Belonging in Romulus, My Father and This Is England

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Our perception of belonging is shaped by various aspects, one of the most influential of these being the confined expectations of society. As one understands and accepts the socially constructed definition of how an individual may belong, one begins to label themselves under this classification. This awareness causes one to alter and shape their behaviour according to their own perception of whether or not they belong, which in turn is based on society’s standards. It may serve as a process of belonging, or alternatively, as a barrier. This concept is evident in the first scene of the film This is England, as 12-year-old Shaun enters his new school, wearing his fathers’ old denim jeans. He stands helplessly among his classmates, most in ties, hats and uniform jackets. This juxtaposition immediately shows Shaun’s quickly formed perception of how one may belong in this environment, as a fight is initiated caused by his incompatible choice of clothing. His sense of belonging is determined by society’s expectations, and therefore his behaviour is shaped accordingly. Shaun further isolates himself from the society as a result of this, sitting unaccompanied in the playground. This act of cruelty causes Shaun to place blame upon his mother, who brought him from Germany to England, determined to start life afresh after the death of his father. Consequently, this gives rise to the additional seclusion from what was once a place of belonging, his home, and his family.

A similar concept is evident in Romulus, My Father, a memoir written by Raimond Gaita. Raimond’s mother Christine experiences a life of rejection from society. In like manner as Shane encountered upon moving to England, Christine held a powerful sense of belonging to her home culture in Germany, and therefore the sudden change in landscape only furthered the isolation that was also influenced by her mental illness. Gaita feels that her psychological incapacity was exacerbated by the unwillingness of the...
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