Belonging is a concept driven by an intrinsic human desire to establish an identity by relating to an environment, individuals or society. This form of belonging is evoked through affirming and acknowledging this desire within oneself, and hence having the ability to understand and relate to principles, and conventions established by society. As humans, we desire the stability of belonging. To us – it is fundamental to fulfill our filial bonds and desires of familiarity. The texts; As You Like it by William Shakespeare; and the film Gran Torino by Clint Eastwood both address this innate desire for security and stability by exploring how understanding yourself as an individual, is an essential one must achieve, before they can belong to other things.
In William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy the playwright explores the idea that discovery and understanding of self allows for a powerful sense of belonging.
“When all is dark” Celia realises her desires, which is to be with Rosalind, despite the fact that she will lose all her wealth and prestige. Celia chooses to exile herself with her cousin out of faith and duty, conveying the stoic rigidity of Christian camaraderie. Even though Duke Frederick suggests Celia “wilt seem more bright” when Rosalind is gone. The analogy fails to overcome the hyperbolic sisterly bond that “(Celia) cannot live out of her (Rosalind’s) company…” emphasizing their mutual commitment via the Greco allusion “like Juno’s swans… coupled and inseparable”. For Celia and Rosalind, wealth and position are meaningless without each other “what (Frederick) hath taken from thy father… I will render thee again …/ or let me turn monster.” Celia’s imperial tone proclaims the inseparable bonds of sisterhood. Similarly in the situation when Orlando saves Oliver, it again draws upon the circumstance of setting and geography. Shakespeare highlights that “kindness, nobler even than revenge,” allowed Oliver to “give battle to the lioness.” Where the lioness symbolises the egotism of selfishness that pervades the court, and only by ‘justly’ adhering to his bonds of brotherhood can Orlando and Oliver be “lead instantly unto his cave.” The allegorical cave allusion, representing their deeper desires, allow the brothers into each other’s hearts. Here, it is evident that a profound understanding of self-leads to finding belonging with those you love and cherish.
Likewise, Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino explores the notion that breaking social and cultural barriers within a community, will lead to a greater sense of security and stability. In comparison to the play As You Like it, the bonds and boundaries that challenge our sense of belonging are depicted through the widower war veteran Walt who reluctantly finds a friend and son in Thao – A repentant Vietnamese living next door. Walt is shown at first to be alienated via mis-en-scenes, where his placement on the screen is always de-centered; indicating his physical distance from his family. When Walt befriends Thao and his family however; his position is centered; conveying harmony. His newfound belonging is evident in his ironic racist slang ”I’ve got more in common with these goddamned gooks than my own spoiled-rotten family.” Juxtaposing his uncaring family against the strong filial connections of Thao’s family. This transition is also conveyed through edited close-ups of Walt and Thao. Initially Thao and Walt are rarely shown in the same shot, but as they achieve understanding, wide- shots are used to encompass the two as one. The text conveys the importance of making and maintaining connections with others.
Likewise in Shakespeare’s As You like it, the innate human desire to belong is explored through the consequence of conformity and individuality within a social setting. The Forest of Arden is a biblical allusion to Eden, a “Golden World”, where characters adhere to Shakespearian Christian concepts of brotherhood. Duke Senior’s idyllic toast, which ends Act 1 “to liberty and not to banishment,” sets up the ironic freedom obtained from displacement. This is reaffirmed in “are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court?” The rhetorical question fuelled with irony, alludes to the understanding rd even the forest court rejects those who do not affirm with their beliefs. Jacque’s characterization as an outsider despite his inclusion in the Forest of Arden among “Like Robin of old”; contrasts with the simile of the Duke and his men through his search for personal idealisms. That Jacques “moralises this spectacle” and his “misery doth part the flux of company” uses the mocking tone of sarcasm of the jubilant lords to demonstrate the outcaste nature of individuals whom reject conformity. What Jacque seeks is purpose, shown in the religious motifs of having “rich eyes and poor hands”, alluding to his inability to fit in. His decision to leave is shown in his understatement “out of these convertites… I am for other than for dancing measures.” Through the verbal irony of ‘(converted prostitutes) convertites’; Jacques demonstrates that fulfilment is neither material nor conformist but rather personal and religious.
As such, in the text we come to understand the role of the individual in seeking belonging among groups.
Similarly the originally antagonistic Walt and Thao discover between them a fatherly bond of mentor and student. Walt, as an individual understands that his family will only esteem him in compensation for the possessions he will leave them. Where as he and Thao, share a respectful bond, which intangibly links them together. Walt steers Thao away from delinquency, whilst both instill him with American values. The irony here lies in that Walt is a Vietnam war Veteran; now defending his Viet protégé with his life in modern day America. The dramatic irony here represents the sacrifice; Eastwood conveys that Walt has both achieved belonging through his conscious sacrifice; as well as teaching Thao the values of the country he now resides within; and leaving behind lessons of non-violence, honesty, and the American way of life. Walt is a paradox of old values and the present, represented through the keepsake of the Gran Torino car, a motif for old American values. Walt’s efforts at keeping the car in absolutely perfect conditions symbolises his inability to let go of a dying 60s tradition. This is juxtaposed by the crosscutting scenes showing Walt driving around in a rusty pick up, itself an allusion of Walt pitted against an inevitable tide of change. Walt’s acceptance of the world outside his own leads to friendship, loyalty and bonding and a sense of common humanity with the very people he once despised. His gift of the car to Thao shows us that through understanding others, our fundamental need to belong will be fulfilled.
Thus via AYLI and Grand Torino we are able to learn how belonging affects our life decisions; overcoming hatreds, jealousies, and even racial bigotry. We come to understand how the ways in which we belong shape the individuals we become. Hence it can be seen that belonging and establishing an identity is a dynamic process reliant upon an individual’s desire, and understanding of their environment, society and those around them.