The notion of a natural, innocent life is coupled with that of a tainted existence throughout the novel. It can be seen in Malu’s opinion and contentment with herself when she is alone and the way in which the villagers view her as a spoiled, unfortunate “horse-girl.” It can also be seen in the perception of the island itself as pure and loving and the actual state in which it exists. In my romanticism class earlier this semester, we talked about William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and contrasted it with his Songs of Experience. Songs of Experience really echoes throughout this book because of the way people are changed once they encounter different things. In a similar way, Sia Figiel incorporates this notion that with experience comes a loss of innocence and a different, somewhat cynical view of the world in which one lives.
Malu had been abused since she was a small girl under the care of her grandmother, Lalolagi. She is verbally, physically and, perhaps most, emotionally abused throughout the novel. She never really has the chance to experience the innocence and purity of childhood because of the external influences that affect her, namely her family and the villagers around her. Her detachment from the world is seen in her contentment with herself in the garden and in her own room at night. She stands in front of the mirror and appreciates the gap between her teeth in which her tongue resides. She accepts her thighs and her chest and does not wish to have it altered. Similarly, in the garden, her body is exposed and she finds no flaws whatsoever. It is not until Ela and the neighboring children come that her pure state is replaced with a type of hatred for the social environment in which she lives. She immediately says that she “detested” Ela because she was always so cheerful. Her transformation into a woman of experience is witnessed right from the onset of the book. Her experiences shape the girl she was and the woman she becomes. She writes, “I became a woman of many layers. A woman who could survive anywhere. Under the harshest conditions” (183).
It is this idea of layers that can be incorporated into the effects of travel. Travel allows one to absorb as many aspects of a place as he or she can and be changed by them. Malu is shaped by her visit to America and realizes a lack of power over her own fate because of her inability to accomplish her goals of dentistry. Similarly, although not traveling in the sense of leaving a place, Lalolagi describes her involvement with Alisi when he came to the island to film a movie. She describes to Malu the relationship they had because of his travel and the way in which she was forever affected. Lalolagi was a young girl at the time but after her relationship with him was forever altered because of the experience. Travel provides different routes for a person and, through those routes, different ideas to be attained. It is wisdom that does not necessarily ever leave the person but rather that stays in one’s memory. My trip to Glenmary Farm in Kentucky will always be remembered. The activities we did and the people we helped will not be forgotten. The faces may become difficult to remember but the experience itself will remain sharp. Going to the retreat center I was still pretty innocent. Upon coming home, I felt that I was experienced in the sense of learning about other’s struggles. It was this travel experience that has shaped my own character. Figiel harps on this notion of experience, both good ones and bad, to show that a person, for much of the book being Malu, is altered by her involvement with other people and places. She cannot remain innocent once other ideas transform her own. With more knowledge attained comes a loss of that childlike innocence. Although her personal convictions may never be altered, she will be changed due to hearing about other ideas and customs of different environments such as “putting on of the face” or smiling because “one is an actor.”