Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Creating New Zealand: Pākehā constructions of national identity in New Zealand literary anthologies

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posted on 2021-11-15, 02:13 authored by Wild, Susan

The desire to construct a sense of home and the need to belong are basic to human society, and to the processes of its cultural production. Since the beginning of New Zealand’s European colonial settlement, the determination to create and reflect a separate and distinctive collective identity for the country’s Pākehā population has been the primary focus of much local creative and critical literature. Most literary histories, like those of Patrick Evans (1990) and Terry Sturm (1991), have followed the narrative of progression – established initially in E.H. McCormick’s Letters and Art in New Zealand (1940) – away from colonial dependency through delineated stages from provincial and cultural nationalist phases to the achievement of a bicultural and multicultural consensus in a globalized, international context.  This thesis questions the progressivist assumption which often informs that narrative, arguing instead that, while change and progress have been evident in the development of local notions of identity in the country’s writing over time, there is also a pattern of recurrent concerns about national identity that remained unresolved at the end of the last century. This complex and nuanced picture is disclosed in particular in the uncertain and shifting nature of New Zealand’s relationship with Australia, its response towards expatriates, a continuing concern with the nature of the ‘reality’ of ‘New Zealandness’, and the ambivalence of its sense of identity and place within a broader international context. New Zealand’s national anthologies of verse and short fiction produced over the twentieth century, and their reception in the critical literature that they generated, are taken in the thesis as forming a microcosmic representation of the major concerns that underlie the discourse of national identity formation in this country. I present an analysis of the canonical literary anthologies, in particular those of verse, and of a wide range of critical work focused on responses to the historical development of local literature. From this, I develop the argument that a dual, interlinked pattern, both of progress and of reversion to early concerns and uncertainties, is evident.  The thesis is structured into six chapters: an introductory chapter outlines the national and international historical contexts within which the literary contestation of New Zealand identity has developed; the second outlines the contribution of influential literary anthologies to the construction of various concepts of New Zealandness; three chapters then address particular thematic concerns identified as recurring tropes within the primary and secondary literature focused on the discourse of national identity – the ‘problem’ of the expatriate writer, the search for ‘reality’ and ‘authenticity’ in the portrayal of local experience, and New Zealand’s literary response towards Australia; and the Conclusion, which summarizes the argument presented in the thesis and provides an assessment of its major findings. A Bibliography of the works cited in the text is appended at the end of the thesis.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Williams, Mark; Whiteford, Peter