Potiki and the Art of Telling Stories

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This is an explorative essay on the theme in Patricia Grace's novel Potiki that ‘telling and retelling stories is an important and valuable part of being human'.
An important theme in Potiki is the enduring idea that creating and sharing stories as a central part of being human is important. It is a significant theme because the novel is heavily imbued with Maori culture, in which the stories and spoken teachings are given prominence, and also because it is a popular belief that people need narratives to give meaning, structure and value to their lives. This theme is displayed resolutely and poignantly in Potiki's plot, characters, setting and symbolism, as the people of a small rural New Zealand community rediscover themselves through stories spoken and found in Maori carvings. The idea that humans need narratives is the core theme in Potiki, and it is used also to link other themes and aspects of the novel; it is in this way that we know the idea of storytelling is an intrinsic part of the novel's structure.

The idea that ‘creating and sharing stories is important as a central part of being human' is shown in Potiki's plot and characters when the mother of the main family in the book, Roimata, decides to let two of her children learn at home instead of at school. Instead of teaching them herself in the style of a traditional European education system, both Roimata and the children learn naturally from stories and histories which are shown as being part of everyone's life. For example, Roimata says,

"It was a new discovery to find that these stories were, after all, about our own lives, were not distant, that there was no past or future that all time is now-time, centred in the being." (Pp39.)

In this way Roimata and the children are essentially learning in a way in which all people learn to some extent: by sharing stories. The idea that the telling and retelling of stories sustains, enlarges and defines our view of the...
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