Belonging in Romulus, My Father and This Is England
It may serve as a process of belonging, or alternatively, as a barrier.
This concept is evident in the first scene of the film This is England, as 12-year-old Shaun enters his new school, wearing his fathers’ old denim jeans. He stands helplessly among his classmates, most in ties, hats and uniform jackets. This juxtaposition immediately shows Shaun’s quickly formed perception of how one may belong in this environment, as a fight is initiated caused by his incompatible choice of clothing. His sense of belonging is determined by society’s expectations, and therefore his behaviour is shaped accordingly.
Shaun further isolates himself from the society as a result of this, sitting unaccompanied in the playground. This act of cruelty causes Shaun to place blame upon his mother, who brought him from Germany to England, determined to start life afresh after the death of his father. Consequently, this gives rise to the additional seclusion from what was once a place of belonging, his home, and his family. A similar concept is evident in Romulus, My Father, a memoir written by Raimond Gaita. Raimond’s mother Christine experiences a life of rejection from society.
In like manner as Shane encountered upon moving to England, Christine held a powerful sense of belonging to her home culture in Germany, and therefore the sudden change in landscape only furthered the isolation that was also influenced by her mental illness. Gaita feels that her psychological incapacity was exacerbated by the unwillingness of the community to accept and help her.
He explains the behaviour of society as “the unattractive side of a conception of value whose other side nourished a distinctively Australian decency. Gaita’s personification of society shows that the extent to which this cruelty has reached is inhumane. “Such was the division of the human spirit in that part of the world at that time. Like many other sharp divisions, it could not capture the many worthy ways of being human. It nourished some possibilities, maimed others and would not allow some even to see the light of day…” sense of belonging may have aided in the healing of her illness, but paradoxically it was her illness that meant she would never experience a sense of acceptance.
Society’s expectations formed Christine’s latest perception of belonging, in turn shaping her behaviour. The community in which she lived held a strong belief in ‘character’ as a defining quality through which individuals show they have the right ‘fit’ to society. “Tom Lillie and others disliked my mother partly because they saw her engaging vivacity as a dangerously seductive manifestation of personality in a woman they believed to be lacking entirely in character – a ‘characterless woman’. ”
In its historical and cultural context, women of rural Victoria in the 1950s were expected to hold a conservative nature. Perhaps that is why women at that time and in that place were especially vulnerable to the deadening attractions of middle-class respectability. ” The negative connotations attached to the word ‘deadening’ reflects Gaita’s attitude to such restrictions, expressing through emphatic language his understanding of those who are not immediate conformists to the expectations that society has created. The community is repelled by her inability to care for Raimond, her promiscuity and her obsession with appearance over responsibilities.
Christine’s understanding that she may never belong in a society that holds such defined expectations of women shapes her behaviour in that she pushes herself further away from the community, all the while influencing her to attempt to regain a connection with her family. This is England also emphasizes the dominant ideology of its era. White nationalism and patriotism were seen as the norm, and the movement against immigrants was extreme due to the area the film was set in, a low class area, where unemployment records were extremely high.
The entire film displays each scene very black and white, as a representation of the reality of the issues in its context. Towards the end of the movie, Combo and Shaun decide to raid a shop with a Pakistani shop-keeper. As Combo leaves the store, he threatens the shop-keeper, bellowing, “this is our little Shandy, and we’ll come ‘ere anytime we like”. A close-up of the shaken shopkeeper, who does not retaliate to Combo’s words, shows that white people were accepted as being superior to colours.
Shaun’s involvement portrays his acceptance of the values and customs that being a skinhead require, and his alteration of his behaviour upon adhering to these expectations in order to belong. The final scene of the film shows Shaun wandering along the beach, carrying a British flag. He pauses and throws the flag out to sea, a symbol of the knowledge he has gained and what has come from his experiences. Shaun is seen at the same location in the beginning of the film, this device being used as a sound and visual metaphor that symbolises the issues and his understanding of belonging have very much changed over time.