Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What good is success?

Throughout the course of the class we have explored many themes that reappear throughout our readings. We have discussed the importance of food, and the importance that it plays in the lives of immigrants. We have also discussed the sexploitation of the Asian woman, and how sex is used to define Asian women. While all of these themes are very important I do feel that we have left a few out. One theme that we have yet to explore is the concept of economic success. In Dogeaters and School for Hawaiian Girls the authors allow us to see the importance that the characters place on prosperity and the idea that prosperity can free them from the burdens their race. At the same time the authors have also show us characters who have reached economic success who are equally as miserable as everyone else.

In School for Hawaiian Girls McMillen introduces us to many diverse characters, but the book really settles in on two in particular. In this book we become entangled in the lives of Sam and Moani, two very successful, multi-generation Hawaiians. Sam and Moani have achieved “The American Dream” yet they are not happy. Despite all of the Success that Sam has achieved through his business he is still haunted by the murder of his sister. Sam has spent his life trying to bury his sister’s memory along side her body, but he can’t escape her. Lydia, and the way that she died infects his success to this day. “I didn’t care about anything except money. If I wasn’t making money, them I wanted to hurt somebody. If she was a fat rosebud, I wanted to slap her. If I saw a dog, I wanted to kick it. And if I heard that somebody was competing with my business, then look out. One of us was gonna lose and it wasn’t gonna be me (McMillen 42).”
Why is Sam feeling this way? Is it because of Lydia? Or was he destined to fall into the trap of anger, and rage, mad at Haoles just as so many Hawaiian men before him? Why can’t Sam get counseling? Why doesn’t he just leave Hawaii and begin a new life? What does Hawaii give him that he can’t find anywhere else, despite the pain?

Moani is no different from her uncle. Moani is successful not just as a Hawaiian, but a woman. How many women are as successful as Moani at her age? While Sam is plagued by the Memory of his sisters death, because he was there it somehow creeps into Moani’s life as well. Moani was not alive when Lydia was murdered, yet she can’t stop peering into what happened. What is happening in Moani’s life that she has become so entrenched in the past? Moani is very successful, yet she chooses to focus on what she does not have instead of what she does have. She longs for a husband and a family, and feels like a failure, despite the envy of her classmates who have her “ideal life”. Moani thinks to herself “One day they would have grandchildren; one day I would just have an old black dress (McMillen 58).” Sam is the same in his search for the perfect wife. Sam and Moani are tied not only in success, but in angst. What is McMillen trying to show us through these characters? Why have Sam and Moani not been able to enjoy their success?


Denelle Peach said...

After reading the post about Moani and the statement about her longing for a family and husband, I cannot help but feel that Moani is content in her life with Puananu and her baby Bernie. At the beginning of the novel there were many indications that Moani was missing something in life, i.e. a husband and kids, but I feel as though letting Pu move in with her gave her that family. Searching for long lost relatives also was a way for Moani looking for a family. Over the course of time and the novel, I feel as though Moani was happy with the life she chose. By the end of the book, Moani was reunited with Charlie and his two children as well as Pu and her baby. That was all the family she needed. Moani shows her satisfaction in her single childless life at her Trinity reunion when she states that her family is Pu, Uncle, and Dixie. She looks past having a husband, 2.5 children, and a mortgage to being considered a family and looks at who means the most to her and who is her true family, which would be Pu, her baby, and her cousins.

Nichole said...

I agree with Denelle about Moani. I feel that in the beginning of the novel Moani felt that she had an empty space in her life, thus beginning her search for what was missing. Even though she had money and a successful business she was still feeling incomplete. At one point she stated that she had been in a relationship with a man and that it probably could have worked out if she wouldn't have ended it. This made me feel as though she knew that a husband and a child of her own weren't necessarily what was missing. When she began to search for the missing pieces of her past Moani began to build her own identity as well. I think she felt that she never really knew herself because she never really knew where she came from. In the end what mattered to her was Pu and the child that Pu was going to have. I think she felt more complete knowing that Pu was going to share her experiences with her and that she would have a relationship with the new child and with her new cousins.

Carey said...

I think Moani was feeling discontent in the beginning of the novel about not having a family because she realized that she and Pu are the last of their family, and their line will end when the two of them die, since (she assumes) neither of them will ever have children. Since Pu is mentally disabled, the responsibility seems to rest with Moani to have children. However, when she discovers Charlie, and Pu gets pregnant, she is exempt from that duty of carrying on the family line, and she is allowed to be content with her singularity. She also gets to share in the joy of raising children, without having to get married and have them herself. I think all the models of marriage in her family have discouraged her from wanting that relationship with someone, because all of the partnerships have failed in one way or another.

Mara Davidson said...

Sam and Moani cannot enjoy their success because their success did not bring them the completeness which they hoped to feel once becoming accomplished. Sam wanted to be rich and powerful because as a boy he had neither of these things. He thought that money would make him happy and help him to forget his past, this is why he was so feverish in his business style. Moani is not happy because she too is unfulfilled by money. Both of them lack a truly loving relationship. Love is what makes people happy, not money. So while Sam and Moani tried to replace love with money they denied themselves the chance to be happy. Happiness is a state of being that is reached by being loved, by a special other, relatives, or friends. Sam and Moani had no special relationships which could satisfy their most basic need for love. This left both of them unhappy and loveless. While both thought money could bring them happiness, they were wrong.