One’s belonging will always be entrenched in the ‘belonging’ established by another group; regardless of whether or not you wish to be a part of such a group. That is to say, even if it is your aim to find your sense of belonging totally outside of another group, the course of action required to achieve this belonging through not belonging will be influenced by the sense of belonging established by the group; in your wish to contrast that belonging. A less convoluted illustration of this concept is embodied in The Crucible’s John Proctor; who we all know as the play’s non-conformist character.
Proctor’s identity (identity and belonging being intrinsically linked) is defined by his rejection of the goings-on of Salem. He doesn’t go to church, and nor does he consider that fact to be the business of anyone but himself – “I never knew I must account to that man for I come to church or stay at home” (pg. 63, act 2) – And he finds a sense of identity only in his perceived self-worth; the worth he perceives to be associated with his name – “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! ” (pg. 124, act 4).
However, Proctor’s self-worth, his identity, his belonging is drawn from a rejection of the values entrenched in the Salem community’s sense of belonging. By the decision to act contrastingly to a set of opposing values, Proctor is still allowing his identity to be dependent on the sense of belonging established by the group he abhors.
Similarly, Ofelia from Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) finds her identity in the rejection of the ‘belonging’ established in her Stepfather’s (Vidal) military base in the mountains of Spain at the close of the civil war, 1944. Consider the following, lifted from an English translation of the Spanish script.
Ofelia, in a similar way to Proctor, draws belonging from being separate to the group by which she finds herself surrounded. Though she is living in the midst of a fascist military camp, Ofelia despises her stepfather; Captain Vidal, and aims to rebel against his values, finding herself protected by the very resistance group that Vidal aims to exterminate.
From Ofelia’s first interaction with Vidal it is apparent that they are polar opposites; even in the symbolism of Ofelia offering the ‘wrong’ hand in their handshake of greeting. Ofelia chooses not to belong to Vidal or his ideals, though the decision not to belong is simply due to Ofelia’s spite and jealousy of Vidal’s attempt to replace her birth father. Throughout the film, the audience witnesses the degeneration of Ofelia’s relationship with Carmen (her mother); the only character with whom Ofelia originally identified.
Throughout the film, Ofelia speaks of her memories of her biological father, n these tales suggesting that there was a time when her mother was similarly as free-spirited and imaginative as Ofelia; but leading up to Carmen’s fatal childbirth, she abhors the innocence and fairytales that Ofelia so clings to. Though not by choice, Carmen finds herself no longer belonging to her original patriarchal family unit; her first marriage is suggested to have been borne of romantic love, and Ofelia had a healthy relationship with both of her parents; a fairytale ending, like the fairytales Ofelia clings to at the opening of the film.
As a consequence of no longer belonging to this stable family unit, Carmen seeks (hastily) to belong to a husband and family once again, and settles for the ultimately unsuitable and self-satisfying Captain Vidal. “VIDAL: listen to me. If you have to choose, save the baby. That boy will bear my name and my father’s name, too. ” (pg. 61, lines 1-3) Vidal is only interested in the preservation of his family name and the succession of his own interests. Carmen demonstrates negative consequences of not belonging; that is, she makes rash and ultimately fatal compromises to fulfil her desire to belong.
Similarly, the way in which Ofelia demonstrates her decision to not belong has negative consequences when she succeeds only in further angering Vidal and endangering her mother’s life. Though it may seem as though Ofelia is deriving her sense of belonging only from her imaginary world of fairytales – though she does form a portion of her identity in this way – she forges her belonging mainly through rebellion against the authority figures and ideals with which she is trapped.
Though this is a noble philosophical position – given the fascists’ brutality – her sense of belonging will only ever be the antithesis of the sense of belonging established by Vidal and his troops. Thus, whilst Ofelia may be an individual, there is no escaping the fact that her individualism is entrenched in (though diametrically opposed to) the ‘belonging’ established by the group she wishes to rebel against. Consequences, however, need not be always negative. Angela Carter’s short story ‘The Company of Wolves’ explores belonging and consequences of belonging through the reinterpretation of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.
