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Kendall McLennan

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Kendall McLennan
Belonging is a feeling that everyone wants to experience. We want to feel like we have a place in the world. Just as easily as we can create a sense of belonging with our identity, relationships, and experiences, we can also not belong. However, not belonging is not necessarily a choice. There may be specific circumstances that mean that we do not belong to a particular environment. These concepts of belonging are strongly represented in Peter Skrzynecki’s poems, Migrant Hostel and St. Patrick’s College and the picture book, The Arrival by Shaun Tan. These 3 texts all represent the connection between places and belonging or not belonging by using visual and literary techniques.
Skrzynecki’s poem Migrant Hostel is a poem about the migrants that came to Australia after World War II. The migrants were expected to leave their homes, a place where they belonged, and come to an unknown land where they were treated appallingly; they were put into cramped, confined living conditions and didn’t know the language. The Australian Government wanted migrants to come to Australia after the war to help rebuild the country. Despite this the Government treated them like a number in a file. The language in the 1st stanza conveys a sense of anonymity. Even though the migrants were fairly isolated, they wanted to feel some sense of security, so nationalities “sought out each other instinctively”. This was their first step in feeling like they belong.

To get that sense of belonging we must first experience not belonging. When you first open the book, you see the title in foreign symbols. This helps us picture what it would be like to be a migrant. The Arrival is a picture book about a man who leaves his family, a place where he belongs, and goes in search of a new life for his family. He ends up in a new city, where he does not speak the language and everything is foreign to him. The book has no words in it, which conveys the protagonist’s inability to communicate with people in the new city. When the protagonist meets other migrants they share their story with him. These stories are portrayed through flashbacks. The tone of the flashbacks is a dark one, which conveys the threat that they faced, and most probably the reason why they moved.
Skrzynecki and the main character have something in common; they feel like they don’t belong to their respective places. Tan grew up in Perth with a Asian background whereas Skrzynecki grew up in Sydney with a Polish and Ukraine background. This allowed Tan to develop an interest in migrants.
Skrzynecki’s mother made him attend St. Patrick’s, where he doesn’t feel like he belongs. His mother had good intentions for sending him to St. Patrick’s, “wanting only what was best” for her son. In the 4th stanza, Skrzynecki’s language is in a somewhat impersonal, sarcastic tone, suggesting that he did not have an attachment to the school, unlike the other children that go there. The use of the simile “caught the 414 bus like a foreign tourist” gives off the sense of alienation.
Through the exploration of Peter Skrzynecki’s poems Migrant Hostel and St. Patrick’s College and Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival we can see why people may not belong to specific environment.

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