In Witi Ihimaera’s novel “Whale Rider” we follow Rawiri as he goes through his life watching the growth, incidents and magic of his niece Kahu. Kahu is destined to be the next chief of the Maori in Whangara, New Zealand, a tribe that has descended from the legendary “whale rider.” However, Kahu is, as Nanny Flowers says, “Hungry for [her grandfather’s] love,” (Ihimaera 34) and struggles to receive it because she is a girl. The author presents this story through Kahu’s Uncle Rawiri’s point of view, and this outside view of Kahu is brilliant because it creates tension between what the reader, author, Rawiri and Kahu are thinking and allows the reader to fill in the gaps themselves. The story would lack suspense and motivation if we knew Kahu’s thoughts and would lose all aspects of mystery.
Whale Rider creates a distorted medium between reality and the character’s minds, which is what keeps the reader guessing, second-guessing and questioning all the way up until the moment of truth in the end. Ihimaera makes it the reader’s job to presume Kahu’s thoughts as opposed to actually providing them. Rawiri comes into play in that that he has had a special connection with Kahu since her birth, and being in a first-person perspective with Rawiri makes Rawiri like the reader in that they mutually want all of the answers.
If the novel were from the point of view of Kahu, the main focus, the plot would lose all curiosity. It was thought provoking and interesting to see Kahu strive for her grandfather’s acceptance from before she could even walk. If Kahu narrated then we wouldn’t be able to experience her development from birth, and would lose all of her toddler years. Those years keep Kahu a “question” and make us, like Rawiri, unable to wait for her to come of age and either become the whale rider or not.
Whale Rider carries itself primarily on motivation towards “the end”. For the readers it is for the book’s climax. For Rawiri, Nanny Flowers, and even Kahu herself, it is for the end of Kahu’s childhood and for the answers to be revealed. Ihimaera does a great job of manipulating the motivation of the reader and intertwining it with the motivation of the characters while also leaving a prism in the middle of reality and literature where some of the gaps and missing pieces are left to be filled with the reader’s empathy, curiosity and imagination.