Albert Wendt’s novel Black Rainbow on the surface is the story of a man struggling to find his family and make sense of the role of memory and history in a futuristic, Brave New World-esque, New Zealand. Similar to traveling to a new country, readers experience a sort of culture shock when first confronted with the oddities of the novel such as the “the Tribunal”, the unnamed President, and the undefined nature of the narrators seeming interrogations. This is no mistake and it mimics the overwhelming experience of traveling to a new country where nothing is familiar. The reader is forced to let the words wash over them and to grab at random in an attempt to make sense of what is happening. Similar to the narrator, we are experiencing a sort of “dehistorization” because Wendt creates a world that is completely unfamiliar to us.
At first, this type of desensitization seems barbaric and unnatural but I believe that in the end, it is actually quite useful for the narrator. When he breaks into the boardroom, he questions the center console about the people in his life and is granted as much information as he would like. However, upon asking for information about himself the console responds, “The Game of Life demands that you, the Questor, the Searcher, must find out about yourself on your own. Otherwise the game has no purpose.” (Wendt 217). In the “Game of Life” each individual has the sole power to create his or her own self-identity. Multiple people can have varying and opposing perceptions of us but only we are solely capable of creating a sort of “self identity.” In this sense, the Tribunal began the narrator’s journey to finding himself because it stripped him of his own memories and demanded that he go back out into the world in search of them. He was rid of others’ perception of himself and was forced to create his own identity.
The journey towards self-identification is an extremely challenging and world altering form of travel. The traveler must become extremely aware of his or her own biases and the way in which their personal history shapes their understanding the of the world. By undergoing this type of journey, the traveler begins to see the various lenses through which people view the world and they can decide for themselves, which lenses to use and which to discard. After reading Fr. Kolvenbach’s speech once again, my understanding of this “switching of lenses” was slightly altered. In his speech he points out, “This composition of our time and place embraces six billion people with their faces young and old, some being born and others dying, some white and many brown and yellow and black. Each one a unique individual, they all aspire to live life” (Kolvenbach 32). He points out how diverse the world has become. It consists of people who can have absolutely nothing in common besides one thing: the right to live and to live comfortably. He then goes on to admit that, unfortunately, many people are unable to live comfortably despite the fact that humanity possesses the means to ensure that they do. He quotes General Congregation 32 as saying that these inequalities, “are the result of what man himself, man in his selfishness, has done” (32). In a sense, each person must discover what lens they see the world through but more importantly they must make themselves aware of the deficiencies of their own lens. In simpler terms, each person must confront their own biases and prejudices on their journey for self-discovery and identification. This is what makes this type of travel so hard for both the narrator of Black Rainbow and the reader because all parties involved are forced to understand the negative or harmful aspects of our own personalities. However, by revealing these things to ourselves, we can do away with them. Travel is more than a journey of discovery it is also a journey of cleansing.