The need to belong is a human phenomenon that is the underlying cause of our actions. As humans, we search for like-minded people with whom we can find a sense of ourselves as people. This is a product of the fact that belonging is integral to the formation of one’s identity. However, a sense of belonging is often achieved by following a path of alienation. Similarly, alienation leads to disillusionment with that (verbose line) which one once believed in. Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Coppola, John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat and Peter Skrzynecki’s poetry all deal with these three dimensions of belonging.
Belonging and acceptance is integral to the formation of one’s identity. Peter Skrzynecki’s poem 10 Mary Street illustrates the security and comfort that is a product of a sense of belonging. In this case, it is a sense of belonging to a family routine that occurs daily at number 10 Mary Street. The mundanity of the routine provides stability and familiarity. Skrzynecki uses time frames such as “5pm” and “For nineteen years” to establish a sense of repetition and order in the reader’s mind.
Collective pronouns such as “we” connote collaboration and inclusion in the family sphere. This family inclusivity allows the poet to establish his identity at an early age in a place in which he belongs, as shown when he describes him wandering in the garden after school. The simile “like a hungry bird” shows (avoid using ‘show’ repetitively) him to be curious and boisterous. It connotes a healthy organic childhood. In the second stanza of the poem, Skrzynecki uses images of growth and nurturing to suggest a loving family environment and a sense of belonging to the land.
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The quiet “hum-drum” of daily routines, such as washing clothes and gardening, suggests that the house and Skrzynecki’s parents rarely change. This conjures an image of immense strength and solidarity. Skrzynecki establishes his childhood home as an enduring sphere of safety. He does this by personifying the house “in its china-blue coat” as a friend and part of the family. The home is a place in which to remember their Polish heritage. The repetition of the line “for nineteen years” illustrates the length of time that his family have been paying homage to their ancestry to as they “kept pre-war Europe alive. The use of the Polish word “Kielbasa” not only adds authenticity and depth to the poem but reinforces the idea that, though Skrzynecki’s family has moved away from war-torn Poland to Australia, they still firmly belong to their Polish heritage and there is a link for them and their family through which to establish their identities in their new land. The poet mourns the passing of his childhood and the destruction of the home in which he learnt the nature of growing up caught between two cultures and the rift between the past and the future. This notion is further explored in Apocalypse Now.
Colonel Kurtz was the pride of the American Military Command. Having broken from the decrepit and corrupt school of thought that was the US army, Kurtz establishes his god-like rule over a clan of like-minded natives in the jungles of Cambodia. His character extrapolates all issues surrounding America as a nation, from war crimes to environmental stability. In one of the most compelling scenes of the film, Kurtz expresses his thoughts to Willard, one of the first Americans he has encountered since his dissent. He speaks of his son at home and his fear that if he were to be killed, his son would not understand his father’s actions.
At this point, the extended close up shot of Kurtz’s face, half shrouded in darkness, changes slightly as he moves further into the light. This conveys that Kurtz still holds onto the hope that his son will one day come to understand his identity and why he acted in the way that he did. Kurtz is not ashamed of his actions because ultimately, he has fully formed his identity. First he was transformed on the battlefields of Vietnam by the death and ignorance he encountered/witnessed and then again in the jungles of Cambodia amongst the natives and free thought.
Therefore, both 10 Mary Street and Apocalypse Now effectively explore the concept that acceptance and belonging are integral to the formation of one’s identity. A sense of belonging is achieved by following a path of alienation. In Migrant Hostel, Skrzynecki’s family struggle to establish themselves in a new land. Skrzynecki delineates the sense of alienation that the migrants have towards the rest of Australia. The “sealed off highway” demonstrates the separation they feel from the rest of the country.
The simile of “rose and fell like a finger” demonstrates that they do not feel welcomed or accepted in their new land, but are constantly reprimanded, like a naughty child. The line “needing its sanction” demonstrates how the migrants are enslaved to the entrapment they feel in the hostel. They need permission to continue living in a manner that doesn’t reflect their culture or beliefs. This alienation from their culture and freedom renders each migrant unimportant and attempts to destroy their sense of personal identity and belonging. However, it is because of this alienation that they achieve a sense of belonging and identity.
Nationalities ‘found each other’ based on their accents and the town they came from. Inside the hostel, they keep the memory of their home and culture alive though they are haunted by the “memories of hunger and hate” that destroyed their countries. Skrzynecki uses the simile “like a homing pigeon” to connote the strong sense of survival and solidarity shared by the migrants. The homing pigeon is a survivor that travels great distances. Skrzynecki uses a reoccurring motif of birds throughout this poem as they have connotations of freedom and migration.
This dimension of belonging is further explored in John Steinbeck’s novel Tortilla Flat. Danny, Pilon, Jesus Maria, Pablo, Pirate and Big Joe Portagee are half Spanish- Mexican, misfits who form a brotherhood of drunken antics that centre around the home they all share in Tortilla Flat in California. The book is written in an entirely episodic fashion to fit with the allegory that Steinbeck creates, comparing the six men to King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. However, instead of knights in shining armour, they are the unruly and boisterous men upon whom the community of Monterey frown upon.
Therefore Steinbeck creates a paradox within this novel because whilst this brotherhood is the only place that the men find a sense of belonging, it is also their association with each other that renders them unacceptable to normal society. Steinbeck quite obviously uses the technique of having his characters speak in language befitting the Elizabethan era. This reinforces the notion that they are all fallen from the grace of a former life not mentioned in the novel, but they are fallen together. It is also a distinguishable way from separating the adopted brothers from those in normal society.
