Television in Duff's Once Were Warriors

Erica Dillon '99 (English 27, 1997)

[All citations from Duff refer to the Vintage International edition.]

Duff complicates notions of representation and cultural dominance by introducing television as a mediator between realms, specifically in relation to the house motif, a striking departure from Ishiguro's portrayal of the English country house where books or newspapers perpetuate its mythology. Television presents stylized images of a desirable white world; Beth recognizes the artificiality of these images with disgust, but they nevertheless act as catalysts for her critical examination of Maori life in Pine Block:

"Inside, in the kitchen, slumping in a chair, it was usually the kitchen for what use a sitting room with hardly any furniture to speak of and what there is you wouldn't get two bob from the second-hand shop for, only the TV down there, oh, and my good old record player, but I wish I could afford one of these flash stereos they have these days even the kids've got em I do love my music, and the TV hardly worth watching, those soaps didn't fool a woman, inspire her to wanting to be like them, the nasty vicious unhappy beautiful creatures, Jesus Christ, if they're real then who wants to be a Yank whitey?" (7).

Despite her resistance to television representations, the TV remains as one of the only valuable (or necessary) possessions Beth and Jake own. Television also allows Grace to decipher the Trambert's domestic rituals ("she didn't [know] about red or white wine, only that she'd figured it from TV" (111)), rituals foreign to Pine Block existence; her sense of "having been robbed of a life" (111) grows from the parallel between the Trambert family's dinner and the TV images of white families she has been exposed to her entire life, juxtaposed against her own reality of abuse and destroyed potential: "A real-life TV scene down there, in that sitting room, or dining room, or whatever the hell they call it I don't know I'm just a ..." (111). In the face of the disparity between her world and the Trambert's, signified by the difference in their houses, Grace hangs herself from a tree in the Trambert's yard. Beth and Grace react quite differently to TV images than Mr. Trambert, but they all imagine that television depicts some form of truth: "Trambert having difficulties reconciling the files in his head of newspaper readings and TV programmes and TV news figurings, of this race being a people in such trouble, spiritually; and even the culture meant to be shaky, or so he understood. (Really?)" (128). Media representations of both Maori and pakeha life appear accurate on one level (typical Pine Block existence, the Trambert's dinner party), but clearly misrepresent both worlds by depicting only one side of each (troubled Maori, enviable pakeha).

Overview New
Zealand Once Were

Last Modified: 15 March, 2002