Belonging: 'Feliks Skrzynecki', 'Migrant Hostel' and Photo Essay 'Belongings: Felt, Presented, Challenged'

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Belonging is the ability of an individual to reconcile identity with their social environment. Peter Skrzynecki’s poems Feliks Skrzynecki and Migrant Hostel from the anthology ‘Immigrant Chronicle’ explore this concept in relation to migrants during the post WWII period and are reflections of Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory. The photo essay entitled Belongings; felt, presented, challenged transfers these same principles to a modern context, illustrating the enduring nature of the struggle humanity faces in the endeavour to belong. Feliks’ gardening in Feliks Skrzynecki can be seen as a response to the years of forced labour in Germany which left him at the mercy of bigger tides in the affairs of humanity. Once in Australia as part of the post WWII influx of migrants, Feliks devotes himself to creating an environment which he can control. Stanza one and two establishes a sense of comfort and familiarity within the niche he has created for himself. Feliks recognises that belonging is gained through the possession of particular socially valued and accepted criteria. In an Australian context, uniformity is made the criteria for belonging, something which Feliks himself does not value highly, as expressed in “Did your father ever attempt to learn English?” The condescending tone employed portrays the perceived societal value of assimilation and the representation of an unwelcoming society as seen from a migrant’s perspective. Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory states that a person’s sense of self is based on their group membership(s); that in order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong (in group) and discriminate against the groups that we do not (out group). Peter Skrzynecki presents a contradictory self-categorisation in the poem Feliks Skrzynecki. “His (fathers) Polish friends always shook hands too violently” connotes cultural exclusivity and the affinity of the persona with a non-Polish culture. Child voice...
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