Yellow Brick Road by Witi Ihimaera
“It’s always best to start at the beginning- and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.” ‘Yellow Brick Road’ is a short story written by New Zealander Witi Ihimaera. It follows the journey of a maori family, Roha, Matiu and their mum and dad, moving to Wellington to start a new life. The narrator, Matiu, expresses his excitement for their journey on the “Yellow Brick Road” throughout the story and strongly parallels it to the famous book ‘The Wizard of Oz’. He believes that if they continue to follow this ‘Yellow Brick Road’ that they will soon reach the ‘Emerald City’ and everything will be perfect. The rest of his family are sad to be leaving their old town of Waituhi and do not share the same extreme positivity and dreams about Wellington as Matiu.
This story really made me think about the conflict/misunderstandings between Pakeha and Maori in New Zealand at the time that this was written and even nowadays. The author of ‘Yellow Brick Road’ is Maori so I believe that this issue is one that he has had great experience with and is important to him. Being from a small town with mainly Maoris, Matiu and his sister have not had much exposure and relations with pakeha people, making Matiu very apprehensive. “Dad, will the pakehas like us in Wellington?” This point interested me because even the fact that Matiu would ask this question must mean he has some preconceived ideas about pakeha people that he is wanting his father to clarify. I can relate to Matiu at this point because I have also grown up in a small town but with mainly pakeha and hardly any Maoris. The author’s intention of teaching the reader that as people we need to be more accepting of different cultures is achieved through this aspect and the way that Matiu is affected by the way pakehas treat him. He is negatively affected by assumptions, comments and preconceived ideas of pakeha people which I can see happens in even my own town. Despite Maoris being the native people of New Zealand, they do not make up the majority and this seems to make some pakehas think that they are superior over them because of this. This aspect of the story taught me that New Zealand and New Zealanders are not always as welcoming and accepting as we claim or seem to be. The fact that the author wrote the story from this negative perspective on Pakeha in New Zealand, shows me that he must have personally had negative experiences in his own life. “You Maoris are all the same. Dumb bloody horis.” This aspect of the text, how some people are not welcoming and accepting of different cultures sharing a community, is also seen in the famous novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which is based in a small American town containing a mix of cultures. With the majority being white people and the minority negroes, the whites do not accept the negroes into their community, even though it is their community just as much as it is the white peoples. This relates to some communities in New Zealand like Wellington which the author of ‘Yellow Brick Road’ talks about in the story. This aspect of the story and how the family felt about moving to Wellington with so many Pakehas, personally made me more conscious of how I and people around me welcome different kinds of people into our community. The author made the reader think twice about treating people of all races and ethnicities with equal respect. I think it was good that the author put this idea in the text because many New Zealanders are very oblivious to what really goes on regarding racism and prejudice against Maoris in our country.
The cross referencing to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in this story interested me also. To me, it showed the theme of dreams and aspirations and how they can come true but as well as this, how when dreams do come true, they sometimes don’t end up as great as first thought. This theme interested me because as the author portrayed it, it seemed like Wellington was the families ‘Emerald City’. With the title of ‘ Yellow Brick Road’ and the multiple times it is referred to throughout the text, their destination seemed to be a very positive and perfect place. As their journey progresses however, the author puts more and more doubt into the reader’s mind about whether this ‘Emerald City’ is really that great. I think the way the author used the title and references to the ‘Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Emerald City’ in the text was clever because like the families journey and dreams for Wellington, as the journey goes on and they get closer to their dream coming true, they realise it may not be all that great. The structure of the text does this also by first making the reader think this will be a positive experience by using lines like “ We’re almost there! Almost at Wellington, the Emerald City!” and “I can’t wait to see all the sparkling green towers glittering in the dark ahead of us.” As the story progresses, doubt starts to come into the reader’s mind as well as Matiu’s. “Dad, will the pakehas like us in Wellington?…But things will be different when we get to Wellington, won’t they?” I liked how the author paralleled the structure of the text so as Matiu’s hope for the ‘Emerald City’ started to diminish, so did the readers. Matiu realised that not everyone is going to accept them like he thought which makes him question whether he will really like Wellington or not. This showed me how reality is different to the expectations we have and because of this, our dreams don’t always come true, or if they do, they aren’t as good as we imagined, like Matiu’s dream of Wellington being the ‘Emerald City’.
Overall, I would recommend reading the short text ‘Yellow Brick Road’ by Witi Ihimaera. This is because it opened my eyes to some issues in society that we have that we don’t usually notice and because it is a New Zealand written text and is about New Zealand, it is very easy to relate to. I believe it is a well written text and clearly displays the ideas that the author wanted to portray of racism and prejudice in New Zealand and that because reality is different to our expectations, dreams do not always come true.