Belonging, Romulus My Father

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‘An individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging.’ This statement can be readily depicted through various texts which include Raimond Gaita’s memoir, Romulus My Father and Universal Studio’s 2004 film, Hating Alison Ashley. Both of these texts involve various techniques that assist in portraying the concept of belonging to both an environment and to relationships. Belonging is a concept that is more complex than it first appears. It may be experienced on many levels between belonging and not belonging, be it to a family, a friendship, a place or a surrounding environment. It is a perception that is shaped within personal, cultural, historical and social contexts. Belonging is to fit in or to be accepted in a particular place or environment, to feel comfortable and connected to other individuals. Alternatively it may be isolation or alienation from others, to feel estranged or at odds with the environment. Raimond Gaita’s memoir, Romulus My Father demonstrates how an individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging to an environment. Gaita uses first person throughout the book, not only to express his experiences but to articulate both his mother and fathers experiences of belonging to their surroundings also. Romulus is a migrant to Australia who ‘always considered himself Romanian.’ Gaita often expresses Romulus as being at odds with the environment, never reconciling to the Australian landscape, whose foliage and vegetation “seemed symbols of deprivation and bareness.” This statement is symbolic of how he feels towards Australia and demonstrates how Romulus chose to only see the negative aspects of his surrounds and focused more on his desire to be back in Europe amongst “soft and gentle foliage”. These two simple descriptions of different landscapes are instantly juxtaposed and express Romulus’s feelings of loneliness in Australia compared to his feeling of comfort in Europe. Although he did not choose to interact with the environment and was not accepting of it, cultural contexts allowed him to establish a feeling of familiarity to the ‘village’ setting. This was due to his previous lifestyle in such environments and developed to a feeling of comfort in his surrounds. This feeling was reinforced through Romulus’s interaction with other Romanian immigrants. Raimond’s mother, Christina was detached from the Australian environment, even more so than Romulus. Contextually, her cultural background had a great impact on this. She was from a city and a wealthy social class. This was a barrier that prevented her interaction with others in Australia due to the poorer economic class there. It is expressed by Gaita that she “could not settle in a dilapidated farmhouse in a landscape that highlighted her isolation”. This is an emotive statement that reveals her limited sense of belonging to the reader. Christina had unattractive and lonely views of the landscape, she was forced to be there due to her asthma which in turn had a negative impact on her view of Australia. She was looked down upon because she was repeatedly unfaithful, a struggling mother and clearly suffering from a form of mental illness, due to these factors she is seen as being incapable of fitting into this alien environment. Her lack of concern for values in Australia at the time also causes many clashes in the conservative world to which she has come to live. Raimond, having arrived in the country at an early age comes to belong in the Australian bush. He is much more accepting than his parents and is willing to interact with his surrounds, this enriches his sense of belonging to the Australian environment. However, due to interactions with his father he unconsciously gained some of his father’s negative perceptions of the Australian environment. This originally influenced his own views and limited the interaction with his...
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