Conformity could bring a sense of affirmation and community, but for the individual it often comes at the cost of personal satisfaction and self identity. What brings a sense of security and comfort can also be stifling and alienating. Such notions are explored in the texts, Romulus My Father a memoir by Raimond Gaita; where a migrant family is torn apart by their ability and inability to fit into a countryside and Maus, a graphic novel by Art Spiegelmen; about the terrible powers of conformity and fascism. Through analysis of how authors emphasis upon the the characters in their texts, readers are able to witness the duality of belonging that arises of belonging to, and breaking away, from the crowd.
The most salient message of affirmation in R My Father is the characterisation of Romulus as man defined by his occupation in society, and his position within his family.
The use of hand made objects, wrought by Romulus through skills is often employed as a metaphor for the personal ownership and satisfaction Romulus feels for his role in Frogmore. “My father was a skilled workman…” personified as to have “respectful of their (iron) nature and they in friendship with him.”
Ironically, it is when Romulus loses his ability to create that he finally feels alienated and lost. “He could not hold middle sized tools” “I’m good for nothing just a rubbish heap” changes his father’s exalted, powerful tone to one of unexpected weakness and helplessness.
Romulus’ sense of principals that stem from this work ethic is another solid anchor that creates the stability in Raimond’s turbulent life. This is described through the religious allusions in the text “His sense… of moral and spiritual requirements was …that of a pure heart.”
This message of stability and security that is a part of family and home is further demonstrated through Raimond’s reflection”My father’s desire of marriage… had awakened in me a desire … a normal life… sought by almost everyone i knew” illustrating the need for conformity and normality in order for Raimond to fit into his perception of an Australian life.
The importance of family and cohesive unity within a community is further demonstrated by Raimond’s use of hyperbole in “My father believed for a brother and sister not to know of each other … constituted metaphysical damage to their lives”, the use of the philosophy jargon (Raimond studies philosophy in university) indicating Raimond’s understanding of his fundamental view of the family, society, and self.
Christine on the other hand is a constant source of agitation that disenfranchises the Gaita family from Raimond and Romulus’ dream of an ideal existence.
Christine is such a person as her social alienation causes her to be more and more individualistic as she finds her peace of mind by behaving in such manners. Her disconnection is both by her own frivolity and literal inability to make emotional contributions to Raimond’s upbringing ” incapable of taking care of me, ignoring my elementary needs” . Juxtaposed with Romulus, Christina is the consequences of social and emotional alienation as she is unable to establish the most basic bonds between mother and son.
This is further reflected in the hyperbole, “Tom Lillie and others dislike my mother…dangerously seductive manifestation…a characterless woman” accentuates Christina’s estrangement as she relentlessly pursues her own individual fulfillment at the cost of her social status.
This despise is illustrated in the metaphor , “I first saw her..alone… walking with uncertain gate in the vast landscape…forsaken” exemplifies the loneliness in correlation with the environment that reflects her desire for a intimate, secure relationship.
Lastly the anecdote, “given an Australian accent, provided the wrong conceptual environment for others to understand her..whose limitations were the reasons she could not overcome hers”, shows the helplessness of Christina’s character as fundamentally unable to adhere to the Australian lifestyle.
Christine is a clear example of an individual freely living ignoring any associations in the community, as well as affinity with land or family.
Perfect Chinese Children
The duality of the belonging experienced of how the inalienable bonds of family can be one of love and hate. Perfect Chinese Children is a text that describes the irony of belonging to a culture despised and yet it has shaped the very way you think and identify yourself.
The disaffection and resent experienced within the family is expressed in the colloquial language “Erica giving me a sideways look I look more like one of them than like her, ‘Yeah,’ I quickly say. ‘Australians are dog shit. Their babies will all eat dog shit and die.'” Exemplifying her disparity as she shamefully discards part of her identity, her white background that restrains her from comfortably associated with fellow cousins.
Such concerns within the family are further demonstrated in the metaphor, “When she criticises me with all the sensitivity of a Japanese scientist harpooning a whale and I feel the slow burning resentment…” accentuates the harsh relationship between mother and daughter, as the parents regime causes strictness and order for her children to succeed.
The mother’s loss of connections with other aspects of life makes her family her primary focus, “Her own life in shreds and two dollars in her pocket, we became her only hope”, the hyperbole reinforces the strengthened bonds with her daughter as they are a priority to her.
However admiration and affection resonates in the anecdote, “On my sister’s plate there are two. On mine there are two. On hers, there is only one. And in her sacriﬁce, I see love.”, the emotive language conveys the mother’s passion to look after her children as she truly only wants the best for them.
Such alienation due to her mixed heritage and non-conforming attitude is illustrated through the various photographs, highlighting the awkwardness as Woods, white, Caucasian appearance is juxtaposed with her fellow Chinese counterpart.
Thus it can be seen in the following texts that it is the characteristics of individuals which make them unique so that they defer from the crowd to achieve a sense of belonging. In the texts, Romulus My Father by Raimond Gaita, and Maus by Art Spiegelmen different dynamics of choices and barriers are displayed that affects their individuality.
Maus is about Family
Much like the actions taken by Romulus to preserve his principals of family and his role within his community – S Snr undergoes great trials to preserve the bonds of his Jewish family even through the horrors of the holocaust.
The need for these bonds and how the desire to preserve family sustains us is conveyed through the fable parody of the Auchwitch death camp. A sustained motif of torture and hopelessness is created through graphic images of torture and death. A montage of wordless panels with mice (jews) being thrown into an oven both literal and metaphorical underlines the baptism of fire experienced by S. Snr before he re-establishes contact with Anja, his wife.
Throughout the sequence, the constant repetition of colloquialisms such as “All I could think of was Anja… Oh Anja… You would not understand how much I missed your mother…” inter dispensed within these horrific images of death reinforce the idea of the obstacles undergone by S.Snr to achieve reunion with his family.
This notion of family and filial piety is further demonstrated by the way Spigelman positions the readers to be constantly reminded of the role played by the mother even after her death. “Oh how your mother would think… how your mother would say… your mother’s cooking…” Despite the multi-generic nature of the holocaust graphic novel as both an American Dream ratifying piece and an pseudo satire of the historical period, it never alienates the idea that S. Snr sees life as meaningless without the company of his first wife Anja.
As, such, the significance of family is really emphasised by the last panel as both tribute by the author to his own mother and the lessons of family taught by his father. An image of a grave where the two Spigelmans are finally buried together in centre frame, along with symbolic image of a double bouquet of flowers convey the security and affirmation that is only achievable with loved ones.