Peter Skrzynecki’s ‘Feliks Skrzynecki’ – Thematic Analysis

Perceptions of belonging / not belonging vary: Both Feliks and Peter have different perceptions of belonging in Australia. Feliks considers he doesn’t need to belong to Australian culture and instead connects with his Polish friends and seeks solace in his garden. Peter on the other hand rejects his Polish heritage and chooses to embrace Australian culture.

Perceptions shaped due to context: Feliks finds a sense of belonging with his Polish friends who share contextual experiences of migration and Polish culture. Peter cannot belong due to the context in which he was raised. He was educated in Australia and thus has no link to Polish culture.

Connections made with people, places, groups, communities and the wider world: Feliks finds a strong sense of belonging through his connections with his Polish friends (people), the garden (place) and his cultural heritage.

Belonging is related to relationships: Peter’s relationship with his father is limited due to their lack of shared experiences and cultural division. Feliks, however, finds a sense of belonging with his relationship to his garden and to his Polish friends.

Acceptance: Peter chooses not to accept his Polish culture, instead accepting Australian culture. Feliks does the opposite. He cannot accept Australian culture and continues to embrace his Polish heritage. Feliks grows to accept his son’s choices, acknowledging he will regret his decisions in maturity.

Identity: Peter and Feliks have differing cultural identities which limits their belonging to each other. Peter chooses to embrace an Australian identity, while Feliks rejects such.

Understanding: Peter attempts to come to an understanding of his father and their relationship. Within the poem, Feliks comes to an understanding of his son’s cultural identity. Peter himself comes to the understanding of regret for his rejection of his father and their shared heritage.

Individuals can enrich or challenge belonging: Feliks chooses to embrace his sense of belonging to his garden, his Polish friends and his Polish heritage, however, rejects the desire to belong to Australian culture. Peter challenges his Polish heritage by attempting to enrich his Australian culture.

Attitudes are modified over time: Peter’s attitude changes as he grows to regret how he rejected his Polish heritage. Feliks grows to accept his son’s choices to embrace his Polish heritage, acknowledging he will regret his decisions in maturity.

There may be choices not to belong: Feliks chooses not to belong to Australian culture while Peter chooses not to belong to his Polish culture.

Thematic Analysis

Feliks Skrzynecki details Peter’s reflections on the father he deeply loves and admires. It describes their relationship and how their immigration experience has changed it. The poem explores the conflict that arises as a result of Peter becoming embedded in Australian culture, choosing to oppose his Polish heritage. The information the responder receives of Feliks comes through Peter’s memories. Peter recognises in his maturity that his father understood the gap that had developed between them and knew that he would one day treasure his heritage after his initial dislocation.

Analysis:

The poem opens with Peter instantly providing positive connotations of his father, writing “My gentle father”. The use of the personal pronoun establishes their filial relationship where Peter continues to describe his father’s connection with his garden. The garden acts as Feliks’ place of solace and refuge in a foreign country. Peter considers his father “Loved his garden like and only child”. Here the use of simile and emotive language presents the strong connection Feliks hold with the place of the garden. Furthermore, Peter’s hyperbolic language describing how “He swept its paths//Ten times around the world” shows his comfort while in its surrounds. This also provides an image of Feliks’ migration journey around the world. Peter also comments here on his father’s desire to exclude himself from the foreign Australian culture for he “Spent years walking its perimeter//From sunrise to sleep”. Peter employs the use of alliteration and hyperbole to explore his desire to be in the garden. The connotations associated with Peter’s discussion of the “perimeter” imply Feliks’ position being on the outside of society. However, Feliks is not deterred with his exclusion from Australian society as his garden fills this void.

Peter continues to provide hardworking attributes of his father. He employs powerful visual imagery and simile to portray his “Hands darkened// Like the sods he broke”. This ensures he is a hardworking and stoic figure who is rewarded through physical activity. The images of the hands of a powerful manual worker reveal the safety and security achieved by physical labour. Peter describes his father’s action in a way which implies he wishes to emulate his father but the unfamiliarity of his actions prevents a connection between the two. This is shown through his use of hyperbolic imagery as he questions “Why his arms didn’t fall off”. There is an obvious dislocation between the two which is explored further in the following stanza.

Peter continues to describe his father’s relationship with “His Polish friends”. Here, positive connotations show that Feliks feels comfortable with these men; however, Peter’s unfamiliarity with them still exists. This is shown through the hyperbolic imagery once more as they “Always shook hands too violently”. This unusual behaviour enforces a cultural disconnection between Peter and his father. Feliks feels comfortable as “they reminisced//About farms where paddocks flowered”. The positive connotations associated with their Polish life before the war shows a sense of them belonging together through the pleasant memories of their past. Peter’s use of third person here enforces his exclusion from the conversation. Because Peter has not experienced life in Poland and does not have such memories he cannot culturally connect with his father or his father’s polish friends. Feliks belongs to his Polish friends because of shared memories and experiences; however, to Peter this is an unknown world which prevents a sense of belonging between them.

Peter describes that a fundamental reason that he and his father cannot connect is because he chooses to embrace Australian culture while his father is limited to his Polish culture only. He describes his father’s attempts to instil Polish heritage within him where it was “inherited unknowingly”. Peter’s inversion of the sentence effectively emphasises the negative connotations associated with “unknowingly”. At this stage in his childhood Peter wished not to belong to his father’s culture, rather he wished to belong to Australian culture while his father was unwillingly to adapt to Australian ways. He is discriminated against for this. This is presented as the “department clerk asked in dancing bear grunts: ‘Did your father ever attempt to learn English?’” Here, Peter employs demeaning visual imagery of the department clerk to criticise society of its discriminating ways. This also helps to understand why Peter wished to belong to Australian culture – so he wouldn’t be racially vilified.

