To belong is to fit in, or to be rightly placed in a specified position or environment. The idea of belonging is a dynamic and an essential aspect of human life which can come through, due to the connections made with the concepts of identity, place, relationships, acceptance and understanding to oneself and other people. These aspects of belonging are demonstrated through the free verse novel, ‘The Simple Gift’ by Steven Herrick, and the fairy tale of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ by Hans Christian Anderson.
In the very early stages of ‘The simple gift’, Herrick displays sixteen year old, Billy Luckett’s, sense of alienation by using his first person character to highlight social issues such as hostility within his family, leading it to break down, and his feeling of loneliness and worthlessness of identity. This is conveyed in the poem ‘Long lands Road’, where billy’s internal conflict is shown through his un-satisfaction of his original community in which he lived in and was a part of, leaving him disappointed and also a sense of embarrassment towards his identity.
He states this clearly with the words, ‘My Street. My Suburb. ’, showing terms of ownership of the place in which his identity currently belongs too, but does not like, giving us a sense of in closure and displacement. This continues as he describes his street, as he throws rocks on the roof “of each deadbeat no-hoper shithole lonely downtrodden house in Long lands Road, Nowheresville”. The use of colloquialism of Billy’s vulgar language, further demonstrates Billy’s displacement, dislike and disappointment towards long lands road, symbolising a decaying and depressing environment.
Billy then ends up taking control of himself and moving out of home. Billy then finds himself on a freight train, in search of a new place to go to, to try and gather a feeling of belonging. After travelling “two kilometres down the track”, he finds himself freezing cold. The harshness of the cold on the train indicates billy’s insecurity about belonging and this indicates that Billy desires to feel warm and needed instead of cold and isolated. He then encounters the train driver, Ernie. Ernie see’s billy and has a conversation with him.
He tells him to “make a cuppa if you want, and here’s some sandwiches, too much salad for my liking… Keep warm; I’ve got a train to drive. ” This making Billy feeling accepted and belonging, and being made feel at home by Ernie and a sense of warmth. Herrick has used juxtaposition to demonstrate how Billy has gone from being cold, to feeling a sense of warmth that he is now being comforted with Ernie to the town of Bendarat. Herrick also creates a contrast between billy’s dad and Ernie, “There are men like Ernie and there are other men, men like my dad. emphasizing Billy’s like for Ernie’s character, as Ernie makes Billy feel like he belongs. In the chapter of ‘Locks and Keys’ Old Bill gives the keys to the old home to Billy and Caitlin. This scene symbolises Old Bill giving over ‘the simple gift’ to Billy. It also gives Billy the feeling of being accepted by Old Bill and belonging. He also learns not only to understand himself but to also understand Old Bill and Caitlin. Billy also understands how to identify his identity and sense of placement by realising “I can decide what I really want to do here in Bendarat”.
In the last chapter, Denouements have been made, and loose ends have been tied up, where the relationships between Caitlin and Old bill are now stronger and reconnected. The relationship is symbolised through the motif of Old Bill and Bill sharing the Weet-Bix for breakfast. The words “and I looked up into the sky, the deep blue sky that Old Bill and I shared”, demonstrate that belonging can go far, and the relationship between Old bill and Billy can grow together stronger, as well as the identities of both characters are enabled to grow further, to enrich the self-worth, self-esteem and self-growth of the individuals.
Similarly, In ‘The Ugly Duckling’, when the last duckling was hatched, the other ducks took a look at him and stereotyped and judged the duckling, “It is very large and not at all like the others. I wonder if it really is a turkey”. The duckling was left out of society, with the same sense of loneliness and displacement, because it was not the same as the rest of society. The mother duckling then took her ducklings down to the moat, to prove that the ugly duckling was a normal duckling. Despite all the judgment of the others, the mother took pride of her son, “see how nicely he uses his legs, and how straight he holds himself. The mother then tried to include her son into the community, “I’ll lead you out into the world and introduce you to the duck yard. ”
But there too, the duckling got mocked and taunted, “what and ugly looking fellow, He’s too big and strange”, lowering the ducklings self-esteem and self-worthiness. And again the mother stuck up for her son, “let him alone, He isn’t doing any harm. ” The ugly duckling that, “looked so ugly was pecked and pushed about and made fun of”. Anderson has created a sense of sympathy from the audience from using emotive anguage and alliteration. It got so bad, that the ugly duckling got “chased and buffeted” by everyone including his brothers, sisters and even his own mother. He was “nipped”, “pecked”, and “kicked by the girl who fed him”. “So he ran away; and flew over the fence. ” The use of action verbs create the scene of the duckling being a defenceless creature being forced to flee, as a result of the social rejection on all fronts. Similarly to Billy, as he left home as he was abused by his drunken father as well.
After running through a great hunt, the ugly duckling had encountered a flock of birds that appeared out of the reeds. “The duckling had never seen birds so beautiful. They were dazzling white with long graceful necks. They were swans. They uttered a very strange cry as they unfurled their magnificent wings to fly from this cold land, away to warmer countries and to open waters” The use of bucolic language used by the composer to describe the swans triggers us to gain an insight of how much love the ugly duckling has for the creatures.
Like the change in temperature Billy experiences on the train, the magnificent birds fly from the cold land that the ugly duckling is stuck on as it experiences unacceptance by others and not being able to belong in society, as the swans move into a more accepted, belonging environment together. He then had to go through “the hardships and wretchedness” of the cruel winter, to make it into the “beautiful springtime”. He swept through the air much strongly than before. He flew over the water and re encountered the “splendid swans”.
Bowing his head, thinking he would be attacked and killed, seeing his mirrored self. And was “no longer the reflection of a clumsy, dirty, grey bird, ugly and offensive. He himself was a swan! ” The composer has shown us that after all the hardships the ugly duckling had endured that, he finally found where he belonged. It was a place of acceptance amongst the other swans. After a life time of torcher and alienation he could be happy, because he belonged where he was loved.
Belonging is not a set list that must include a connection to people, places, objects and to the wider world, but everyone’s idea of belonging is different but it involves a deeper emotional sense of fulfilment and connection made with yourself, the relationships you have, and with the wider world, but this is different for each person depending on their needs and life experiences, thus forming the foundation of an individual’s self-image, self-worthiness, self-esteem and self-growth.
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