The Struggle to Belong and Find One’s Place Is Significant in the Lives of Some People

A person’s basic human need to belong to people, places and circumstances can fuel many of their actions throughout their life. For some people a sense of belonging can be difficult to obtain. The struggle to belong is represented in many ways in the 1998 memoir, ‘Romulus, My Father’ by Raimond Gaita. Through Gaita’s employment of various writing techniques and his recollection of past events and adversities, the reader becomes aware of the many struggles of the characters, particularly to belong to the Australian culture and landscape.

In the 2001 short story ‘Mate’, by Kate Grenville, this struggle is again represented through intertextual references, dialogue and tone. Romulus Gaita’s struggle to belong is evident from an early age. “His father died when he was an infant’ (p. 2) and he regularly changed living circumstances between living with his mother and his grandparents. These changes denied Romulus the opportunity to develop a sense of belonging within normal family dynamics. This may be why he tried so hard to establish a strong sense of family for Raimond.

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Romulus’ belief in family bonds is made evident especially through his urging for Raimond to seek out his sisters Barbara and Susan. Romulus “believed that for brother and sister not to know of each other’s whereabouts, let alone existence, was so profoundly against the order of things that it constituted a metaphysical damage to their lives. ” (p. 193). This emotive language describes how Romulus felt that not belonging to a family unit was extremely damaging. Raimond never particularly showed any interest in finding his sisters, even stating that he had “… o sense of extended family… ” (p. 192). This nonchalant attitude towards developing ties between his family may have been caused by Christine’s neglect of Raimond, meaning he was reluctant to form an emotional attachment to other females, fearing that he would be hurt. This attitude was changed when Raimond met his aunty Maria, and “fell in love with her straight away” (p. 192). This reinforces the idea of the strength in family bonds, and the new sense of family and the love Raimond felt towards Maria and her children encouraged him to seek out Barbara and Susan.

In ‘Romulus, My Father’ belonging is particularly made clear through an individuals connection to landscape and place. The “desolate” landscape proves to be symbolic of both Christine’s and Romulus’ alienation. Romulus fails to appreciate or see the Australian shrub as beautiful, continuously longing for the “generous and soft European foliage” (p. 14). His inability to see the beauty of and appreciate the Australian landscape only adds to his alienation. We see that he tries to reconcile this by planting European trees on their property.

Christine’s loneliness is symbolised through the landscape, for example ‘A dead red gum… became for my mother a symbol of her desolation. ’ (p. 23). The use of landscape is also used to show how Raimond began to establish belonging in Australia. Raimond began to form a different attitude towards the landscape and recognised that it ‘… seemed to have a special beauty… ’ (p. 61) and uses the simile ‘it was as though God had… shown me something really special. ’ This found appreciation for the Australian landscape is metaphorical of his settling into Australia.

This struggle to establish connection to the landscape/place is portrayed in both ‘Romulus, My Father’ and ‘Mate’. In ‘Mate’ , Will Bashford, a “city bloke” is challenged to find belonging in the country outback of Australia, predominantly due to a difference in social context. Will is excluded and mocked because of his social context, which contradicts the assumption that modern Australians are laid-back, easy going and accepting. Will’s suggestion of impending rain drives a wedge between himself and the people of Boolowa.

The sarcastic and patronising tone of the response, ‘Rain, eh? ’ shows how Will’s lack of understanding of the landscape makes him seem stupid to country folk. The imagery formed by group of men glaring at Will from inside the car, further alienates him as he truly appears an ‘outsider’. This is similar to how Romulus’ lack of understanding of the Australian landscape continuously reinforces him as a foreigner, exposes him to ridicule and prevents him from belonging in society, such as when Romulus aused a fire that burnt 20 hectares of his neighbors property. The use of an intertextual reference to Dorothea Mackellar’s poem ‘My Country’ shows how even though Will thought he had sufficient knowledge of, and belonging to Australian society, his lack of first hand experience and true understanding of real country life disables him from belonging to Boolowa and its people. Even Will’s attempts to fit in by buying ‘the Akubra and the elastic-sided boots’ were futile because his ‘city bugger’ aura was obvious to the ‘country folk’.

Differences in a person’s social context and hobbies can sometimes create barriers to belong to a community. In ‘Romulus, My Father’ a comparison is drawn between Raimond and typical Australian farm boys, ‘I had virtually no interest in farm life… ’ (p. 60) and ‘… I was the only boy in the area who did not kill rabbits…’ These comparisons alienated Raimond and perhaps disabled him from creating strong friendships with the farm boys because of a lack of common interests. Later in the story Raimond recognised this barrier and took his father’s rifle and went ‘… o shoot rabbits…” to feel a sense belonging within community. It is often assumed that to build a relationship one must share common interests, and this is demonstrated through the emotive imperative language ‘… I needed to swim in order to share this part of his life… ’ (p. 69) Raimond recognised that swimming was important to Hora, and understood that sharing the experience would create a greater bond between the two.

Due to Romulus Gaita’s cultural heritage, he formed exuberant moral beliefs which also made it harder for him to be socially accepted. My father… alienated potential visitors by his reprimands when they did not come. ” (p. 196) Romulus had a ‘… profound regard for the spoken word”(p. 197), which was developed by his upbringing in Europe, making it hard for him to distinguish between an intention to come or a promise to come,. The contrast between values in Australia and Europe set yet another barrier that stopped Romulus from further developing friendships and belonging in his community. “From an early age he [Romulus] worked hard… ” (p. ) and these hard conditions early in life developed his strong work ethic and moral groundings. His passion for his work later in life was also driven by his desire to belong in his community, as he saw it as essential to prove his worth through hard work and loyalty to his trade, through whichhe established a sense of belonging and a reputation in his community. This ethic is challenged when Romulus first arrived in Australia, where he was immediately placed in a migrant camp and forced to do ‘menial manual tasks’ that were well below his skill level.

This xenophobic attitude towards migrants, and the labels brought on by it such as ‘New Australian’ created segregation between Romulus and Australian members of the community, and would have made him feel less welcome in society. In ‘Mate’ the sustained metaphor of the country being ‘another planet’ emphasises the way Will feels subject to prejudice because he is an outsider or ‘migrant’, similar to Romulus is in ‘Romulus, My Father’.

The struggle to find one’s place is a major part of the memoir ‘Romulus, My Father’ as well as the short story ‘Mate’. The paths of action taken by Romulus, Raimond, Christine and many of the other characters were majorly influenced by their compulsion to feel accepted and establish belonging to people, places, community and even themselves. Romulus’ struggle to reconcile to the Australian landscape and Christine’s inability to develop attachment to others due to her mental illness initiated many of the events in the memoir.

Raimond Gaita’s almost disconnected, matter-of-fact tone when discussing his adversities throughout the book helps the reader to develop their own response to the incidents. In ‘Mate’ due to Will Bashford’s different social context, which is emphasised by his inability to understand the weather patterns of his new area, a barrier is formed which causes difficulty for him to connect to the locals, and leaves him feeling skeptical of his ‘Australian’ identity. The struggles to belong that are discussed seem to be important in shaping the characters identity and would be important in their lives.

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The Struggle to Belong and Find One’s Place Is Significant in the Lives of Some People. (2017, Mar 12). Retrieved from