The need to belong is an aspect that makes us human and the feeling of belonging makes us feel fulfilled. To belong is when an individual feels a sense of acceptance by being part of a group or culture. Belonging is an inherent human condition in which we strive for acceptance and security through others. The human need to belong can be seen in the memoir by Raimond Gaita called Romulus My Father. Another text where the theme of belonging is evident is The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Lastly the poem Refugee Blues by W H Auden explores the concept of belonging by illustrating the rejection German Jews felt during World War II. These texts through a variety of literary techniques explore the human condition of the need to belong.
One way the need for belonging is shown in Romulus, My Father is through the theme of isolation. The Gaitas each faced their own fears of unable to belong, but none so as much as Christina who dies to the loneliness of been unable to fit in. “He found her just staring into the fire” describes Raymond, illustrating how desperate his mother had been. As a result she is characterized as ‘appearing to be cheerful and vivacious’ but in truth ‘deeply depressed.’ Christina is an allusion of the displaced socialite hungry for a sense of fulfillment and security, in a place where she cannot get the acceptance she seeks; she wants to ‘fall asleep and die”. She feels geographically and culturally displaced, as a result she never settles into Frogmore. Raymond uses a series of fragmented repetitions to convey the alienation felt by Christina. He states, “Her vivacity was gone…some days she stayed… some days she was gone… no explanation, then or ever.” Her eventual suicide is a result of the accumulated guilt, stress, and lack of acceptance that her lack of fulfillment brings about.
In juxtaposition Romulus however is a character whom attempts to overcome the stigma of been displaced so far from home. He becomes a part of the local community, toils and shapes the land he lives upon, and carves for himself a home for his family. Raymond narrates with a nostalgic symbolism “Primitive though the house was … it offered the hope that our family might be reunited.” Even when Christina died Romulus keeps the family together. However, his move to build a new family is destroyed by Lydia’s betrayal. “He moaned in heart rending distress…his face was torture” here the emotive verb choice shows the consequence of Romulus not only loosing his familial belonging once, but twice. Romulous looses to the displace of been away from home for so long. Raimond describes his father as “In his sighs I heard our isolation and estrangement for the first time.” Raimond considers his father’s experience an allegory – “Only someone with an extraordinary sense of reality could be so shaken by a sense of evil, and my father was such a person”. For both Raimond and Romulus the betrayal of Lydia was the dash of hope that destroyed their desire for a complete, nuclear familial belonging.
Much like the belonging and not belonging experienced by Raimond and Romulus the graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan is another text that engages with aspects of alienation, isolation, displacement, and seeking to belong. The wordless pictorial uses visual symbolisms and montage mis-en-scenes to communicate what it is to belong. In one visual presentation the author conveys the sensation of hope and anticipation by using a long shot from a high angle to depict immigrants arriving at a new land. The harbour bridge is personified as two persons bending to bow and shake hands, symbolizing the unity and belonging that immigrants hope to achieve. On the other hand, the book also depicts the feelings of alienation and fear that comes with immigration. It parodies language alien to the protagonist as squiggles and unintelligible sighs that are confusing and hostile. Furthermore montages of the protagonists confused facial and body language is repetitively used in numerous chapters to convey his inability to belong in this new world. In this manner the text conveys the thorny journey of belonging that migrants tread in order to belong to a new nation as citizens and as inhabitants.
In contrast to Romulus, Christina’s sense of lost identity is best illustrated via the poem Refugee Blues. The poem communicates the involuntary expulsion of German Jews during the Holocaust and the destruction of their identity, home, and belonging. The protagonist in this poem felt that he had a sense of belonging with Germany much like Romulus and Lydia felt for Romania. This loss of belonging is metaphorically illustrated via the symbolism of the passports in the stanza “ The consul banged the table and said: ‘If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead” Here it can be implied that the loss of their passport symbolizes their loss of identity and the loss of their sense of belonging. Another piece of evidence that parodies the protagonist not belonging is when the poet writes “Once we had a country and we thought it fair, Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there.” Here it is shown that the protagonist is torn between the homesick feelings juxtaposed against his rejection from his homeland. Finally, the lines “A thousand windows… a thousands doors… not one of them was ours…” alludes to the isolation and alienation that not belonging bestows upon those lacking a nation, a home, and a country. The poem shows the need for belonging as a form of what identifies us as human beings.
Through these texts we can see how belonging plays an integral part in forming the human experience. The fulfillment of our desire to belong is a human process while the identity of how we belong is a human condition in this way to belong is to be human.