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Belonging is a state of being wherein individuals feel at ease with oneself, others and the world around them and, this state can be influenced by interactions with others. Isolation and alienation are common consequences of interaction with others as people and relationships mature and disperse over time, which is heightened during turbulent adolescent years. This complex battle between belonging and growth provides sustenance to the concept that by choosing not to belong, identity can be strengthened as it forces the individual to mature and seek opportunities for growth.
These ideologies are rigorously explored in both of Tim Winton’s didactic short stories ‘Big World’ and ‘Neighbours’ in which the reader explores themes of self-discovery and social isolation. Ultimately both texts explore the relationship between identity and belonging and how it is shaped by interactions with others and society through a number of literary devices.
Tim Winton’s “Big World” follows the journey of the protagonist as he discovers he wants to enrich his experience of identity by living a purposeful life free from his friend Biggy’s influence.
The short story explores the main characters endeavour for self-discovery and how he overcomes his own short comings. The narrators call to adventure is initiated by his realisation that his life is leading to a career in the meatworks. Through Biggy’s colloquial language “fuck it· we’re outta here”, there is an emphasis on the urgency to move beyond their comfort zones. Moreover, the narrator conveys his excitement for new horizons through such lines as “shimmering with heat” and the prospect of “moving with the seasons” culminating in the simple, liberating statement that “we’ll be free”.
The collective pronoun and anaphora in “we’ll” and “we’re” emphasises the inclusive language as being ‘best mates’ and through this bond they’ll stick together for their entire life however, as the story progresses the narrator begins to realise the immense unfulfilled potential and sacrifices inadvertently made as a repercussion of being so close to Biggie. The narrator is awakened to the fact that the friendship is inappropriate and restrictive. He feels as if he is a fraud due to the fact he allowed his youth to be dictated and influenced by Biggy’s “oafish and idiotic” behaviour. The protagonist has been gifted a renewed outlook of his future, he is now aware that he must move on if he is to discover growth and improvement to his sense of identity. Suffering and isolation are some of the many physical and psychological obstacles encountered on the journey. This is the price paid by Winton’s protagonist for a clearer insight into his own identity. This price is well worth it as the narrator enriches his own perception of belonging through his experiences on the search for new horizons.
Belonging is a concept that provides confidence and support to individuals who are able to connect to people or places, thus the ability to connect culturally has the ability to enrich an individual’s experience of belonging. This is apparent in Tim Winton’s short story ‘Neighbours’ which focuses on a typical Australian couple’s relocation to a suburb dominated by Eastern European migrants. Winton is able to explore how a transition from being an outsider and eventually being accepted can result in a heightened feeling of belonging for the young couple and the whole neighbourhood through the symbolism of pregnancy. The pregnancy acts as a catalyst for new relationships and connections for various cultures due to its universality. Ultimately it results in the breakdown of cultural barriers and highlights how the couple’s transition has resulted in them pursuing a new phase of life. The juxtaposition in “in the street they no longer walked with their eyes lowered”, contrasts the young couple from the start who felt wary of this place to how they now have a deepened understanding of the neighbourhood as they can walk around with their eyes up. This change in attitudes occurs through the new relationships formed in the neighbourhood. Through this Winton is able to explore perfectly the transition from not belonging to belonging and the impact positive interaction with society has on the young couple’s mindset and wellbeing. The simile “it made them feel like sojourners in a foreign land” further allows Winton to investigate that the young couple’s transition into this new neighbourhood is far from smooth. The use of ‘sojourners’ and ‘foreign land’ help explore this transition into a new place as confronting and challenging while also highlighting how they don’t belong.
The suffering of the protagonist in Tim Winton’s ‘Big World’ is a subtle yet effective way of conveying how interactions with those with no life aspirations can limit your experience of belonging and identity. This lesson is taught as the narrator is first stripped of his worldly possessions. The destruction of the Kombi which “could blow at any moment and everything we own is inside” becomes a final catalyst for his growth as he discovers he must move on to achieve his full potential as his interaction with Biggy has limited his experiences with others and the world around him. His reflection of the future is sad and pitiful, “In a week, Biggy and Meg will blow me off·In a year Biggy will be dead in a mining accident·”, suggesting isolation is the necessary consequence for one chapter of life to close and for the character to move on and discover the next. This symbolises that the journey has transformed the narrator as he has discovered that Biggy has restricted his “dreams of a big world”, relationships with others and restricted his future. Thus, the narrator’s hazy and reflective tone “I suppose we’re all wrong for each other” reiterates that the journey has transformed his perception on his friendship with Biggy and feeling of belonging. Winton’s ‘Big World’ protagonist’s final epiphany comes as a consequence of isolation. He is isolated by the plot twist of Meg, who forms a relationship with his best friend, Biggy on their road trip. It is through his isolation and watching them that he discovers a disturbing truth about himself and his relationship with Biggie: “·he’s enjoying being brighter than her·It’s me all over. It’s how I am with him and it’s not pretty.” Here the protagonist suffers, realising the unhealthy and unproductive nature of his relationship. This epiphany causes him to become even more isolated, aware that he must move on if he is to discover happiness and growth. Winton also uses contrast to convey the loss of belonging and identity that comes with the narrator’s interaction with others such as Biggie.
Through shared themes of social isolation and self-discovery ‘Big World’ in conjunction with ‘Neighbours’ work together to provide a detailed insight into the complicated relationship between identity and belonging, exploring how each impact upon each other in positive and negative ways. In conclusion Tim Winton has utilised literary techniques to convey how an individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or spoil their feelings of belonging and acceptance. Through the analysis of ‘Big World’ and “Neighbours” the reader can enhance their understanding of belonging and different obstacles that prevent an individual from feeling accepted, thus influencing and ultimately shaping their identity.
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