Albert Wendt’s “The Cross of Soot” displays a disjunctured and seemingly unconnected group of men and boys who in working together ultimately portray a sense of interdependence. At the heart of this connected interplay is the desire to protect the boy, yet through their various interactions, it becomes clear that the boy’s presences is just as integral to the group and anyone else.
The old man takes on a grandfatherly position with the boy, guiding him and shielding him, “‘You know the case of the Falefa murderer? Well he’s been sentenced to…’ The old man stopped him from finishing. Put the box over there…” (10). The old man often cuts other characters off as to not let the boy hear the information presented. This relationship continues as the powerful character Samasoni enters the scene. He too understands the position of the impressionable youth, “‘Tell him how you crushed that fellow who seduced your sister,’ the old man said to Samasoni. Samasoni shook his head. ‘He is too young,’ he said.” (12). Even though Samasoni goes on to eventually tell him the tale, the story is short, non-dramatic, and particularly nonviolent. It is in this way that the older characters understand the hope and future that the young boy has, and they work together to keep him untarnished.
Yet the boy himself holds power in this relationship as well. “‘Can I go and help him?’ said the boy. ‘You’d better,’ said Samasoni, ‘He’s too weak to do anything!’ (13). This adult like role continues, explicitly in the development of the relationship between the boy and Tagi, the new prisoner, who did not take well to his new home. The boy initiates conversation between them, at the river and goes on to help him roll his cigarettes, “‘Will you roll it for me.’ Tagi asked him. ‘My son always rolls mine for me.’ The boy knew he was lying but he understood why,” (16). His mature stance, having interacted with the older prisoners at the jail allows him to continue to connect with the adults. At the very end of the piece, as Tagi is in the middle of completing his tattoo, and must go, he looks to the boy for some form of permission or excuse, “Tagi stopped tattooing and looked at the boy. ‘You’d better go now,’ the boy told him. ‘You can finish it later,’ (19). In this reversal, the boy becomes more adult, where as Tagi takes on a childlike role.
The way in which the characters of “The Cross of Soot” interact with each other mark their reliance and dependence on the collective group. Even the youngest member, the boy, is both protected and protector, he appears simultaneously mature and childlike. In this uncommon setting of a prison yard, the undeniably heightened sense of community permeates the island culture.