As human individuals, we search for a niche to which we belong. It is ingrained within human nature to want for acceptance, for inclusion. This primal instinct drives our actions, often altering the perceptions we form of both others and ourselves. Barriers to belonging can negatively affect us psychologically and personally. Our individuality may be questioned due to social, cultural or historical influences. However, the effects of external pressures will be minimal if an individual is already confident in themselves. A study of the collection of poems, ‘Immigrant Chronicles’ by Peter Skrzynecki and the book ‘The Island’ by composer Amir Greer explore the multiple facets involved in the dynamic process of belonging or not belonging.
If we are able to have a place in which we belong, our sense of self can be sustained. The heritage and experiences which an individual has within a culture cannot be forgotten; instead they may even become stronger. When placed in a new and confronting environment we can draw on past routine to provide comfort and security. The poem, ‘Felicks Skrzynecki’ written by composer, Peter Skrzynecki, uses poetic devices to explore how an individual can maintain a sense of belonging due to a strong cultural identity. Multiple descriptions throughout the poem display how Felicks is not affected by his lack of belonging to Australia, ‘Did your father ever try to learn English?’ instead he remains confident in his sense of self and is able to develop a distinct identity as shown through the metaphor “kept pace only with the Joneses/of his own mind’s making”.
The commitment which he has for his garden, ‘walked it’s paths ten times around the world’, highlight how he has been successful in creating an environment to which he belongs and is happy and content. Felicks remains unaffected by the way he is judged by a society, for example his ability to draw upon past memories and experiences with his polish friends. Belonging to a place and culture remains ingrained within us, even when in a foreign environment. By establishing a strong connection to place an individual can maintain a sense of self; a strong bond will continue to enrich an individual’s lifestyle.
Lacking a place to belong to has adverse effects on a sense of individuality. The poem ‘Felicks Skrzynecki’ explores difficulty of integrating into a contemporary Australian society. The persona within the poem is unable to form a connection to his past heritage displayed with the repetitive use of the exclusive pronoun ‘his’; ‘his garden’, ‘his polish friends’ and ‘his house’. The disconnection between father and son is highlighted through emotive simile, ‘loved his garden like an only child’. The strong juxtaposition between the two emphasises their differences and the struggle which the main person has. He is caught between two cultures, his Polish Heritage and the Australian society, and is unsure of which he belongs to; ‘words he taught me, remnants of a language I inherited unknowingly’. The main persona in the poem, ‘Felicks Skrzynecki’ suffers psychologically because he is unable to discover who he is or find a place to which he belongs. The sense of dislocation in Australia stems from conflict of a polish heritage he cannot remember. Lacking a sense of belonging to place inhibits the ability to form a sense of self; furthermore these negative experiences can accumulate and be detrimental to individuality.
The choice of whether to belong, or not, is complex. Instinct drives us to crave for the acceptance of others; and to integrate into a society. The traits which make us unique and interesting individuals can be alienating and preventing belonging. Composer, Peter Skrzynecki’s poem ‘St Patricks College’ is a personal recount of his experiences as a migrant undergoing education in Australia. The persona in the poem experiences a disconnection to the place and culture, which negatively affects his wellbeing. The mothers desire for her son to be seen as equal to others, through a common ‘uniform’, compels her to enrol him in an upper class school. Symbolism throughout the poem establishes the mothers need for her son belong as she is, ‘impressed by the uniforms of her employers sons’ The persona is clearly uncomfortable in his school, due to differences between he and the other students. Repetition of his mothers words, ‘What was best’ juxtaposes with the personas opinion, ‘the darkness that surrounded me wasn’t “for the best” ’.
As demonstrated in ‘St Patricks College’ not belonging will have adverse effects on an individual’s sense of self. Similarly in Amir Greders Picture Book, ‘The Island’ the alienation of an individual due to physical differences is explored. The first impression which we form of others is based on how we see them and these physical differences can create barriers to belonging. Greder has incorporated a range of visual techniques to explore this flaw in humanity. The islanders are portrayed through illustrations as brutish, with stout legs, broad foreheads, blunted noses and large hands. The distortion of their features contrasts strongly to the newcomer who is naked, thin and small. Highlighting his vulnerability; in comparison to the fully clothed and pitchfork wielding islanders, ‘he wasn’t like them’. The islanders fear of the newcomer, who ‘haunted their days and often their dreams’, is enhanced by emotive exaggeration of their facial expressions.
Gossip about his dissimilarity is made into a story to scare children, for example the school teacher who gives lectures ‘about savages and their strange ways’. The text aims to be didactic whilst displaying flaws in human nature. It forces the audience to question the moral values of those ‘monstrous’ figures. The islanders isolate him completely from their community ‘locking him in the stables’. Distrust of those who look or sound different causes groups of people to act in a harsh and inhumane manner. Individuals who are unable to conform whether it is due to physical differences or choice may be isolated or discriminated against by the society.
When trying to belong it is integral that we first are able to define ourselves. This occurs through connections and experiences with places, people and cultures. Both Peter Skrzynecki and Amir Greder have explored the multiple aspects which are involved in the formation of an individual’s identity and various barriers to belonging, which prevent inclusion and acceptance. All three texts explore the issue involved in the migrant experience, issues of dislocation and lacking identity. The human experience is constantly being challenged by external pressures. Nevertheless when an individual is able to establish who they are, without relying on others, they become an independent individual. These individuals do not require a place or group to feel as if they belong, and instead belong to themselves.