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The Feeling of Belonging

Belonging Essay (2 Related Texts) Belonging is a multifaceted concept that highlights an individual’s inherent need to feel connection with his peers and in so doing, forge a sense of personal identity. This universal desire to belong can manifest itself in different ways, either by enriching us as individuals or by limiting us as individuals – in some cases because we cannot conform to social norms – in some cases because we refuse to comply with social expectations.

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All these ideas are present in Skrzynecki’s Immigrant Chronicle poems, Feliks Skrzynecki and St Patrick’s College, both of which explore the problems associated with the displacement that accompanies migration. These elements also manifest themselves in M. T. Anderson’s picture book Me all alone, at the end of the World which looks at the impact of globalization on the natural world as well as Alice Walker’s short story The Flowers, which explores the concepts of inclusion and exclusion in a predominantly white and racist society.

Individuals who cannot relate or form a connection with a dominant paradigm – particularly evident in the migrant experience – generally suffer periods of isolation and rejection. This is evident in St Patrick’s College, a school that is symbolic of Australian bourgeois values, a school to which the “employers’ sons” went. The symbolic statue of ‘our lady’, with ‘outstretched arms’ – a known gesture of protection and inclusivity – has been overshadowed with clouds, suggestive of the rejection and isolation experienced during his ‘eight years’ at that school.

Skrzynecki’s doubts about his inclusion in Australian society are further reinforced through the school motto ‘Luceat Lux Vestra’, with the sarcastic contextual reference to the soap brand ‘LUX’ highlighting his failure to feel connected with the school. This state of isolation is further clarified in the simile ‘like a foreign tourist’ which points out his inability to share feelings and experiences that would connect him with his surroundings.

Thus his non-acceptance by the school ensures his loss of personal identity, symbolized by the recurring motif of ‘darkness’ which engulfs him, leaving him disconnected from his milieu. On the other hand, the protagonist in the poem Feliks Skrzynecki depicts an individual who chooses to remain separate from mainstream society, even refusing to accept its values and, in so doing, forges a sense of personal identity. This is evident in the character Feliks Skrzynecki, who rejects the Australian paradigm, isolating himself in his Polish heritage.

His seclusion is evident in the line ‘kept pace only with the Joneses, of his own mind’s making’, the Australian vernacular indicating not only Feliks’ independence and unwillingness to comply with the values and expectation of his context, but also his desire to maintain his cultural heritage evident in his Polish friends who “always shook hands too violently”. However, this is juxtaposed with the experience of his son “who forgot my first Polish word”, reinforced by his reference to his father as “happy as I have never been” which indicates his deepening alienation from his inherited Polish culture.

This idea is extended in the metaphor: “pegging my tents further and further south of Hadrian’s Wall”, which not only indicates the poet’s gradual rejection of his Polish heritage, but his inability to establish a firm connection with the Australian paradigm. Thus the poet’s situation is quite ambivalent – on one hand not being able to relate satisfactorily to his birth culture, on the other hand, not being able to find a sense of permanence in his adopted country – a typical experience of a first generation migrant. Similar to Feliks Skrzynecki, M. T.

Anderson’s graphic novel “Me all alone, at the end of the World” depicts the personal choice of an individual who eventually refuses to comply with the values of the dominant paradigm, rather identifying himself with the natural world. Initially the picture book illustrates the boy’s encounter with globalization, symbolized by Mr. Shimmers visionary world and his notions of “fun fun fun” with the colors of white, blue and green highlighting the boy’s happiness and acceptance of this neo-capitalist world – a world which manifests itself as a booming tourist industry, with the natural environment demolished.

Thus the resultant commercialized theme park clearly indicates a lack of connection with the natural world, an idea which is expressed through visual techniques with the combination of dark colors integrated with abstract fluorescent colors, implying a lack of balance and harmony. The statement “I could no longer hear the wind. I miss the wind. I could no longer find the bone of long monsters… ould no longer find ancient gold”, not only symbolizes his displacement from his natural environment but also acts as a clear indication that he is no longer tolerant of his new realm and signals his decision to return to the natural world. In other words Skrzynecki and the boy refuse to comply with the dominant power, Feliks motivated by his desire to maintain his cultural Polish heritage and the boy motivated by the rejection of a capitalist economic paradigm, and his decision to maintain a connection with nature.

Like the protagonist in “Feliks Skrzynecki” and the boy in “Me all alone, at the end of the World” , Myop in Alice Walker’s short story, “The Flowers” also makes an important decision to reject the dominant paradigm and reconstruct her sense of belonging to nature. In so doing, the short story explores Walker’s assumption that, while societies usually offer a sense of belonging, one must accept that such inclusion comes at the cost of acquiescence to limited social roles.

Initially Walker develops the idea that individuals can find a capacity for human connection that can function as the basis for a truer and more empathetic sense of belonging. Consequently, “Myop lays down her flowers”, with that recurring motif underpinning her adult respect and her ongoing sense of connection with her heritage, While her solipsistic pursuit leads to the harsh truth of a racist society, the closing sentence of “and the summer was over” highlights her acceptance of adult identity, responsibility and willingness to now connect herself with her racial heritage.

In both Feliks Skrzynecki, Me all alone, at the end of the World and The Flowers , the principal individuals are somewhat limited by their experience : The former by displacement, the boy by the power of globalisation and Myop rejected by a racist society. However, the three individuals overcome this problem – Feliks by maintaining connection with his Polish heritage; the boy by re-immersing himself in the natural world and Myop by reconnecting herself to nature.

In so doing they all achieve a holistic sense of belonging not only by the connections which they establish but also by the personal decisions which guarantee all of them a sense of personal identity. In contrast, the poet in St Patrick’s’ College, is disconnected from his school – a school whose values not only overpowered him but also denied him any sense of acceptance. Word Count : 1147

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