Big Brother, Little Sister by Witi Ihimaera

In Big Brother, Little Sister by Witi Ihimaera we have the theme of desperation, violence, insecurity, selfishness, hope and paralysis. Taken from his The New Net Goes Fishing collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and the reader realizes after reading the story that Ihimaera may be exploring the theme of desperation. Hema and Janey are desperate to escape life with Pera and their mother Wiki. Their relationship is one of violence and insecurity with Wiki unable to live her life without the affections of a man. At no stage of the story does the reader sense that Wiki is putting Hema or Janey first. Her main priority is herself. Which may leave some readers to suspect that through insecurity Wiki is being selfish and irresponsible. She is rarely home and is nearly always drunk. Something that Ihimaera explores often in the story.

The setting of the story, the city, is interesting as Ihimaera further highlights the desperation of those who live there. There does not seem to be anyone who is happy. The city is also dangerous. Something which is noticeable when Janey is attacked by the old man. If it was not for Hema she could very well have been sexually assaulted. Nani George’s home in the country is important too as her home represents, at least symbolically, a place of happiness. Somewhere that is different from the perils of the city. Unfortunately for Hema and Janey they do not have the opportunity to get to their chosen destination and are left in the city and with its dangers. The city is no place for children at night. Which may be the point that Ihimaera is making. He may be suggesting that those who live in the city are lost or dependent on vices to survive. In reality they want to escape from the world around them. Something that Hema and Janey have in common with those in the city.

There may be other symbolism in the story which might be important. The TV shop, showing violence, in many ways mirrors what Hema and Janey encounter. Likewise the boy running from the bar with the knife sums up city life. The city really is a dangerous place full of lost souls. Despite this Hema and Janey’s journey through the city, to the railway station, can be seen as a journey of hope. Even if they do not reach their intended destination. The mention of the rainbow is also important as Ihimaera appears to be drawing on Dorothy’s experience in The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately for Hema and Janey there will be no rainbow for them.

The end of the story is interesting as Ihimaera’s mentioning of ‘the light of the city tightening’ suggests that Hema and Jena will struggle further through the night with no safe destination in sight. They are young children in a dangerous place. A place that they are not safe and in whereby they may not necessarily survive with very limited options in front of them. The reality may be that Hema and Janey are to remain as paralysed as others in the city. They may inevitably end up back with Wiki who shows no signs of change in her life due to her dependency on men.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Big Brother, Little Sister by Witi Ihimaera." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 13 Oct. 2023. Web.

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