It heightens not only the sense of unreality that permeates the whole book but also the sense of alienation from the outside world. The brothers eat, drink wine, sleep and occasionally venture out to do good deeds for those around them. They live by an entirely alternative concept of time, space, possession and love. The growing sense of belonging that develops through the novel is conveyed through the slow gathering of the six men to form the brotherhood and the corresponding rising action. Once they are all convened under a banner of bemused freedom, Danny states, “we are now as one, as never such men have been before. Each member is crucial to the group’s dynamic and therefore to each individual member’s sense of belonging. This is conveyed at the conclusion of the novel when, after Danny’s funeral, the house that was their home accidentally catches fire but instead of trying to save their one worldly possession, the men allow it to burn to the ground and then go their separate ways. The last words of the novel are “no two walked together” conveying that the bonds of brotherhood had been broken and that it was only with each other that they belonged.
Therefore, both Migrant Hostel and Tortilla Flat effectively convey the idea that belonging is reached by a path of alienation. Alienation leads to disillusionment with that which one once believed in (is there a different way to express this? ). Skrzynecki’s poem In The Folk Museum describes the experiences of the poet as he becomes increasingly alienated from his heritage. After describing his parent’s typical migrant experience in Migrant Hostel, the poet now finds himself unable to empathise with a past that is not his own.
The use of first person not only allows the responder to connect on a deeper level with Skrzynecki, but also highlights the fact that he is alone in his musings about a past that he does not fully comprehend. In turn, this adds to the bleakness of an already melancholic poem. The caretaker of the museum represents everything that alienates Skrzynecki from his Polish heritage. She is knitting and has grey hair demonstrating that she is a relic herself and incongruent to contemporary society, just as Skrzynecki views his dying past.
The simile of “cold as water” further illustrates that the poet no longer empathises or has any emotional connection to the events of his past. Although it is not as directly referred to in this poem(weak expression) as in others, In The Folk Museum also conveys how the poet’s disillusionment with his past leads to a sense of belonging with his present. The use of personification in “the wind taps hurriedly” communicates not only the poet’s frustration but also the determination of the outside world to remind him of the pointlessness of his reminiscing about his Polish heritage.
The use of alliteration in “I leave without wanting a final look” conveys his speedy exit as well as his eagerness to regain the world outside of the museum, where he belongs. This notion of disillusionment is further explored in Francis Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now. Captain Willard, an American officer fighting in the Vietnam War, believes wholeheartedly in the US army and Western Civilisation as a whole. He belongs to war. At the beginning of the film, Willard is off duty in Saigon and recounts one of his trips home.
The use of direct speech narration adds depth and authenticity to Willard’s character. He states “I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. Every minute I spend in this room, I get weaker and Charlie gets stronger. ” The reference to the Vietcong warriors implies that Willard is more at ease when he is fighting in Vietnam. His alienation from normal society is further conveyed by a montage of images of war superimposed with Willard’s face. The non-digetic music of The End by The Doors plays, with lyrics such as “the west is the best” that further illustrates Willard’s faith in the American way of life and war.
However, at the conclusion of this montage, Willard is left naked and bleeding, wrapped in a torn sheet and screaming on his hotel room floor, a high angle shot highlighting his vulnerability. This scene is purposely designed to alienate the audience from the character and connotes the detrimental effect that Western civilisation is having on him. The repetitious rigmarole of a soldier’s life is communicated through the undershot of the turning fan in Willard’s room. He stares up at it from the bed, implying that he is physically and mentally dominated by his life and routine as a soldier.
As Willard travels further and further up river in search of Colonel Kurtz, he reads increasingly on Kurtz’s life and the events that have led him to the insanity that the US army now deems dangerous. Willard experiences more of the US army’s arrogance, blood-lust and drug use and becomes steadily disillusioned with the entity that he placed his faith in. Everything that is wrong with Western civilisation is represented through the arrogant Bill Kilgore who infamously states “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning. As the boat travels further up river, there is a distinct change in lighting. Before Willard boards the boat, there is a reoccurring motif of brightly coloured flares. The camera pans directly in front of the plumes of red, green and yellow smoke so that they form a veil over the scenes of battles and civilian deaths. However, once up river, the lighting becomes softer, greener and more defined. There is a distinct lack of smoke. This implies that Willard is travelling both physically and mentally away from the chaos of Western civilisation and heading deeper into Kurtz’s state of mind.
Finally, Coppola uses the reoccurring motif of extreme close up shots on the faces of Willard and Kurtz. He does this to communicate that these two men are not necessarily similar but that they represent contrary facets of one human entity. The extreme close up shots of Willard and Kurtz reveal them to both be acutely serious men who have come to empathise with the same point of view. However, they are distinctly contrasted. Willard is often sweaty, dirty, constantly smoking whereas Kurtz is pristine, unchanging and aloof.
This signifies that they will never be able to emulate the virtues of the other’s character that they themselves are deficient. Therefore, both In The Folk Museum and Apocalypse Now reveal themselves to be texts in which the view that alienation leads to disillusionment is explored. For humans to find where they truly belong, they must be placed outside of their comfort zone. They must travel beyond what they have before and thereby find something in the world, in others or in themselves that gives them a sense of belonging.
Peter Skrzynecki’s poetry, Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Coppola and John Steinbeck’s novel Tortilla Flat all successfully explore differing dimensions of belonging such as the necessity of belonging to shaping ones identity, that belonging is reached by a path of alienation and that alienation leads to disillusionment. (just check over your section on Apoc Now – it is very good, however ensure you are explicitly referring to belonging – I would suggest that at the moment it is implicit – and of course make sure you use the words of the question in your answer)
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