Identity, defined as the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time and sometimes disturbed in mental illnesses, is a concept frequently explored by Australian poet and essayist Alec Derwent Hope. This is evident in the poems Australia and The Explorers where Hope utilises a number of literary techniques, primarily metaphorical language, to express his understanding of and critiques the nature of identity.
Australia is Hopes criticism of Australian society in general and Australia itself. The first five stanzas are spent describing Australia in an extremely negative manner, where Australia is said to be a ‘nation of trees, drab green and desolate grey’, a country that is past the age of celebration. Having lived in both Australia and Europe while on a university scholarship, Hope is able to describe Europe as a ‘lush jungle of modern thought’ and gives us a brief comparison of the two countries.
Australia revolves around Hopes idea of Australia being too Eurocentric and that Australia should cultivate its own identity rather than mimicking our mother country. This suggests that as individuals, our identities are largely influenced by our parents but instead of simply mirroring them, we should establish our own sense of identity. Hope also describes Australia as ‘a breast still tender but within the womb is dry’, comparing Australia to an older woman who can no longer bare children, implying that externally, we may still seem fruitful and fresh with the opposite being internally.
This metaphor of Australia may be referring to the fact that identity does not exist on its own, but as two, as an internal and external identity. The title of the poem ‘The Explorers’ refers to the girls and women journeying through the threatening landscape that is our world. Written in 1939 during a time where women were still seen as weak and inferior to men, Hope further emphasises the fact that both an internal and external identity exists.
This can be seen in the poem where Hope writes ‘all those nice young girls, so properly brought up’ showing how on the exterior, women appear to be pure, innocent and polite. This shows how our external identity is shaped and manipulated by society’s expectations and that in order to satisfy these expectations our identities are split into two. The main idea of this poem is how influential and manipulative society can be and is portrayed in this poem as ‘enormous jungles full of eyes and fears’.