Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Inner travel is very important for the characters in Sia Figiel's They Who Do Not Grieve, particularly for the protagonists, Malu and Alofa, but also for their families. Inner travel can relate to any journey we make, geographical or internal, and in addition, relates to a recurring theme in Book Two of this novel, the idea of the multiplicity of layers each person has.

"It gave her pleasure to sit there naked. Stand there naked. Lie on the floor there naked. Naked. Naked. For she was simply fed up with teh layers people clothed themselves in. The layers of clothes" (151). In the context of this quote, Alofa's Aunt Fue has left Samoa for New Zealand, adn there, allows a white man to paint her nude. Because she has left home, and her painter is a foreigner to New Zealand as well, Fue finds the experience liberating. She literally gets to shed her traditional layers of clothing and reinvent herself in this new place. It is the very idea that foreigners can be outside the rules and have the potential to do anything they please which makes her feel so satisfied with her actions. The painter is "a nobody, as far as villagers or anyone was concerned, which made the act of posing naked pleasurable" (151).

The idea of shedding layers goes far beyond just the surface layers of clothing; it has many layers in itself. Not only does Fue feel lliberated from her clothes because that have stifled her for so long, but what irritates her even more are "the facades people wore on their faces and how they passed such facades to their children. For that is how she was raised" (151). By posing for these nude portraits, Fue erases the facade she has been given by her family through generations. No longer the daughter of a traditional Samoan family who must act according to custom and what is proper, these being deemed as such by previous generations, Fue is now her own person. She creates her own facade, a facade which is actually more of a lack thereof.

When we travel and move outside our comfort zone, we shed layers of ourselves. Trying new foods and attempting to converse with a native in his or her own language strip away our protective facades and allow us to gain something valuable out of a travel experience. In fact, we cannot truly make the most out of travel while keeping these layers intact; the people, places, and things we encounter just cannot penetrate through and make an impact. This inner travel is vital in opening ourselves up to the world, and really to ourselves. For, as we travel and shed our layers, we acquire new ones to reflect the journey we have made.

Later in Book Two, Alofa describes herself as "a woman of many layers. A woman who could survive anywhere. Under the harshest conditions. I learned to eat bone and drink blood witha straight face. I learned to swim in lava and not get burned. I learned to fly wingless into the eye of storms. I learned to keep company with sharks" (183). In this passage, Alofa seems to have become such a woman in order to protect herself from environment, people, and change. She is a "woman with secrets," and "a woman who exist[s] only in the imaginations of those believed in the possibility of [her] existence" (183). In this case, Alofa's layers appear to be the very ones Fue is so eager to remove; however, Alofa is not particularly displeased with these layers. She says she is in charge of her own destiny, and now has the ability to deal with innumerable situations.

These are the layers we accumulate after escaping from our old ones through travel; once we let down our defenses and let our experiences shape us, that shaping creates new layers. Whereas the old layers prohibited us from being all we could be, these new ones are the very tools by which we can be truly us. We shed the layer that prevents us from speaking French while in Paris, and acquire the new layer that reminds us we have the capability of speaking French in Paris. Perhaps these new layers could be better termed "facets." We gain new facets to our personality and character each time we become free of the grip of our previous insecurities.

They say people are like onions: you have to peel back all the layers to fiind the true person within. I think people are divided into two groups of onions: the ones just described, who have not yet begun shedding their layers, and the ones whose layers are just as important a part of their personality as their core.

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