The Whale Rider Novel Essay

  • 1

    Describe the relationship between Koro and the old bull whale. Are there parallel? If so, how are they alike? What does each story tell us about the other?

    It seems clear from the story that there are at least some parallels between Koro and the old bull whale. This connection is even explicitly stated by Kahu and referenced by Rawiri. They are alike in terms of being the leader of their herds in changing, trying times. They are bound by love for the past and they are trying to understand how to move forward and live in the future. They are also both stubborn.

  • 2

    Explore the symbolism of the spear. What does the spear represent? What does this symbol mean?

    At one point Kahu is identified as the spear cast into the future. The spears seem to represent life-giving bounty. There is some cultural significance, then, to the tool of the spear beyond just its typical war-bound use.

  • 3

    Does Rawiri experience a coming-of-age trial? What does he learn about himself and his cultural identity from this experience?

    Rawiri’s four year journey through Australia and Papua New Guinea seem to test his cultural identity in variety of ways while also forcing him to make life-long decisions, like where he wants to live and who he wants to associate with. At the same time, he experiences some of the harsh realities of life, like watching a friend die or being the victim of racism. All of these teach him about himself and his strength.

  • 4

    Does Kahu demonstrate the traits of a good leader? If so, which specific traits does she demonstrate?

    Kahu does seem to demonstrate many traits of a good leader. The climactic scene where she leads to whale herd away reveals many of these traits, like bravery, determination, level-headedness, and willingness to self-sacrifice. Other scenes in the book also showcase Kahu with these traits, like the one where she is determined to retrieve the stone.

  • 5

    Pick one scene which provides a deeper characterization of one of the main characters of the story. Explain why this particular scene is important in understanding this character.

    There is a wealth of scenes which deepen characterization. Examples of such scenes include: the climactic scene of Kahu herding the whales; the scene where Nanny is revealed to have been crying over Rawiri’s motorcycle demonstrates her loving nature; and Koro weeping over the death of the first whale herd, demonstrating his care for nature and the pressure he is bearing.

  • 6

    What do the titles of each part suggest in relation to the broader narrative of the story? How does every section correspond to the reality portrayed in that section?

    The titles of the four sections of the book are named after the four seasons. Each name has some relation to the content of the story. For example, spring may represent new life. Winter may represent stagnation. Furthermore, the usage of such a naming system at all suggests a more cyclical view of time rather than a linear view of time.

  • 7

    Write an essay analyzing the ways in which modernity and tradition interact within the story. Does the story suggest that they can interact peacefully? Or does it seem impossible?

    The threads of modernity and tradition run throughout the story. Koro is seen as the main upholder of tradition, and the central crisis of tradition is that those who do know and uphold the tradition are dying off and there are fewer, and fewer people to teach and lead future generations. This is exemplified by Koro’s search for a future leader. The crisis of modernity is that it cuts people off from their natural roots. This is exemplified by Rawiri’s experiences with his cousins in Australia, who feel cut off from their Maori roots.

  • Whale Rider Summary

    SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera.

    The Whale Rider is a 1987 novel by New Zealander Witi Ihimaera. In 2002 Germany and New Zealand coproduced a film based on the novel which went on to win several international awards. The novel is divided into four parts, including a prologue, epilogue and glossary. Each part is named after one of the seasons and has a subtitle. Each season is similarly divided into smaller numbered chapters which shift between the migration of a herd of whales through the Pacific, and modern day first person narration about the Maori tribe’s search for a suitable heir. Man’s relationship to nature is one of the major themes of the novel, as is the progression of life from infancy to maturity. Both ideas are echoed by the layout of the novel itself and in its progression from Spring to Summer, Autumn and finally, Winter.

    The novel begins with a traditional legend of the Maori tribe which tells of the arrival of Man from the East, and his relationship with all the animals. In particular, this story is about Paikea, the first Whale Rider who uses spears to create life on the Island. One of his spears is cast one thousand years into the future, and is understood to give life to Kahu, who will become the novel’s protagonist. The narrator of the modern sections of the novel is Rawiri, Kahu’s uncle.  The Maori are a tribe from a small coastal village in Whangara, New Zealand, who trace their lineage back to the first Whale Rider through male descendants.  Koro, the aging leader of the tribe, tries to ensure his line of succession, but when his first great-grandchild is born and she is female Koro feels he must search the community for a new heir since in his mind, women cannot be tribal leaders. Koro rejects Kahu throughout much of the novel, and tries to preserve traditional Maori culture in the face of spreading modernity.

    Throughout the novel Kahu seeks affection and acceptance from Koro which he continues to withhold, instead beginning cultural classes and training exercises for boys from the tribe. The great irony is that while these boys all struggle to complete the tasks Koro sets up for them, Kahu excels naturally and he continues to ignore her. For example, Kahu invites all of her family to a school ceremony which Koro does not attend, if he had he would have seen Kahu lead a traditional ceremony and give a speech in the Maori language. Instead, Koro remains obsessed in his search for a male successor. He takes the boys he is training out to sea, and in order for them to prove their endurance and leadership, Koro drops a rock into the ocean and tells the boys to retrieve it. None of the boys are able to do so; however, when Kahu is taken to the same place by her great-grandmother, she appears to communicate with dolphins and retrieves the rock.

    Each part of the novel begins from the perspective of the whale herd. There is one old bull whale among them that remembers the days of the Whale Rider and thinks longingly about them, even though those days are long past. The older female whales worry about his growing nostalgia, because they know that heading back to the islands would be dangerous, but after they attempt to return to an underwater trench that is homelike to them, they find the trench toxic and inhospitable. All the while the bull whale fondly remembers communicating with the human Whale Rider and eventually leads the herd to New Zealand.

    A different herd of whales washes up on the beaches of Whangara, and though most of the locals attempt to save them, the whales all perish. Koro interprets this as a sign of what is happening to the Maori. However, the following night the herd of whales the novel has been following arrives in Whangara. The bull whale beaches himself, apparently waiting to die. Kahu communicates with the bull whale, who is overjoyed at the return of the Whale Rider and swims back out to sea with Kahu still on his back. Kahu sacrifices herself so that her people may continue to thrive and decides that she will remain with the herd; however, one of the elderly female whales convinces the bull whale to take Kahu back to shore. Koro realizes that he has been blind to Kahu’s talents and her leadership and finally tells his great-granddaughter that he loves her.

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