Belonging Essay – “Who we are and how we belong is a choice”
When we construct an identity for ourselves, we are constantly shaped by our choices. To where and how we belong is ultimately one of those choices, through which we develop our sense of self. In this development of ourselves, we often search for a feeling of belonging to culture, places, and groups, but are hindered from constructing a sense of self by barriers to belonging such as racial and cultural prejudice, violence, hypocrisy, and oppression. If and when these barriers are overcome, the individual is allowed to grow and belong on a more universal level. “Immigrant Chronicle” by Peter Skrzynecki and “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac both show this sense of the construction of identity in terms of belonging to place and culture. In contrast, “The Kingdom of God is Within You” by Leo Tolstoy portrays this sense of universal belonging in relation to the responsibilities of the individual, and the situation of the parents of Skrzynecki perfectly exemplifies the political and social enigmas about which Tolstoy was writing. Major themes related to belonging that are expressed and explored in the three works are connections culture, place, and groups. Each of these concepts will be discussed Culture and heritage are important vehicles through which the individual must make their choice to construct their sense of self, and relates to all three texts. Skrzynecki himself feels difficulty constructing a sense of self, because he needs to overcome the barrier of being caught between two worlds – the culture of his parents, Poland and Ukraine, and the Australian culture in which he is living. Similarly, the protagonist of “On the Road”, Sal Paradise feels a disconnection to mainstream American culture due to many aspects of American life which creates a clash with his sense of self. Therefore, each of these protagonists has a barrier to belonging that is between them and their cultural heritage: Paradise through lifestyle, and Skrzynecki through dislocation. As a contrast, the doctrine of Tolstoy in “The Kingdom of God is Within You” espouses a deliberate alienation from national culture and nationalism, as the system of government is held as evil, and any participation in the system continues the cycles of violence. This is exposed in the lines “All men, then, bound together by state organization, throw the responsibility of their acts on one another, the peasant soldier on the nobleman or merchant who is his officer, and the officer on the nobleman who has been appointed governor, the governor on the nobleman or son of an official who is minister, the minister on the member of the royal family who occupies the post of Tzar and the Tzar again on all these officials, noblemen, merchants, and peasants.” We understand that Kerouac’s and Skrzynecki’s protagonists have a desire to create a sense of self because Skrzynecki asserts that his ultimate goal, in his search for belonging is to create this identity, as illustrated in “Postcard”, where he writes “What’s my choice/ To be?” The enjambment of these lines coupled with the use of rhetorical questioning allows the reader to empathise with the poignant question. Kerouac, also, writes of his protagonist when in a railroad motel in Denver, “And that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was”, suggesting his dislocation through his loneliness from mainstream American culture, symbolised by the overindustrialisation of his surroundings – a railroad track. Both Paradise and Skrzynecki eventually choose a cultural belonging, thus overcoming their barriers from belonging. In contrast, “The Kingdom of God is Within You” is more closely focused on a goal of creating a place to which all people can belong through the choice of the individual to embody the teachings of Jesus – the Kingdom of God. Sal Paradise chooses New York City after experiencing a connection to the culture of...
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