Over the course of the semester we have touched upon various forms of travel within each novel. As readers, we have shared experiences with characters such as Marco Polo in Invisible Cities, Eric in Black Rainbow, or Lucy in Voyage of the Dawn Treader as they embark upon rigorous journeys, whether internal or external. However, it wasn’t until I began reading Sia Figiel’s They Who Do Not Grieve, that I took a closer look at an alternate form of travel; one that I have been neglecting. Such an excursion does not take into account one’s past, one’s family, or one’s current situation. Instead, this travel is comprised solely of our deepest, or perhaps hidden, desires, dreams, and goals. It is the kind of travel that gives hope to us readers. Figiel illuminates the internal voyage by focusing intently on the desires that inspire us. Throughout the journeys of Ela and Malu, Figiel ignites within all of us the idea that we can change because we are human. Figiel’s characters encourage us to put our plans to action; that we all have the capability to achieve our dreams because we are free.
It is not until we are immersed deep into book one that Figiel reveals Ela’s back-story to the reader. However, once we encounter her tale, we come to learn that Ela went to America to pursue her dream. “I’m going to be a dentist. You-know, I’m going to be the first woman dentist my country has ever had! That’s what I wanna be! I wanna inspire more women to know their potential” (120). Her tiny Samoan village fails to provide her with a world of opportunity, yet it has instilled in Ela such a strength that she is able to stumble upon her personal potential. As she embarks upon her journey towards self-discovery, she devotes herself to morphing her dreams into her reality. Although it took her twelve years in America to accomplish the first part of her dream, she finally got her degree. According to Figiel, it was a “qualification she equated to freedom. Freedom to return home. Freedom to be” (123). Ela’s internal desires lead to action. Her newly acquired degree brings her back home, allowing her to form the foundations of her goal. She eventually succeeds and becomes the first woman dentist in Samoa.
Like Ela, Malu has opened her mind to desire. At one point in the novel she says, “Sometimes at night I think about my life and wonder what will ever become of me. At twenty years old, my life is to serve others…Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to give those orders. To walk around with a cigarette while the breeze blows in the background” (83). Figiel’s protagonist is consistently battered, both physically and verbally, yet she refuses to deny herself a mental passport. However, unlike Ela, Malu has not gone about making her dreams a reality. As a reader we watch Malu journey into adulthood, and can only hope that by the conclusion of the novel she will be ready to put her own potential to practice.
Within her work, Figiel provides readers with a sense of hope through the characters Ela and Malu. At one point in the novel, grandma Lalolagi tells Malu, “we are all covered with scars…all kinds of scars, Malu” (35). Yet although Malu and Ela may be scarred, Lalolagi says, “it doesn’t become us” (35). In this moment, Figiel is yearning for her audience to realize that no matter what obstacles are present in the past or future, we absolutely cannot remain immobile. Figiel demonstrates that like Ela and Malu, we all have the ability to dream, encouraging us all to mobilize our minds. When Ela began to dream, she took herself as far as she allowed her dreams to take her. In the case of Figiel’s Ela, we learn that we must dream big if we expect big results.