The tone changes towards the final stanzas of the poem as Feliks begins to regret the division between his father and himself. He presents his father as content and “happy as I have never been”. The use of first person creates an emotional sense of regret. His father is happy sitting in the garden he spent so many years moulding. Peter, however, recognises he cannot share this contentment because of the division he created as a child. Although there was a cultural division created due to the lack of shared memories and experiences, Peter completely rejected his father and instead embraced Australian culture.

The final stanza enforces this regret. As a child, Peter focused on “tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War”. This literary allusion to a Latin text shows that Peter was content on studying Latin, regarded as a dead language than the enriching lessons of his father. Although Feliks attempted to instil his son with Polish culture when “I forgot my first Polish word//He repeated it so I never forgot”, Peter in his maturity acknowledges that Feliks could do nothing about the cultural divide. Instead, he watched “like a dumb prophet” as peter pegged his tents “further south of Hadrian’s Wall” Peter’s use of simile and symbolism illustrates the cultural barriers that emerged. Furthermore, he acknowledges that his father always knew that his son would one day regret choosing not to belong to his culture.

Essay Questions:

2011: Explore how perceptions of belonging and not belonging can be influenced by connections to places. In your response, refer to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your choosing.

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence which can be influenced through a person’s connections they hold with places. This is masterfully presented in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where his poem is constructed to explore the way migrants find a sense of belonging to places in a foreign country.

– Feliks belongs to his garden… it is where he finds solace and comfort and a place where his physical work provides safety and security.

“Loved his garden like an only child”, “swept its paths ten times around the world”, “spent years walking its perimeter from sunrise to sleep”, “hands darkened from the sods he broke”

– Feliks belongs to Poland through memories and the shared experiences he has with his polish friends… This is a positive sense of belonging he does not have for Australia. Peter does not belong to Poland and therefore, because of this connection and non-connection to place the two experience a division in their filial relationship.

“His Polish friends always shook hands too violently”, “they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered”

– Feliks is discriminated against by Australian society and therefore, Feliks does not belong to Australia. The prejudice of bureaucracy ensures he chooses not to belong to Australia.

“Department clerk asked in dancing bear grunts: ‘Did your father ever attempt to learn English?’”

2010: ‘An individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging.’ Discuss this view with detailed reference to your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your choosing.

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence which can be enriched or limited through an individual’s relationships with others. This is masterfully explored in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where his poem is constructed to explore the ways shared experiences and interactions can enrich or limit a sense of belonging.

– Feliks and Peter’s lack of cultural similarity ensures they do not belong to each other… this arises because of the lack of shared experiences… Feliks belongs to his polish heritage and culture which Peter rejects… thus they cannot interact culturally.

“Department clerk asked in dancing bear grunts: Has your father ever attempted to learn English?’” Australian culture discriminates against Feliks… Peter is a part of Australian society and thus this represents also his opposition to Feliks culture. “a language I inherited unknowingly”

– Feliks’ interaction with his Polish friends ensures he feels a sense of belonging with them… They have shared experiences through memories of Poland and the migration journey. Peter, however, does not share these same experiences and thus cannot belong to them.

“His Polish friends always shook hands too violently”, “they reminisced about paddocks where paddocks flowered”

2009: ‘Understanding nourishes belonging. A lack of understanding prevents it.’ Demonstrate how your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing represents this interpretation of belonging.

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence where its nourishment can be obtained through gaining an understanding of those around you. On the other hand, without understanding a sense of belonging can be lost. This is masterfully presented in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where aspects of both understanding and not understanding are explored, showing the effects of such on achieving a sense of belonging.

– In writing the poem Peter attempts to come to an understanding of his filial relationship with Feliks. He describes how the lack of similarity between them ensures a lack of understanding. As a consequence Peter and his father cannot belong to each other.

“Why his arms didn’t fall off”, “His Polish friends always shook hands too violently”, “talking they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered”

– In his maturity, Peter comes to understand his relationship with his father. He understands that he regrets not embracing their similar cultures. Feliks gained an understanding that he couldn’t force his heritage upon his son but acknowledged that his son would one day regret his decisions.

“Happy as I have never been”, “like a dumb prophet watched me pegging my tents further and further south of Hadrian’s Wall”

2009: What do you think are the most powerful influences that impact on an individual’s sense of belonging?

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence where the shared experiences between individuals provide a powerful influence on their sense of belonging. This is masterfully presented in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where his poem is constructed to explore the filial relationship between the poet and his father where their lack of shared experiences inhibits their sense of belonging.

– The lack of cultural similarity due to the lack of shared experiences ensure Peter and Feliks cannot belong in each other’s worlds. Peter admires his father for his hardworking and stoic personality. He wishes to emulate this; however, their cultural dislocation prevents this and consequently their sense of belonging to each other. Peter embraces Australian culture while Feliks rejects such, instead remaining content on his Polish heritage.

“My gentle father”, “hands darkened like the sods he broke”, “stumbling over tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War”

– Feliks’ shared migratory experience and memories of Poland with his Polish friends ensures he finds a sense of belonging to them. Peter, however, does not share the same experiences with these men and therefore he cannot connect with them.

“His Polish friends always shook hand too violently”, “they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered”

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