At Hiruharama


Penelope Fitzgerald

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Upward Mobility and Colonialism Theme Analysis

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Upward Mobility and Colonialism Theme Icon
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Upward Mobility and Colonialism Theme Icon

“At Hiruharama” tells a multi-generational story of upward mobility, extolling the virtues of resourcefulness, enterprise, hard work, and having a positive outlook. The story begins with Mr. Tanner excited to explain how he ended up with a lawyer in the family—a clear sign that he’s proud of what his family has accomplished after starting out with so little. As he tells the story of his grandparents, Tanner and Kitty, he details how they both came to New Zealand with nothing and gradually worked their way to a point where it was possible for one of their daughters to become a lawyer. This story seems to posit that the family’s upward mobility results primarily from the Tanners’ own hard work, enterprise, and resilience, as evidenced by their willingness to cultivate an abandoned homestead, raising hundreds of chickens and a few pigs on land that the owner before them apparently found untenable.

By emphasizing the family’s humble beginnings, the story effectively celebrates the Tanners’ ascent to financial stability. In fact, their trajectory aligns with the popular narrative surrounding British colonialism at the time. An England-based conglomerate called The New Zealand Company tried to attract wealthy British people to settle in New Zealand with the promise of cheap labor from less-well-off British immigrants—a class to which Kitty and Tanner initially belonged. What made laboring for rich Britons attractive to people like Kitty and Tanner was the promise that they would eventually be able to acquire some land of their own. In other words, Kitty and Tanner specifically come to New Zealand in the hopes of attaining upward mobility, and they ultimately succeed in lifting their family out of poverty. At the same time, though, while “At Hiruharama” celebrates this opportunistic, enterprising spirit, it doesn’t engage with the more troublesome aspects of colonialism, ultimately stopping short of acknowledging that this kind of resourcefulness was really only possible at the time for white colonizers like Kitty and Tanner, not the native Māori people who were in New Zealand long before the British.

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Upward Mobility and Colonialism Quotes in At Hiruharama

Below you will find the important quotes in At Hiruharama related to the theme of Upward Mobility and Colonialism.
At Hiruharama Quotes

Mr Tanner was anxious to explain how it was that he had a lawyer in the family, so that when they all decided to sell up and quit New Zealand there had been someone they could absolutely trust with the legal business.

Related Characters: Mr. Tanner
Related Symbols: The Lawyer
Page Number: 408
Explanation and Analysis:

They didn’t have to buy their place, it had been left deserted, and yet it had something you could give a thousand pounds for and not get, and that was a standpipe giving constant clear water from an underground well.

Related Characters: Tanner, Kitty
Related Symbols: Standpipe
Page Number: 408
Explanation and Analysis:

“What’s it called?”


“Don’t know it. That’s not a Māori name.”

“I think it means Jerusalem,” said Tanner.

Related Characters: Tanner (speaker), The Doctor (speaker)
Page Number: 409
Explanation and Analysis:

“He’s a crank, I dare say.”

“He’s a dreamer,” Tanner replied. “I should term Brinkman a dreamer.”

Related Characters: The Doctor (speaker), Tanner (speaker), Brinkman
Page Number: 410
Explanation and Analysis:

He had made the pigeons’ nest out of packing-cases. They ought to have flown daily for exercise, but he hadn’t been able to manage that. Still, they looked fair enough, a bit disheveled, but not so that you’d notice. It was four o’clock, breezy, but not windy. He took them out into the bright air which, even that far from the coast, was full of the salt of the ocean. How to toss a pigeon he had no idea. He opened the basket, and before he could think what to do next they were out and up into the blue. He watched in terror as after reaching a certain height they began turning round in tight circles as though puzzled or lost. Then, apparently sighting something on the horizon that they knew, they set off strongly toward Awanui.

Related Characters: Tanner, Parrish, Kitty, The Doctor
Page Number: 411
Explanation and Analysis:

The doctor emerged, moving rather faster than he usually did. “Please to go in there and wash the patient. I’m going to look at the afterbirth. The father put it out with the waste.”

There Tanner had made his one oversight. It wasn’t the afterbirth, it was a second daughter, smaller, but a twin.

Related Characters: The Doctor (speaker), Tanner, Kitty
Page Number: 412
Explanation and Analysis:

“I think of myself as one of the perpetually welcome.”

Related Characters: Brinkman (speaker), Tanner, Kitty
Page Number: 412
Explanation and Analysis:

After that the Tanners always had one of those tinplate mottoes hung up on the wall – Throw Nothing Away. You could get them at the hardware store.

Related Characters: Mr. Tanner (speaker), Tanner, Kitty, The Doctor
Page Number: 412
Explanation and Analysis: