Patricia Grace is the first Maori woman writer to have published a novel. She writes in English trying to copy the cadences of the Maori language. The themes of most of her writing are the lost Maori way of life, the Maori bond with land and nature and the clashes these produce when they come into contact with new officialdom. She also writes about the changes among the Maoris; the young no longer have any special feeling for their land. She also mourns for the loss of pristine land. Officials think only of providing affordable housing; those whose land is marked for “development” cannot understand how the land they have owned and farmed can be taken away from them.
Relevance of the Title
The journey refers to the short trip made by the protagonist to the government agency in the town. The protagonist was to bequeath the land that belongs to him to his family even before his death. The Maoris had close emotional bonds with their land; personal land was always divided among the family; that way land stayed with the same family. Though the old man appreciates some of the new things that the authorities have introduced, he feels happiest when he sees things that remain “the same”. He cherishes old things and old friends like George.
At the core, The Journey is all about the bond that Maoris have with their land. Land was not just something on which people built homes or farmed; there was an intimate connection with land. When a landowner died, the land was divided among the family. It never left the family. But the white New Zealanders whom the old man refers to as Pakeha have no feeling for land because they were only settlers who came from Europe and colonized the country. The old man wants to bequeath his land to his family. The land has been with the family for generations but the government agency now wants to take it away for building houses for strangers.
Change is mentioned very often in the story. Sometimes the old man says there is no change but often things have changed but there have been no obvious benefits from that change. The old man likes to see things unchanged but the Pakehas think all the time about development. They chop and change to make the land suitable for housing and railway. The natural patterns are altered forever. He rues the crowding that is visible on the way to the town. Where there were only three or four farms earlier, now there a large group of houses.
The seventy one year old Maori man is nameless. Though spoken in third person, we know that he is the main character. He is strong-willed and knows what he wants. He takes pride in being able to do his own tasks. He dislikes it when people try to do things for him. He enjoys his solitude; he does not get enough opportunities to be alone. Though he is independent, he knows that old age is approaching. He wishes to carve up his land among his family; that is the Maori custom. But the government agency has other plans on his land. By then it is time to return and he becomes conscious of his feet aching.
A seventy –one year old man is going on a journey to the town. He takes a taxi to the train station. On the way, he sees the familiar shops near his home. As they drive along, the old man strikes a conversation with the driver. The train station has changed from the time he was last there. The man at the ticket office is new; the old man feels a flash of animosity.
The coach that he enters is warm and comfortable. He is happy that he is the only passenger. He is quite capable of doing his own things. It irks him when people assume that he needs help. He watches the scenes change as the train speeds past. He remarks that the train is travelling over reclaimed land. All the “land” used to be the sea earlier. He wouldn’t be perturbed if the train were to crash into the ocean as it is time for his life to end anyway.
The scenery changes again. Two young children enter the carriage wearing strange looking clothes that rustle when they move. It is a crowded part of the town now. Everything is new to him. Earlier one saw only a few farms along the railway line. As the train moves into a tunnel, the man ponders on the way the Pakehas have changed the lie of the land. They have cut through the land; nothing is an obstacle for them. Land was just something to be exploited for mankind. He understands that it is necessary to have roads and houses. But he rues the lack of feeling for land. The Pakehas are always looking to fix things. Looking at the kids, he remembers his childhood friend, George. He wonders whether he will be able to meet him somewhere.
When he gets off the train, he finds the station much the same. Though the trains no longer run on coal, the station is no cleaner than the “soot days”. In the older days, the stations used to be full of hungry starving people. But his family never went hungry as his father was an able farmer who tended his land carefully. They had surplus food that they either sold or bartered.
He has arrived early so decides wait and enjoy being alone without anyone interfering. He recollects an incident where a cemetery somewhere was leveled to make way for roads. The whole place was dug up and relocated. People’s remains were all mixed up. When the headstones were replaced, it was done haphazardly. It was all beautiful but meaningless.
Time has elapsed and now he has to set out for home. He again wonders whether he should go looking for George. He is conscious of his aching feet by now. The story goes back to the visit he made to the government agency. That is what he had come to the town for. He tells the official that he is planning to divide his land among his family. But the officer explains that that is is not possible. The authorities will not permit sub-division of land. Land is to be pooled so that more housing can be constructed on it. The old man explains that it is his ancestral land. The functionary shows him plans and blueprints that the old man cannot relate to. Frustrated the old man kicks the table before he leaves.
At the end of the train ride, he takes another taxi and chats with its driver. When he gets home, his family wants to know what happened at the office. His answer disheartens them. And then he tells them that when he dies he wants his body cremated and not buried as cemeteries are no longer safe. Someone may dig up his bones and transfer it somewhere else. The story ends with the old man feeling frustrated and angry.