Romulus My Father – Belonging

It is in human nature to strive towards a sense of Belonging, a process that incites the creation, or deterioration of a sense of personal and cultural identification. The memoir, Romulus, My Father, by Raimond Gaita; John Guare’s play, Six Degrees of Separation; and Tim Winton’s short story, Big World, from the collection, The Turning, explore the concept that Belonging is the driving force for the human condition.

Each composer represents their varied perceptions of belonging in their texts, conveying that Belonging as a fundamental need we strive for in our search to create a concrete identity. The memoir, Romulus, My Father, portrays the ways in which immigrants in 1950’s rural Victoria struggled to be accepted in a foreign society, exploring both Romulus and Gaita’s personal experiences with Belonging. The tone of the narrative is retrospective; Gaita makes himself vulnerable to his responder by inviting them to observe Australian society from the perspective of a migrant.

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Romulus’ experience is typical of a first generation migrant, he is displaced, separated from his homeland, conveyed through the metaphor of his disconnection to the Australian landscape: “He longed for European society, saying that he felt like a ‘prisoner’ in Australia. ” Romulus is an example of stoicism displayed through typically male qualities, defined by his work ethic and strong European morals. Romulus’ European values are echoed by Hora and among the intolerance and alienation of Australian society, they find connection.

The setting at the isolated Frogmore provides the Europeans with the opportunity to establish their own values away from mainstream Australia. This draws attention to their emotional need to belong; they group together through shared experience and background. Gaita’s experience of belonging portrays it as a process, evident as the narrative traces his rejection, isolation, evaluation and finally assimilation.

This is seen predominantly in his attempts to find a secure, compromised personal and cultural identity, somewhat separated from his father: “My relationship with my father had changed because I had asserted my independence. ” This shift is metaphorically characterised by their different attitudes, particularly their separate experiences with the Australian landscape: “I had absorbed my father’s attitude to the countryside… For the first time in my life I was really alive to beauty, receiving a kind of shock from it. It is this personal struggle of balancing Gaita’s want to be a part of Australia culture, “My growing desire to lead a “normal” life was strengthened by the conformist aspirations of teenage culture” and his attempts to please his father that represents the adversity, and need to compromise in order to create a strong personal and cultural identity. Frogmore, the central setting of the memoir, becomes a symbol of the importance of connecting to a place. Raimond’s ability to balance the rural and urban Australian life through his house and his education, expresses his success with belonging.

Those unable to find a balance suffer from the dislocation and isolation that comes from being a migrant. Gaita’s perception of the land changes with the tragedies that occur from it, causing him to see Frogmore from a more realistic view than the ‘haven’ he saw as a child: “My father’s vulnerability changed my attitude to Frogmore. In his sighs I heard our isolation and for the first time I felt estranged from the area. ” The contrast, Gaita and Romulus’ experiences cause the responder to reflect on the importance of belonging and what the consequences are if we can’t find connect and find a sense of identity.

Similar to Gaita’s representation of the fundamental need to connect, Six Degrees of Separation, written by John Guare, is a play that asserts the strive to belong. Guare’s perception of belonging suggests that in our need to connect, we must conform. The play represents the consequences of an eventful night, following the middle/upper class couple Ouisa and Flan and the desperation of all the characters to be accepted. Guare uses the post-modern technique of fragmentation to purposely distance the audience from the action.

This technique causes the audience to immediately see the fear of rejection and isolation by society felt by the characters, provoking the audience to reflect the characters determination to be accepted. Guares darker twist on the need to belong is represented through the central motif of the play, the Kandinsky, the two-sided painting, a metaphor for the different dimensions of a person. Guare seems to be suggesting that to belong in our modern society, we must follow the rules dictated by society and hide our true desires.

This is enhanced by the characterization of Ouisa and Flan who present themselves as courteous, but expose the audience to their true intentions of striving to connect to a higher social class: “Having a rich friend is like drowning, and your friend makes life boats. ” The character Paul is a symbol of this determination and desperation, creating the persona of Sidney Poitier’s son for the acknowledgement and acceptance he receives from it. He uses deception of his true identity to minimize social marginalization and fulfill his emotional need to connect.

Like Romulus, Paul becomes a representation of the impact of rejection, forging multiple personalities in an attempt to connect to what he believes he deserves. This is Guare’s central irony; Paul has attempted to belong by forming these personas but they ultimately cause him rejection. Paul’s attempts at combating his social alienation in order to experience self-worth becomes a symbol of belonging as a fundamental need that we strive for, and his inability to fit into his environment, like that of Romulus, expresses the impact of isolation.

Corresponding to Six Degrees of Separation and Romulus My Father, Tim Winton’s, Big World, is centrally an affirmation of the constant strive to belong in order to create a strong identity, which validates ones sense of worth. The story explores the protagonist as, like Paul in Six Degrees of Separation, he challenges what his life has dictated for him, using self-will to deviate to find a personal sense of belong. The setting in Angelus, in the middle of nowhere, becomes symbolic of the protagonist’s ordinary life.

Winton uses dark imagery to convey his disassociation from the life that Angelus provides him with: “Plumes of the stuff go into the harbor and old men sit in dinghies offshore to catch herring in the slick. ” The fact that Angelus is static, trapping the protagonist, contrasts completely with the images that portray the protagonist’s dream of “up north”, “sitting under a mango tree with a cold beer, walking in a shady banana plantation with a girl in a cheesecloth dress. ”

Unlike Gaita’s successful process to belonging, Winton represents a process that provides the responder with a sense of false hope, that the protagonist’s dream is unachievable. Winton enhances this tension through the “garden shed on wheels” Kombi as the “getaway vehicle”. Winton uses intense emotional language to connect the audience to the protagonist’s experience, the imagery becoming a symbol of his freedom: “the sky blue as mouthwash. ” The landscape provides the protagonist with a sense of placement in the world, that he can finally connect to his environment and feel self-worth.

This success is tainted by the various obstacles of the trip, coming to a climax when the Kombi dies representing the end of their escape, “It’s like the world’s stopped. ” Winton dislocates and jars his responder with this hopelessness, enhanced by the protagonist’s discussion of the future. Through his discussion, Winton’s perception of belonging is exposed to the responder; the connection that the protagonist desires isn’t something he can reach: “the world suddenly gets big around us, so big we just give in. Through the process to this enlightenment, Winton suggests that though a sense of belonging may never be reached, it is what we constantly strive for and what allows us to dream. Winton asks the reader to reflect on the nature of Belonging, questioning whether it is in fact a hopeless dream, while also reiterating the same concept as Gaita and Guare: that belonging is something that we strive for to gain a sense of identity.

In conclusion, we all seek to have a sense of placement in our personal and cultural environment. Our acceptance becomes vital in creating a concrete identity, so much so that rejection causes tragedy. Through their texts, Raimond Gaita, John Guare and Tim Winton have illuminated my understanding that a sense of acceptance and connection is something that we all consciously and unconsciously strive towards.

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