The Divine Wind
‘The Divine Wind shows how difficult it is for communities to accept cultural difference.’ Discuss.
The community of Broome before the advent of World War II in The Divine Wind at first appears to be an idyllic town in which Malays, Koepangers, Japanese, Manilamen and Australians all work in relative harmony in search of the elusive pearl. Hartley Penrose, the central narrator of the novel, seems to enjoy describing the tropical existence of Broome and its harmony: “mangoes and barramundi on the table”, “the half-dozen languages, the slap of sandals and bare feet.” But for all its seeming harmony, Broome is a town where racial tensions simmer just under the surface and evolve into a blatant racism with the coming of the war. The sadly ignorant and inappropriate behaviour of the community of Broome demonstrates how challenging it is for communities to accept cultural and racial differences. “Mangroves, red dirt… pearls” all feature vividly in almost all of the characters’ blood in Broome. The easy life in the wet season and the young kids desires to run off to the romantic carefree world of the cinema in Sheba Lane marks what is lying underneath. Even from the very beginning of the novel, it is clear that racial tensions and intolerance are simmering just under the surface.
The mention of the front row seats set aside for the Aboriginal and Islander customers hits at the point to some racial intolerance: “What were two white kids doing with a Japanese kid? What were the three of them doing with a drunken Aborigine?” Clearly, this is no multicultural society. Ida Penrose’s pointed dislike of Mitsy and dismissal of Derby Boxer relate more to their ethnicity than to any inappropriate behaviour, like Derby’s drunkenness. Magistrate Killian epitomises the weld-held belief of the whites at the time, of their ultimate superiority and control: “Good English stock.. not your continental rubbish.” There is a total lack of understanding of other people’s culture and ways of life. People like Magistrate Killian in the novel tend to bundle together anyone of a different race and label them as unintelligent people who can’t “make ethical or moral distinctions.” Hart and Alice alone are perhaps two people who are accepting of the Japanese culture, making trips to John Chi Lane and later helping Sadako and Mitsy to brew soy sauce. These examples of racial intolerance demonstrate how hard it is for members of the community to accept those different from themselves.
Racial intolerance was fuelled and generated by the advent of the war and the behaviour of fear-driven people. When the war came, it truly was a “divine wind”, sweeping everything before its path, “crumbling old certainties” and destroying many relationships. The onset of the war made it impossible for members of the community not to see their workers and friends as enemies. The most important and supposedly noble facets of society are affected by the growing racial intolerance. The Courts of Law, those expected to uphold justice and human rights, falsify evidence to convict Derby Boxer on the basis of his racial status. No one appears to understand the needs of these Aboriginals, except perhaps Michael and Hart who drive six hours in the heat to return Derby to his Aboriginal people, the only people who will accept him. The radio broadcasts propagandist hatred and fuels the fear people have of invasion: “We find the Japanese too loathsome for hatred and we shall not rest until they have been cleared from the earth.” Individuals like Major Morissey and Lester & Olive Webb travel to all the stations nearby to organise a local defence group, against both the Aboriginals and the Japanese. Major Morrissey demonstrates a view typical of the ignorant racist “if your Jap painted his face with burnt cork, who would be the wiser?” – and shows a tendency to view people with totally different cultures as one and the same. Such is his belief in his own superiority and the unsuperiority of others of different race, that he neglects to realise that Japanese and Aboriginal cultures are two very independent and separate ways of life. The racially and culturally intolerant behaviour of the community of Broome shows how troublesome it is to accept cultural difference.
Even the two most unprejudiced and open-minded characters in The Divine Wind demonstrate the devastating effect of spreading racial intolerance in a small community. Originally, Hart and Michael Penrose are indignant at the treatment of some of the Aboriginals and Japanese. They alone are able to see the idiocy of the internment camps: “Alf? Peggy? What harm can they do anyone?” Michael shows his disapproval in the most sarcastic manner when he comments: “Maybe they think Sadako will send messages out to sea in her soy sauce bottles. Maybe they think she’ll insinuate herself into our lives and commode our will” But sadly and steadily, Michael’s resistance to the racial intolerance decreases and is washed away with Alice officially reported as missing, he feels that Mitsy and Sadako, his two friends are now “two lithe killers.” After his stroke, Michael spends his days desperately trying to understand “the Jap mind”. No better has he than anyone else in Broome recognised the vital importance of cultural difference or accepted their differences.
Hartley Penrose, the central character of the novel, at first finds that his own convictions are very clear and stands with his father to defend people of difference cultures and races – like Derby Boxer and then Mitsy. He endures the ostracism from other members of the community: “Hey Penrose, hear you’re running a brothel. Got a couple of Jap whores.” But he too, gradually succumbs to the pressures of the racial intolerance in the community when, in his eyes, Mitsy and Sadako begin to look “less benign”. Hart demonstrates perfectly his own confusion and fear, and the feeling that he is trapped between both cultures when he says: “I felt allied to my father, to the memory of my sister, to my lover, to my lover’s mother”. But his desire not to take sides with the onset of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour soon corrodes. His love for Mitsy wanes and eventually destroyed when his feelings explode out as blatant racism: “You bitch”. Hart’s lack of acceptance of Mitsy’s culture and race almost leads to the breakdown of their relationship and demonstrates again how members of a community cannot accept cultural differences.
The Divine Wind clearly shows that it is almost impossible to accept differences in culture and race in a small, narrow-minded community. The underlying racial tensions in the community were sparked into action when Japan and Australia become involved in the war, spreading cultural and racial intolerance throughout the community. Perhaps Hart’s sobering comment at the conclusion of the novel best demonstrates the extent to which racism has pervaded the whole community: “We may not make it”.