Study Guide

The Luminaries Foreignness

By Eleanor Catton

Foreignness

Pretty much everyone in Hokitika is an ex-pat, with the lion's share of the characters hailing originally from the British Isles or China (of course, Te Rau Tauwhare and Charles Frost are the two notable exceptions).

You'd think that the fact that everyone is foreign might make people less conscious of difference and more accepting in general, but that doesn't really seem to be the case. The goldfields throw all kinds of men into close proximity and create close relationships that might not have necessarily existed elsewhere. There is still plenty of tension surrounding cross-cultural relations in The Luminaries, and some of the British characters seem to enjoy exoticizing the Chinese and indigenous residents of the area—you know, by thinking of them as somehow scary or mysterious, as opposed to just dealing with them like any other human being.

Questions About Foreignness

  1. Balfour and Moody claim that the goldfields bring unlikely men into close and even family-like relationships. What are some specific examples among our main characters? Also, overall, do you think this is a fair generalization, based on your analysis of the main characters?
  2. What exactly does George Shepard mean when he talks about the civilized and the savage? How does his definition differ from other people's?
  3. What do you make of the way the Chinese characters are portrayed in the novel? How does the novel portray (and work with/against) those characters' marginalization in Hokitika society?

Chew on This

Catton's narrative bears out Balfour's claim that the goldfields bring unlikely men into family relationships, with Crosbie Wells and Te Rau Tauwhare being the best example of the kind of "brother" relationships that can blossom in these circumstances.

Although Moody and Balfour initially lead us to believe that Hokitika is some kind of big melting pot, the blatantly obvious separation of the area's Chinese and British inhabitants (and most everyone's indifference to Hokitika's indigenous population, aside from Te Rau) imply that class/social separation is alive and well even here.

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