“How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped”

‘How Pearl Button was kidnapped’ revolves around the experiences of Pearl Button, a little girl possibly from an affluent family. The girl is left playing alone while her mother is in the house ironing. Two fat women come along and manage to entice her into following them. She is taken to log the room that is full of people seemingly having fun and in celebratory mood. There she is shown much affection by the people. Pearl is given a peach to eat, dirtying her clothes with the juice. She feels relaxed in the company of these people as they travel on carts towards the sea. Pearl is scared when she sees the sea but her fears are allayed by her hosts. She feels comforted by the houses around the sea. She was fascinated by the houses as they were different from the ‘house of boxes’ she is used to. After having a meal, the two women take her out to the sea shore as they forage for shells. At the sea, she seems happy as she paddles the shallow waters. Her excitement is ended by “little blue men” that took her back to her home. This paper discusses the author’s use of symbolism in the story. More specifically, it will pay attention to the house of box.

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House of Box

Pearl Button lived in what she calls the ‘house of boxes’. As the story begins, the girl is swinging on the gate in front of this house, all by herself. On close observation, it can be argued that these houses symbolize wealth and civilization. This can be seen from the fact that Pearl was able to notice that the two fat women had no shoes or stockings on. “They had no shoes and stockings on, and they came walking along…” (p. 11). This clearly indicates that she had not been used to seeing people without shoes. This supports the fact that the women came from a relatively uncivilized and poorer society than hers. This claim is further substantiated by the fact that the two women were afraid while approaching the house of boxes. “The two women came up to her, keeping close to the hedge and looking in a frightened way towards the House of Boxes.” (p. 12).  It is not uncommon for people from poor backgrounds approach rich neighborhoods this way: frightened. Certainly, the house of boxes was used in this story to symbolize wealth and civilization. This is why the two women approached it with caution.

Pearl Button was convinced to leave her home by the two women after they promised that they will show her beautiful things. As they (the three of them) were walking down the windy road, Pearl was constantly wondering what the women wanted to show her in their house of boxes “…taking little running steps to keep up, and wondering what they had in their House of Boxes” (p. 12). As a girl that was still growing in wealthy and civilized society, she was shocked when they reached the residence of the two women. The two women from a poor community and their residents reflected so. They were tiny, one roomed and having only one verandah. “Pearl was lifted down and taken into a tiny house with only one room and a verandah” (p. 16). This was in total contrast to the house of boxes. She was shocked as much as she was amused; even calling it a funny place. “It is a funny place” (p. 16). This contrast and her reaction to it show that indeed the house of boxes symbolizes civilization and wealth while these houses symbolize poverty. The house of boxes and the women’s house in this instance can also be used to express the class divisions in this society.

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After having her meal, Pearl’s naivety about her new surroundings still persist. This can be seen when she asks her hosts whether they live in house of boxes or not. “Haven’t you got any Houses of Boxes?” she said. “Don’t you all live in a row? Don’t the men go to offices? Aren’t there any nasty things?” (p. 16).  These questions are the clearest indication that indeed the house of boxes symbolizes civilization. Many civilized societies have men working in blue collar jobs in the offices. In addition, most of them have almost similar houses located in patterns. Pearl Button had expected to find such a situation replicated at this place. However, this was not the case. This can be seen from the fact that her questions went unanswered. This society was uncivilized and poor. Despite her culture shock, Pearl was at ease by her new surroundings. This can be seen from the fact that she let out a scream when little men wearing blue came, running for her. It can be concluded that perhaps these uniformed men were policemen or soldiers, sent to take her back to her house of boxes. This again symbolized the affluence of the society she hailed from.

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‘How Pearl Button was kidnapped’ outlines the cultural and class differences that perhaps permeated that New Zealand society at the time. In fact, the title itself doesn’t even tell a half of the story, in the sense that she was not ‘kidnapped’ per se. In the eyes of the two women, it can be argued that they just wanted her to experience something different, unlike her society’s who thought that she had been kidnapped and sent soldiers to rescue her. The use of house of boxes by the author played a major role in highlighting this theme.


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