We all have the desire to belong. To belong to something, anything. Even though we ourselves can’t realise it at first. Belonging is a basic human instinct and need. Greek philosopher Aristotle refers to this basic drive, suggesting “the impulse to form partnership of this kind is present in all men by nature”. Given that we are nurtured from birth, this interpretation is then all the more clear. The word ‘belong’ can be defined in several different ways. Oxford dictionary makes mention of things like ‘being connected with, or being related to, or being a member of a specified environment’. In other words not being out of place. Thus it is safe to make the interpretation that belonging is concerned with obtaining a set of shared beliefs or establishing a connection with the individuals or communities around us. Connection is the fulcrum to belonging, and our perception of it can be shaped within personal, cultural, historical and social contexts. We can then say that the notion of belonging stems from the premise that we belong when we are nurtured. This is when we feel most comfortable, most connected to the people and environment that surrounds us. These connections are essential for us to come to terms with who and what we are, as is seen in Raimond Gaita’s Romulus My Father. Gaita’s memoir here highlights the difficulties his father encountered in attempting to establish himself amid the conservative and narrow attitudes of 1950’s Australian people having being relocated from his native home land. Although belonging is central to the discussion, this text does well to highlight the other side of the coin of alienation and shows us that belonging is also a concept that is progressive through time. It is complex and transitory. This sense of alienation is also evident in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, where the protagonist is silenced in an ideological prison perpetrated by men. Contrastingly, Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino, shows us that sometimes individuals deliberately object to belonging to their surrounding environment, as was the case with Walt who initially has no desire to belong as he rejects his family and religion.
Belonging is the complex process whereby perceptions of self and social allegiances are forged. It is particularly important in the family context as it is an essential factor in a person’s growth and development, it colours who and what we are and how we fit into the world around us. It is through Gaita’s relationship with his father Romulus that he comes to understand who and what he is. Being an immigrant, Romulus gains recognition by proving his “worth,” finding a sense of belonging through work. Something that was common and familiar to him his whole life, regardless of location. Gaita uses personification to reinforce the bond that exists between Romulus and his work as “his materials seemed to be in friendship with him” therefore highlighting the significance of such connection and belonging to the idea of work. As a role model, Gaita’s father shaped him into a well balanced and thoughtful man in that he could recognise “what a good workman is, what an honest man is and know what friendship is” and thus discover his place and connections in the world. The bond between Gaita and his father ensures that both of them can establish a sense of belonging, and this is also highlighted through Gaita’s request for his father to go faster when riding together on his motorbike, symbolic of his trust. Both truly belong to each other through the unconditional bond of love between parent and child. The utilisation of repetition of the word “what” emphasises this further. The razor also becomes symbolic of how Gaita was shaped as an individual through his father’s influence. Symbolism here allows us to see that Romulus believes that a person’s character is the basis on which they belong in honourable society and in an honourable family. Gaita’s relationship with his father shows us...
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