wife, here in the extract, her stabilizing and reasonable sense of reasoning is shown. While the father is motivated by violent emotion of anger, the mother remains calm to stabilize the growing tension in her home. While the father is worrying himself ,raising many possibilities of what the purpose of the visit could be, the mother who even is the person that receives the message, simply remains unequivocal by saying, ‘I’m sure I don’t know’ in answer to the father’s question of ‘What do they want to come back for?’
The father’s true attitude to the land is shown through this climax. Apart from his sense of possessiveness of the land which is shown through his anxiety, one could also see that his attitude to the land is more or less economic. Thus, when the land is profitable, he is attached to it, but now that the land is almost worthless, he could trade it off .According to him, ‘I’ll sell, all right –for just about as much as I paid for the place’. This is in contrast to what would later be the attitude of the visiting Maoris, which the mother rightly predicts thus- ‘Perhaps, they’ re different’.
The insecurity of the father is also shown and one could not but pity him when the mother makes him realize that he may not have the ability to start all over again. ‘You’re too old to start again’. His next impulse to want to change the topic shows the truth of the mother’s assertion, who though is calm, seems to have quite an understanding of things even more than the father often claims. This is also the probably the only place in the entire story where somebody has to confront him and tell him the home truth. Somehow, his ego is bruised here and from this point in the story, the father casts the picture of a vanquished person, just as he has earlier done to others and the land.
By the end of the extract, there is ample evidence to show its foreshadowing effect .The mother who understands things more than she is often portrayed, shows that the visiting Maoris may actually have a different attitude towards the land and when she adds ‘Perhaps they’ve got happy memories of this place’, she is not only referring to their attitude towards the land ,but also the heroic gain of Jim, the second son who would come to hold the memories of the Maoris dear even into adulthood .
This extract also leaves the reader in expectation of a lot of questions about the visiting Maoris. Are they coming to take over the land as feared by the narrator’s father? Would they be warlike or friendly in their approach and whether they will be different from the family already introduced to the readers? All these aptly present this extract as an effective climax to the story, The People Before.
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