(Not) Belonging Essay, Skrzynecki's Poems 'Migrant Hostel' and 'Feliks Skrzynecki'

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Belonging is a complex, multi-faceted concept encompassing a wide range of different aspects. The need to belong to family and culture is a universal human need which provides a sense of value and emotional stability, and in many respects forges one’s identity. Alienation and disconnection often creates feelings of isolation, depression and loss of identity. A struggle with cultural identity is evident in Peter Skrzynecki’s poems ‘Migrant Hostel’ and ‘Feliks Skrzynecki’, where he examines a division between his pre-war Polish heritage and his newfound Australian way of life. The movement away from his European cultural heritage towards a more Australian identity created disorientation for Skrzynecki, and these feelings of disconnection and separation are evident in his poetry. ‘Migrant Hostel’ depicts the loss of cultural identity common to migrants and the accompanying feelings of depression and alienation generated by this loss. This poem also reflects the context of the post W.W.II influx of migrants from Europe’s war-torn countries and the racism directed at migrants that was encouraged by the White Australia Policy. A loss of identity is evident from the first stanza, where a sense of uncertainty, expressed in the line “Sudden departures…who would be coming next”, permeates the poem. These lines highlight the loss of control and certainty in the migrant’s life, and the fear of the unknown as no warning was given before the departure of fellow migrants. The emotional instability of the migrants is also expressed through the alliterative ‘h’ in “Memories of hunger and hate”, which suggests a heaviness of people’s spirits and hearts, engendered by their memories of the past. The poignant simile, ‘like a homing pigeon/circling to get its bearings’ also illustrates the migrants feeling of dislocation, uncertainty and emotional disorientation in the face of their journey and tenure at the hostel. ‘A barrier at the main gate’ that sealed off and confined the...
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