In Carter’s version, the Red Riding Hood character has agency unparalleled in any other telling of the tale. In the climax and resolution of the short story, the text is obviously heavily influenced by second-wave feminism (the text was written in 1979, over a decade since Germaine Greer’s groundbreaking ‘The Female Eunuch’). “All the better to eat you with. The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face; she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing.
The whole short story is laced with allusions to coming of age and subtle sexual imagery; in this excerpt Carter uses the double-entendre of the word ‘meat’ to create an image of violence (becoming the wolf’s meat suggests brutal disembowelment) and sexual objectification (the wolf sees the girl as simply a virgin sex object; a piece of meat for his consumption), to which the girl not only objects, but takes action upon – demonstrated in her unaided prevalence over the wolf.
The girl defies the accepted gender roles of both the time in which the tale is set (medieval Europe) and the context in which it was written (post-Greer seventies). This act of not belonging carries serious consequences for the girl; though unlike the previous examples, not at all negative. “Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him. She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.
The blizzard will die down… Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf. ” (pg. 6, para. 3) The girl again displays agency in the way she assumes the position of control and prevalence over the wolf figure. It is arguable that the wolf is a metaphor for the patriarchal model of masculinity (or at least, an example of chauvinism) in the idea that ‘only immaculate flesh appeases him’ – that is, he craves virgin (as in, the catholic immaculate conception of Christ through the virgin Mary) flesh.
Again, playing on the double-meaning of the word ‘flesh’ in the context; like the use of the word ‘meat’ it suggests either gruesome devouring of unblemished skin and muscle, as well as the sexual imagery of plundering the girl’s virgin body. And, defying ideas surrounding feminism in the context of when the story is set, the girl chooses not to appease the wolf of his very basic desires. Furthermore, she takes action against the wolf and seeks to take power over him; thus reversing accepted gender roles of the time and forfeiting her belonging to the society she has been born into and brought up in.
This decision to not belong brings about serious consequences, both positive and negative. In a negative sense, the girl has alienated herself of the limited security she found through submission to patriarchal society; the girl is fed, housed and clothed because of the confines of tradition. But ever since the girl is first introduced to the reader, it is obvious that she holds little regard for male authority – or any authority; and this is yet to deprive her of house and home; “Her father might forbid her, if he were home, but he is away in the forest, gathering wood, and her mother cannot deny her. (pg. 3 para. 3) It is the decision to not conform; not belong that ultimately saves the girl’s life and empowers her; frees her. She knows that she belongs to no one, and will not submit to the brutality of man. A decision to conform and belong, however, does not necessarily reap positive consequences.
The character of Abigail from The Crucible chooses to entrench herself deep within her community by submitting to discourses surrounding femininity at the time. She and John Proctor (a man who would seem utmost committed to his wife, had the reader not learnt of his affair with the much younger girl) had an affair, though Proctor refuses Abigail’s advances when he has repented of his infidelity.
This rejection ultimately brings about the Salem witch hunt; Abigail’s jealousy and vicious manipulation condemn innocent people to death, while Abigail submits to gender stereotypes and acts passively aggressive, manipulates, gives the impression of having no agency, and uses her sexuality as a weapon to achieve her own ends. Whereas Carter’s Red Riding Hood does almost the opposite and rejects passivity, rejects manipulation, has agency, and reserves her sexuality for a use of her own desire – not submitting to a desiring man.
Abigail’s decision to belong to the group brings about serious and negative consequences. So, voila, through analysis of The Crucible, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Company of Wolves we see that the individual’s sense of belonging is entrenched in the ‘belonging’ established by a group; regardless of how hard the individual attempts to shun the group. There are serious consequences when an individual chooses not to belong – both negative and positive.