Exploring the Concept of Belonging

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Belonging is one of those universalities that appears simple and yet holds complex truths about humanity. It is the state in which an individual holds a place of purpose and is valued for one’s own intrinsic identity within a group or relationship. In order for belonging to occur, there must be an affinity between individuals in terms of shared aspects of identity. However, as each individual has a set of values that shapes their identity, there must be some negotiation in order to find commonalities. There are many ways through which an individual can belong to a group or relationship, however some individuals find it difficult to establish similarities in identity with others, so must suppress their individuality in order to belong or else completely withdraw. Thus it is evident that one identity affects, and is affected by whether or not and how one belongs. This crucial relationship between identity and belonging is explored in the play As You Like It by William Shakespeare. The play deals with the ubiquitous dilemma of disconnected individuals searching for a place of belonging, to regain a lost sense of self. In the play Shakespeare identifies a number of different ways which one can belong; the family’s role in establishing one’s identity and self perception, the role of gender as defining identity, and love as an avenue for ultimate belonging. These concepts of belonging are explored through Shakespeare’s use of characterisation, plot and setting. Two other texts that explore the concept of belonging are Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion and the short story “Comrades” by Nadine Gordimer. As You Like It follows several characters disconnected from society on their individual journeys to regain a place of belonging. The sense of discord in the play is evidently a result of the corruption in the court, the setting where the main characters ideally belong. Corruption in the court is identified through the family breakdowns that have occurred. The play opens with a sense of disorder, an unnatural situation where Orlando rails against his brother’s maltreatment of him. Oliver fails to fulfil the role “charged” him by his late father to provide Orlando with adequate education befitting a “gentleman of [his] birth”. By denying Orlando the means to his rightful place in society, Oliver removes a vital part of his identity, consequently denying him a part in the family; the “place of a brother”. The corruption in the court is further illustrated through the banishment of Duke Senior by his brother Duke Frederick. This lack of kinship conveys the need for a restoration of balance in the court. However the devoted, loving relationship between Rosalind and Celia transcends shows how harmony can occur within the court. In a stark contrast to the tension in the previous scene, the atmosphere denotes a satisfying accord. The fact that the two are merely cousins yet are “coupled and inseparable” highlights the corruption in the court. Shakespeare contrasts the character of Celia to her father Duke Frederick to convey how the disparity in identity can result in a lack of kinship. When Rosalind is banished by her uncle, Celia not only rises to her defence, but is disloyal to her father leaving him to “seek another heir” and following Rosalind into the forest. Celia recognises her father’s “rough and envious disposition” which “sticks her at the heart”: unlike her father, Celia has a moral conscience. As Shakespeare uses the contrasting characters of Celia and Duke Frederick and Oliver and Orlando to illustrate how ones identity is not completely shaped y ones family and that one does not always belong to their family, he also uses characterisation to show how an affinity in identity can allow two individuals to belong completely to one another. Orlando is characterised as virtuous and noble as Oliver himself admits Orlando’s natural gentility accepting that he is “learned...full of noble device” and “enchantingly beloved”. Rosalind,...
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