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Belonging is one of the fundamental human needs for companionship and security. For those who have a place where they belong such as with a family, with friends, with the community; they feel safe and content. For those who don’t belong and cannot “fit” into their surroundings they are faced with problems of alienation and loneliness. These different aspects of belong are reflected in a variety of texts; “Romulus My Father” by Raimond Gaita explores a sense of familial belonging and how it shapes who we are, “The Comic” by Leunig explores the troubles of being accepted and “fitting” in. Finally, the feature article, “Compulsive Gamers ‘not addicts’” by Pady Maguire explores the need for gamers to belong to a community.
In “Romulus My Father” the most profound sense of belonging exists with the narrator himself. The narrator delivers his observations in a reflective and thoughtful tone. The high modality of verb choice suggests a pleasant nostalgia about events in the book. Particularly his recollections of his father, notions such as, “I loved him too deeply… no quarrel could estrange us” displays the sense of belonging \ he feels with his father. This is evident even after Christina dies. He observed, “We came together as son and husband with the woman whose remains lay beneath us”. Raimond’s aspect of belonging is that of family and culture. Juxtaposed against Raimond’s belonging is the suffering of Christina in her displacement. For the mother her inability to belong is described by Raimond as, “a troubled city girl, she could not settle…. in a landscape that highlighted her isolation”. Raimond’s melancholy tone conveys how Christine could not fit into the community and in Australia. As a result her isolation and alienation lead her to betray the institution of family juxtaposed by “I felt awkward with her,” which shows his relationship with his mother has lost the familial belonging it once contained.
Cultural and national belongings are also central themes that drive the characterizations of Romulus and Raimond. Although they find pleasure and security in the in Victoria there is still a connection between Raimond and Romulus to their origin in Europe. Raimond’s similes of his father explains, “He still longed, and longed all his life, for the European concatenation he knew as a young man, even in Germany, and with his friends and relatives in Melbourne” and “He longed for European society, saying that he felt like a prisoner in Australia”. Raimond showed that even though Australia is suitable place that provides security and safety there is the absence of the utmost satisfaction of belonging, which is a sense of nationality and ethnicity. Raimond uses verbal irony, “They called him Jack” which shows that even though the town tried to make Romulus belong he kept his name Romulus. The irony of this statement lies in that even though Romulus belonged to his community he still felt the absence of a greater sense of belonging that he didn’t want to replace with a simple name-change. The constant reference to Europe by the narrator presents to the audience that there is always a connection to their homeland where they find extra pleasure and comfort.
“The comic” by Leunig is a 6 – panel comic depicting a growing man’s insecurity as he tries to belong to society. The man attempts to be popular, be acceptable, be normal but his anxiety and fear makes him feel isolated. As a result he fails to achieve a sense of belonging in the place he seeks. The visual representation of the mirror is a symbol of society looking back at him. As the man reflects himself in the mirror he is overcome by society’s judgment. Furthermore the Leunig is constantly using keywords such as, “ACCEPTABLE” and “BEING NORMAL”. This creates a repetitive re-enforcement of the idea that he is trying hard to belong but he is failing to do so. Thematic use of vocabulary such as “grinding…tedium…exhausting labor…painful…. futility… tragic” create the atmosphere of his desperate attempts. The pictures also create an emphasis on how a man becomes develops into a disastrous state of well being as he discovers the troubles of trying to “fit” in. Leunig has taken a very serious matter and made it humorous and has shown how on the journey to belonging to a society place, community, people will often loose themselves and identity to become “accepted” and “normal”.
Another text that engages with similar themes of belonging as Romulus my Father is the picture book The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Both texts begin with the narrative of the protagonist and his family alienated from their native homes, loosing their original connection to nationality and country. The picture book consists of a series of montages and large symbolic spreads which both contribute to the nostalgic sense of belonging that is lost, and the new belonging that is gained. One good example is an image where the migrants have arrived at the new land. The harbour, depicted as a parody of Sydney Harbour consists of two large statues bowed towards each other to form an arc. This is symbolic and metaphoric as it depicts the iconic bridge of Sydney as well as unity and success. In the next image, a large towering dove looks over the city. This is symbolic of both ANZ tower and harmony. Overall the text suggests the new belonging and the feeling of hope the migrants possess. The Arrival is a companion text to Romulus my Father because they both depict unwilling evictees from their nations, who strive to achieve a new belonging in a land of strangers.
Belonging shapes who we are. “Romulus My Father” by Raimond Gaita explores the definitive nature of cultural and familial belonging. “Compulsive gamers ‘not addicts’” by Pady Maguire explores the need for belonging by gamers seeking a place in society. Finally “The comic” by Leunig examines the social process of belonging and how it takes as well as gives. Together these texts allow us to examine both positive and negative aspects of belonging.