This is clearly demonstrated in the prescribed text, The Simple Gift by Stephen Herrick as we see the unlikely friendship and bond develop between the characters, Billy and Old Bill and the passionate relationship that forms between Billy and Caitlin. In this text, Herrick uses extensive amounts of literary techniques to describe feelings, ideas and representations to illustrate the complexity of belonging and how adversity and circumstances can bring individuals together “And he tells me about his Jessie/ and his wife/ and the house he visits…and how he’s afraid to forget…”. The formation of unlikely friendships and bonds is well evidenced by the relationship between Anna and Campbell Alexander in my selected text, My Sisters Keeper. The complexity and fragility of relationships and how changes in the environment or random events affect an individual’s sense of belonging can be easily found in both texts.
In The Simple Gift, a series of random and tragic events lead Old Bill to simply close his front door and walk away from the life he has known forever. When Billy packs up and leaves ‘Longlands Road’ he embarks on not only a journey of self discovery and happiness, but a journey to find a place where he can belong. Even though Billy knows he’s going to end up homeless with no family or friends to support him, the determination to find a place better than ‘Longlands Road’ overpowers his fear and the uncertainty of his future “ As dad stood over me/ and said/ no more sport/ no more forever”. Through a random encounter in an unlikely environment these two characters form an unusual friendship and bond based on raw emotion and the brutality of life at ‘The Hilton’, the local rail yard of Bendarat. As their unorthodox relationship develops their lives take on new meaning. They force each other to make changes that ultimately influence their long term survival and outcomes “ But at least I’m not drinking so much,/ and I can’t smoke in the cannery/ bloody hell,/ this kid’s going to turn me,/ into a health freak!”. In the ultimate act of selflessness, Old Bill gives Billy his house as he acknowledges the desperation of Billy’s situation, the validity of Billy and Caitlin’s relationship and their need to be together and have a place to belong “I know Billy has only got/ until this afternoon…so obvious/ and so simple/ and so unbearably painful/ my whole body shakes…”
In My Sisters Keeper a chain of negative and tragic events re-enforces the relationship between Anna and Kate, as Anna strives to belong and Kate fights to no longer belong for the benefit of others, “This is it, I know I’m going to die now, I suppose I’ve always known that, just never knew when, and I’m okay with it, really, I don't mind my disease killing me, but it’s killing my family aswell”. The harsh reality and brutality of Kate’s disease leads to the development of the friendship between Anna and Campbell Alexander as Anna fights for her medical emancipation, “I wanna sue my parents for the rights to my own body”.
The connection between the two texts, The Simple Gift and My Sisters Keeper is evident as the characters search for a way to eliminate their feelings of alienation and finally discover a sense of belonging. Unexpected encounters in unfamiliar surroundings lead to the formation of passionate relationships between Billy and Caitlin and Kate and Taylor. The intensity and intimacy that develops as the relationships evolve create a sense of self-worth for the characters as they each make the decision to step out of their comfort zone and explore new and unfamiliar situations. For Billy and Caitlin, their relationship is a long term journey based upon their individual need to escape the alienation of their lives and create an environment together where they both belong. In a way, Billy’s homelessness serves as an attraction for Caitlin. The fact that Billy has only himself to offer and his expression of ‘the honour of poverty’ leads Caitlin to the realisation of how she has become to despise the possessions and status symbols of her life as it exists. These shared values form important links between the characters and help strengthen their sense of belonging and lead them into a more fulfilling and long-term relationship “And I choose/ the thick silver ring…/green like her eyes…it’s a good ring son…”
For Kate and Taylor, their relationship develops through the bond of illness. The awareness of their circumstances and the finite nature of their lives accompanied with the need for them to belong in an environment full of negativity, sadness and hospital visits leads them to develop a connection based on love and mutual acceptance. Through the intensity of their short relationship Kate moves one step closer to the independence and freedom she craves.
The constant confrontations between Anna and her mother continue to make Anna feel alienated from the family and her home, the place where she feels safe, where she used to belong. Perceived by her parents as negative, Anna’s actions force them to confront their own feelings and emotions and to evaluate their less than ideal family life. Anna’s determination to be free from the responsibility of saving her sister leads her father to look within himself and revaluate his relationship with both Anna and her brother. His acknowledgement of the reality of Kate’s prognosis leads him to the decision to stand by Anna and ultimately assist Kate in her quest to be free.
For Anna’s mother, the fear of the loss of Kate and the sense of failure and her own inadequacy in not being able to save Kate, alienates her from her family. It is only through Anna’s inner strength and determination to remind her mother of the reason for her existence “I’m a designer baby, I was made in a dish to be spare parts for Kate” that Anna’s mother is able to begin to repair the broken bonds within her family.
In The Simple Gift, Caitlin struggles with the feeling that she has no connection with her parents or the values they stand for. As her relationship with ‘the homeless’ Billy develops, Caitlin is confronted by the harsh reality of a life that is far removed from her own. She realises that as she matures into a young woman her values are opposite to those of her parents and is forced to acknowledge that these are barriers to the feeling that she belongs to her parents. “And I’m not a spoilt brat OK, / but I am spoilt, / spoilt to boredom, / and I’m smart enough/ to realise that none of this/ means anything…” As the relationship between Caitlin and billy becomes more intense, Caitlin comes to the realisation that although she no longer feels a strong bond with her parents, there will always be a significant connection that holds them together and helps her to express her true self.
Anna’s struggle to help Kate die is challenged by her mother’s persistent battle to save Kate’s life. The bond formed between Kate and Anna throughout Kate’s sickness grows stronger each day as Anna begins to understand how much Kate wants to be free. Anna’s feeling of alienation begins to dissipate as the film goes on and the court case is heard, revealing the truth about Kate’s wishes. Anna’s relationship with her sister Kate is intense and intricate. Both characters feel alienated from their worlds, and fight for their own needs to be met. For Anna, it is the need to be accepted as a person in her own right, to be created in her own right and out of love “When I was a kid, my mother told me I was a little piece of blue sky, that came into the world because she and dad loved me so much, it was only later that I realised that it wasn't exactly true.” And for Kate the need for her parents to accept that she is tired, tired of fighting, tired of being sick, tired of being in pain and actually just tired of living. With a bond between them that surpasses any other within the family, the girls push their relationship to the absolute limit as they fight for their own individuality and right to be in charge of their own lives.
For Kate, it is the realisation that her younger sister has lost her childhood “I’m sorry I let them hurt you, I’m sorry I didn’t take care of you, it was supposed to be the other way round” and for Anna, it is the desire to belong in the family as a daughter, a sister and a individual. Through the trauma and hardship of these events and decisions, the family begin to realise how they enrich each other’s lives and how they have developed a strong connectivity and sense of understanding that will be with them all forever, “Once upon a time I thought I was put on earth to save my sister, but in the end I couldn’t do it. I realise now that wasn't the point, the point was I had a sister, she was fantastic. One day I’m sure I’ll see her again, but until then, our relationship continues.”
Throughout The Simple Gift and My Sisters Keeper we see how belonging is something that doesn’t just happen. A person’s sense of belonging develops only through a complex and intricate process. It involves the interaction between individuals and their environments and can evolve through unexpected events. Ultimately the desired outcome for the individual is achieving a sense of belonging and feeling that you have a role and place in the world.