Belonging – Romulus My Father

Belonging is a paradoxical concept illustrating an individual’s sense of inclusions and exclusion simultaneously. This is evident in Raimond Gaita’s memoir Romulus My father as the individuals Romulus, Raimond and Christine experience the dynamic changes evident in the concept of belong to place, society and community. Armin Greder also explores the fluid and dynamic nature of belonging through his picture book ‘The Island’ through the isolation of the protagonist within the confinements of the island. The inclusion or exclusion from a community is shaped by human prejudices and tolerances.

The biographical examination of Romulus’ life with in the text RMF, illustrates his rejection and acceptance within the community of Baringhup. Romulus’ immigrant status shows the division between the new immigrants and the Australians, as the immigrants are forced into a camp. This camp offered shelter and food, though it also offered an opportunity for belonging through shared experiences and cultures, “He asked the man who greeted new arrivals whether there were any other Romanians… He sought them out and they quickly greeted. Although unaccepted by the Australians, Romulus is able to find other immigrants who he is able to connect with and form relationships, creating a family society between them. Through Romulus’ adoption of the Australian name “Jack” he attempts to connect to the social milieu of Baringhup though impeded by his unfamiliar morals and values which are not accepted by the Australian community. The strong prejudices of the Australian community are evident in the event of the fire, when Romulus attempts to scare the snake out of the grass through setting alight of the grass.

This event causes the exclusion of Romulus in the community “responding with the instinct of an immigrant… he set fire to the stook…” showing the intolerance of the community and emphasising the belief that he (Romulus) will never be accepted in the Australian community. Yet through Romulus’ contribution to the community through his ironwork and hardworking mentality he is able to be accepted into the community, evidently showing the inconsistent nature of belonging.

Similarly, Armin Grader’s picture book “The Island’ is a metaphorical account of the way prejudices and fear create artificial barriers between people, which are used to exclude others to ensure protection. Shown his lack of clothing the protagonist is identified as foreigner on the island. Through the 4 panelled images we see the foreigner attempt integrating into society by performing civilised jobs, such cooking, carpentry, and singing in the local church.

Though in each of these images the man is portrayed in an obscure manner, such as a devil in the choir, showing his exclusion of the individual while performing average tasks of the community, illustrating how belonging to self, controls an individual’s sense of belonging to society, and emphasising the fluid nature of belonging. Due to the social convention the community on the island and the fear evoked by the foreigner, the islanders construct a wall.

This wall symbolises the islander’s sense of inclusion to each other as a community and a group which protects and supports each other. It also prevents the islanders from receiving the resources from the ocean, which is one of the main sources of the island livelihood. This artificial wall acts as a barrier to the islands inclusions with the outer world, yet allows the sense of belonging within the confinements of the wall to strengthen.

This symbolic use of the wall, illustrates the paradoxical concept of belonging and the dynamic changes within the concept. An individuals belonging to society and community is only achieved through a sense of belong to place. Throughout the memoir, Gaita utilises the surrounding environment as a vehicle to explore the concept of Romulus’ and Raimond’s belonging to the community. “He longed for the generous and soft European foliage, but the eucalypts of Baringhup… seemed symbols of deprivation and bareness. The negative emotive language shows the negative feelings Romulus has towards the Australian landscape illustrating his lack of connection to the land, thus the lack of connection to the community. In contrast although Raimond is positioned as an outcast by Tom Lillie because of his un-Australian like action, Raimond is able to achieve a connection to the land through his lyrical description of the landscape “The scraggy shapes and sparse foliage actually became the foci for my sense of its beauty and everything else fell into place. This connection allows Raimond to feel a sense of inclusion within the community as they share a common love for the land. The dwelling at Frogmore served to shape Raimond’s sense of belonging by providing place in which his relationship which his father could grow and develop, it also provided him with a constant place where he knew he could feel accepted. Although to Christina the residence at Frogmore becomes a symbol of her unacceptance to the family society “she could not settle in a dilapidated farmhouse in a landscape that highlighted her isolation.

She longed for company” The negative connotations surround the words dilapidated and isolated reinforce the misery that Frogmore and emphasis he disconnection to place, in the one location where she should belong, exemplifying how the ideal of belonging is fluid and dynamic. It is the essence of place that the islanders attempt to maintain during Armin Greder’s text The Island. The close knit community of the island are fearful when the foreigner lands on the shore of their land.

Through the singular sentence on the first page “He wasn’t like them” it is evident that he foreigner was challenging their sense of identity. Through the silent image of the rough sea the foreigners isolation is emphasised. Shown through the protagonist’s lack of clothing the man’s disconnection to the land, his skeletal frame contrasted to the large well-nourished men of the island, emphasis his non-belonging and questions the islander’s fears towards the weak man.

The challenge of their land over humanity ultimately results in the men, killing one of their own and sending the foreigner back into the ocean. This illustrates the negative effects of belonging and non-belong, and stress’s the paradoxical nature of belonging as the islanders belong to the community yet excluded themselves from the sea illustrating a consequence of belonging to community is loss of place.

Within both texts RMF and The Island, Gaita and Greder present the concept of belonging as of a fluid and dynamic nature. This paradoxical nature of belonging illustrates an individual’s sense of inclusion and/or exclusion simultaneously, as the protagonists are faced with the challenge of not belonging within a society yet conflicted by the sense of belonging to place concurrently, evidently showing the concept of belonging within place, society and community.

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