‘Looking For Alibrandi’ by Melina Marchetta leads the reader towards the theme of lost identity and the pursuit to find it. The protagonist, Josephine Alibrandi, displays the importance of self-acceptance through a riveting odyssey of belonging. Marchetta highlights the significance of relationships and the effect that they have towards the outcome of emancipation. The novel journeys the idea of cultural acceptance through a series of events that displays the impact of family enigmas. Josephine Alibrandi was in search for her identity, yet via social acceptance not self-acceptance. Throughout the novel Josie transformed, from her feeling isolated and rejected from society to her realizing that she only needed the acceptance of herself.
The contrast between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Josie is easily noticeable. ‘Old’ Josie described herself as feeling “disadvantaged from the beginning” and thought one of the many things that held her back from society was being illegitimate. The emotive word ‘bastard’ got directed towards Josie many times which made her feel alone yet through pathos moments did she realize that being illegitimate was unimportant. “I always hated being illegitimate. I always did until the other day when I realized it was nothing.” Josie yearned to be society’s definition of ‘cool’ and her clouded judgment directed her beliefs of what she wanted into an entirely different direction. “Please God let me be accepted by someone other than the underdog”. She deemed that the hierarchy of events in her life to be ruled by acceptance from others and it became a motif that repeated itself until one day when she understood. Only when she reached her identity did the trivial and material parts of her life vanish and the real ones cemented. Josephine Alibrandi is built and supported from her relationships which continually questions her identity. In particular, the repetitive first person narrative by Josie about her two love interests helps her recognise her identity.
The contrast between John Barton and Jacob Coote sets a realistic idiom feeling towards the love triangle of Josie, John and Jacob. John was Josie’s first idea of the perfect partner because of his wealth, status and intelligence. Yet the idea was too perfect for Josie to find her ultimate match which resulted in Marchetta using pathos in John Barton’s suicide. Before his death Marchetta dropped subtle hints of his outcome using the technique of foreshadowing. “I don’t think I want to live this life anymore, Josie”. Ironically Josie’s match in the book was the complete opposite of John although she secretly yearned to have the perfect John Barton not the working class Jacob Coote. “I don’t want to be in love with Jacob Coote. I want to be in love with John Barton and have people look upon me with envy, but John doesn’t make me feel like this.” Josie comes to the realization that although John had wealth and status, he was envious of Josie because she was the happy one in a situation that could never be perfect. “A person doesn’t necessarily have to be happy just because they have social standing and material wealth.” Although John caused her grief he taught her about the importance of happiness and how wealth if anything can block her from her own identity. Josephine Alibrandi’s culture gave her a sense of belonging yet confused her of her own identity and who she wanted to be.
As Josie began to realize her ancestral ties, she accepted the fact that she was both an Italian and an Australian. “I’m Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through my veins.” The emotive remark “wog” that tormented Josie throughout her life made her feel excluded from society. She was constantly criticized for neither being a full bred Italian or Australian. “’I’m an Aussie’ and they’d say ‘No, you’re not. You’re a wog.’ And I wanted to kill myself because I was so confused.” The title of the story gave the false truth to the actual family name of the Alibrandi women. Katia’s adultery with Marcus Sandford was ironic as when the exact situation reappeared in Christina’s life, Christina was exiled. “You had the hide, seventeen years ago to treat Mamma the way you did when all that time you had done worse.” Throughout the novel questioning of names was thrown around like a tournament of tennis. The name Josie Alibrandi was the common thought however other names began to enter the novel such as Andretti, Sandford, Coote. Josie than understood that names gave the illusion of belonging and what mattered was the people behind them. “I’ve figured out that it doesn’t matter whether I’m Josephine Andretti who was never an Alibrandi, who should have been a Sandford and who many never be a Coote.”
The title of the novel was both literal and figurative. It was literal because Josie found the truth about the name Alibrandi and how it was never hers. She found her own identity under the name of Alibrandi and so did Christina and Katia meaning that although there were no ancestral ties to the name, it had the meaning of love behind it and that is all that matters. Josephine Alibrandi demonstrated the need for an individual to reach full emancipation. Josie struggles with traditions and rules about her culture and throughout the book the reader witnesses the slow release of her emancipation. The motif “one day” was continuous throughout the book, highlighting the need for Josie’s maturity to present itself. In situations in which Josie was being chastised, does the reminder of “one day” appear. “One day you will understand Jozzie. One day you will have children and you will understand what sacrifices really are.” This supposed ‘one day’, Josie will understand the principles of family and the importance of maturity. A cathartic moment in Josie’s transformation was the walkathon in which Josie rejected her responsibilities and decided to be a sheep. “You decided to become a sheep for the day Josephine. You weren’t a leader. You were a follower.
You’ll never amount to anything if you can be so easily influenced.” Sister Louise chastises Josie to the point of understanding in which she states “I knew deep down that I was wrong and I think my emancipation began at that moment.” Moments like these pushed Josie to the point of understanding and that knowledge brought her, her desired emancipation. Melina Marchetta wrote a novel which challenges the readers perspective on identity. Josephine Alibrandi discovers her identity through self-acceptance in the worst of times. Her relationships shape her maturity and knowledge of herself which challenges the idea of belonging. The title suggests Josie searching for herself, which is partially true however she is mainly searching for her emancipation. At these cathartic moments she begins to transform into a strong individual woman and finally she understood because that one day had passed.