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Melina Marchetta’s “Looking for Alibrandi” Essay

In Melina Marchetta’s novel, “Looking for Alibrandi”, the theme of identity is a process of discovery along a journey for most of the characters. Although John Barton’s journey is short by the end, he knew what he wanted and he made sure that no one was hurt more than necessary when he achieved it. Josephine Alibrandi discovers her identity after many developments in her life, many of which include Jacob Coote, John Barton and Katia Alibrandi. Katia Alibrandi, Josie’s grandmother, (nonna) has experienced a lot in her time but still needs Josie’s help to let go of her past. Jacob Coote went along with what everyone expected of him until he met Josie. She helps him to reopen the door to his journey of identity. Melina Marchetta has provided a text with the identity issues that many face and she has provided her readers with outcomes that prove to be perfect examples of the outcomes of discovery of identity.

John Barton does not know what he wants in life but he knows what he does not want. He does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps; to “make promises I can’t keep…I don’t want a lot of responsibilities in life…I don’t want to climb to the top” (pg 47). As John Barton continues to discover his identity, he dislikes it more and more. He convinces himself that he does not want to live anymore. It is a fact that many teenagers face and Marchetta portrays it extremely well though John Barton. When John First tells Josie that he does not want to live anymore, she, like many teenage friends, did not fully understand. “At first I didn’t understand… watching those vacant eyes I realised he meant no other life” (pg 134). Many songs portray the feelings that John Barton fells, an excellent example being the chorus of Simple Plan’s Welcome to my Life:

“To be hurt

To fell lost

To be left out in the dark

To be kicked

When you’re down

To feel like you’ve been pushed around

To be on the edge of breaking down

And no ones there to save you

No, you don’t know what its like

Welcome to my life”

The next time that Josie and John are alone together, he seemed fine, “there was a euphoria about him that was catching,” (pg 228). Marchetta foreshadows John Barton’s future with the link of “I don’t think I want to live this life anymore,” (pg 134) and “I’ve got my whole future planned out the way I want it and there is nothing anyone can do to take that away from me,” (pg 229). The journey of John Barton may have been short, but that just made it all the more necessary to understand.

Josephine Alibrandi is a senior student, at St Martha’s College, who is confused with her social and cultural status. Josie considers herself to be stuck between two cultures, Australian and Italian. “As far as the Italians are concerned we weren’t completely one of them. Yet because my grandparents were born in Italy we weren’t completely Australian,” (pg 7) Josie also feels that she does not fit in at school. “The ones like me didn’t belong in the eastern and northern suburbs,” (pg 8). Josie hated Ivy Lloyd, yet envied her social status and desperately wanted to belong to her world. “No matter how much I hate Poison Ivy, I want to belong to her world…a world where I can be accepted,” (pg 32). All she wants more than anything is to “be free and think for myself. Not as an Australian and not as an Italian and not as an in between,” (back cover). It was not until after Josie left the walk-a-thon that she realised, with Sister Louise’s help, that she and her friends were not as socially out of it as they thought.

“Socially we weren’t as shitty as we thought we were,” (pg 184). With the mixture of John Barton’s death and Jacob Coote, breaking up with her Josie realised that she wouldn’t wake up one day and everything would feel liberated. It had taken her a year to become so. “I just sat there thinking back on the year and I realised that I was emancipated long ago. It wasn’t one particular point either it was several,” (pg 258). The walk-a-thon was one of those points, “I remember feeling socially out of it at St Martha’s, yet when the fiasco of the walk-a-thon happened, I realised I wasn’t,” (pg 258), after Nonna telling her about Marcus Sandford she realised that her illegitimacy “had never been my cross. I had only made it mine,” (pg 258) and with her culture she realises that she is not where the people have placed her but “an Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through her veins,” (pg 259). Josie realises that no matter how perfect she is people will still talk. She realises that it only matters “who I feel like I am – and I feel like Michael and Christina’s daughter; Sera, Anna and Lee’s friend and Roberts’s cousin,” (pg 261).

Katia Alibrandi, nonna, is always fighting with her daughter, Christina Alibrandi, and her granddaughter, Josephine Alibrandi. Josie thinks that it is because her grandmother loves to meddle and is forever worrying about what people think and talk about. “She tends to forget that all she does to mama when they’re together is nag her about the way she’s bringing me up,” (pg 34). Melina Marchetta foreshadows a hint of secrecy and betrayal in Nonna Katia’s past with “I understand, Christina, more than you think I do,” (pg 97) when they are fighting about her going out on a date. It was not until Josie gave in to the urge to ask about the photos in Katia’s house that Katia told anyone about the mysterious Marcus Sandford, even if it was only a fraction of the whole story.

She told Josie about her life in a country where no one could understand her. “You do not know how much I hated Australia for the first year. No friends. No people who spoke the same language as me,” (pg 114) Melina Marchetta foreshadows the same hint of secrecy and betrayal with another clue; “Francesco couldn’t afford to come home and then go away again…I was…alone for Christmas,” (pg 200). Then when Josie was at her Mother’s birthday party it was said “conceived a week before which was Christmas day,” (pg 215) Josie was furious at her Nonna because she had been such a hypocrite, and it took her a week to realise that she did not care. Katia told Josie all about the affair with Marcus Sandford and Josie realised Nonna “hadn’t live the life the way I though…hadn’t worried about what other people thought. She had taken chances. Broken rules,” (pg 226). Katia Alibrandi, by discussing her journey of identity with her granddaughter, has re-established the relationship with her daughter and granddaughter.

Everyone expects Jacob Coote amount to nothing and he would be more than happy to prove them right, he was proud of getting bad marks and thought that it did not matter because he was going to be a mechanic. Right from the beginning he had decided what he was going to be because it was easy and no one expected more from him. That was until he met Josephine Alibrandi. She was smart, and he did not think he was. “You’re intellectual. I’m an idiot,” (pg 249). When the started going out he started to change, “I think that during that year Jacob got a bit more ambitious than he used to be,” (pg 260). He did not want to be a mechanic that worked all day and complained about house payments and petrol prices, he wanted to be a mechanic that has a variety of options, and he wants to discover his identity.

“Because you opened me up to this whole new world out there. I don’t want to become a mechanic and work all day long and then at night go to the pub and marry someone just like me and have two children and whinge about housing payments and petrol prices and the economy… But this year I realised, because of you, that there is more to life… I want to step outside my circle and look at other options. I don’t want to be stereotyped because of the school I attend or the suburb I live in,” (pg 251)

Melina Marchetta has written a novel, Looking of Alibrandi, which shows the youth of today that in order to discover your identity you need to have travelled the journey of life, however short that may be. She uses John Barton, Josephine Alibrandi, Katia Alibrandi and Jacob Coote to show that no matter how old or how bad you think you life is you can still make the decisions to make it better or worse. She cleverly states that when you no longer have the ability to dream you have nothing left to hope for. “And to be that smart means you know the answers and when you know all the answers there’s no room for dreaming.”

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