‘People experience a sense of belonging in varied and complex ways’
While human instinct, however primitive dictates that finding a sense of belonging is essential for survival, it is through the complexity of relationships that ensure this universal need is achieved. In his Immigrant Chronicle, Peter Skrzynecki employs various language devices to present different aspects of belonging. These ideas are associated with first generation migrants and their struggles to find acceptance in a foreign country. In Feliks Skrzynecki a lack of commonality between the poet and his father inhibits their relationship and ultimately affects their sense of belonging to each other. In Migrant Hostel immigrants create relationships by exploiting common experiences to gain a transitory sense of belonging. Similarly, Marc Forster’s film, The Kite Runner presents the connection between relationships and shared experiences through following the conflict of migrants in forging an identity in an exotic country.
A lack of cultural commonality limits Feliks and his son’s relationship:
Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki explores the poet’s filial relationship with Feliks, where a lack of cultural similarity inhibits their sense of belonging to each other. Skrzynecki uses visual imagery of Feliks’ ‘hands darkened from cement’ to shape his father as a hardworking and stoic figure. Although the poet admires his father, this imagery later becomes connected with Feliks’ cultural heritage and the ‘five years of forced labour’ in German concentration camps. This personality being constructed is the basis of the cultural disconnection with his son. Peter has not shared the same experiences as his father in Poland and therefore has not built the same personality. This is further shown through the poet’s description of his father’s ‘Polish friends who always shake hands too violently’. Peter’s unfamiliarity with the behavior of these adults enforces the cultural disconnection between himself and his father’s heritage. As ‘they reminisced’, the use of third person illustrates the exclusion Peter had with his father in conversation. He is excluded because he cannot relate to the men due to their lack of cultural similarity. This affects their relationship and impedes their ability to belong to each other.
Feliks and Peter’s lack of childhood commonality pressures their relationship and consequently reduces their sense of belonging to each other:
Peter’s youth at the time his family immigrated ensured he would be influenced by Australian culture. Being just four years of age Peter was too young to be instilled with Polish practices and therefore could not relate to Feliks’ memories of ‘farms where paddocks flowered’. While he acknowledges he ‘unknowingly inherited’ his father’s Polish language, the negative connotations of ‘unknowingly’ implies it intruded on his established Australian ways. The dominance of Australian culture on Peter is evident when he ‘forgets his first Polish word’. This creates the obvious detachment between Feliks’ polish heritage and the Australian culture that Peter is choosing to embrace. Without cultural commonality between Feliks and Peter’s upbringings, the two struggle to relate to each other. This negatively affects their sense of belonging.
Feliks and Peter have different educations and therefore limited shared experiences:
Skrzynecki’s education in Australia, which differs to the values of Feliks furthers their lack of shared experiences. This consequently inhibits their sense of belonging to each other. It ironically evidenced through Peter’s education where he studies ‘tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War’. His stubbornness to focus on Latin, regarded as a dead language, rather than the enriching lessons of his father reveals the resentment he has for his father’s culture. Skrzynecki’s use of simile to portray his father as a ‘dumb prophet’ and the symbol of Peter ‘pegging his tents further south of Hadrian’s Wall’ reinforces the barrier between their two cultures. This imagery enforces Feliks’ acknowledgment that he has little influence on Peter’s culture. Because of the lack of shared ideas and values between the two, Peter cannot connect with his father and consequently drifts further from his Polish heritage as he attempts to seek an Australian identity. Having been educated in Australia, Peter grows up challenging the values and lessons that his father attempts to instill in him. Without a commonality of ideas and values, Peter and Feliks’ relationship struggles to enrich their sense of belonging to each other.
Feliks’ shared migratory experiences with his Polish friends ensures he has a sense of relationship with them:
Although Feliks and his son struggle to belong in each other’s worlds, Feliks’ shared migratory experiences with his friends ensures he belongs to them. It is obvious Feliks does not belong in the same world as Peter, that is, belonging to Australian society. Because Peter speaks English he acts as an interpreter for his father. The exclusion of Feliks from the community is shown through the ‘department clerk’ asking in ‘dancing bear grunts’ whether Feliks ‘ever attempted to learn English’. This question illustrates the discrimination and racism directed at Feliks and immigrants in general. This arises because the Australian community has no sympathy for immigrants as they have no shared experience of being forced to flee their homeland. Because of this discrimination Feliks must search elsewhere to satisfy the fundamental human need to belong. This fulfillment arises through the company shared with ‘his Polish friends’. By embracing shared experiences with other immigrants and reliving memories of their past they are able to create a substitute world in which they belong. Peter observes this when he notices Feliks ‘happy as he has never been’. By embracing shared migratory experiences, Feliks strengthens the relationship with his Polish friends. In doing so, they enrich their sense of belonging to each other.
Although transitory, the immigrants in Migrant Hostel build upon shared experiences to build a sense of relationship between each other:
Immigrants in Skrzynecki’s Migrant Hostel exploit shared experiences in order to build relationships. Although transitory, they achieve a sense of belonging to each other. On arrival in a foreign country, immigrants find comfort through association with others of similar nationality. Skrzynecki implies that it is a natural thing to seek ‘each other out instinctively’. He reinforces this fundamental human need to belong through the use of simile when comparing the immigrants to ‘homing pigeons’. This describes the instinctual desire to be with those speaking the same language and identifying with similar culture. By congregating in these nationality groups, mutual support can be offered, providing comfort amidst the uncertainty of their individual situations. The motif of birds is further explored when the immigrants are compared to ‘birds of passage’. This implies the constancy of their ever changing condition. They achieve a sense of belonging to each other by embracing similar migratory experiences, however accept its transient nature due to this uncertainty. By exploiting shared experiences and embracing common culture, immigrants form relationships which consequently enrich their sense of belonging.
The Immigrants are rejected by society due to lack of understanding of cultural differences:
Shared experiences in Skrzynecki’s Migrant Hostel are further explored through the rejection immigrants confront from society. Without this acceptance by society, immigrants struggle to gain a sense of belonging within the community. The poet’s use of ‘we’ unifies the immigrants regardless of their origin. Through sharing despair, confusion, isolation and frustration the immigrants gain an understanding of ‘us’ against ‘them’. Australian society has not experienced the same events of fleeing their homeland and consequently have no sympathy towards immigrants. The ‘barrier at the main gate’ symbolises the barrier immigrants face when searching for an identity in Australia. The exclusion of immigrants from society is furthered through the imagery of the ‘finger’ which ‘points in reprimand and shame’. This negative personification of bureaucracy shows the exclusion immigrants face by those of authority. Because of the lack of sympathy shown towards these immigrants, they gain an understanding of ‘us’ against ‘them’. This consequently inhibits their sense of belonging.
In the Kite Runner, Baba and his son Amir struggle to maintain a close relationship since they have very little common interests:
Forster’s The Kite Runner explores a relationship between a father and his son where common interests alter their sense of belonging to each other. The protagonist’s father, Baba, was seemingly brought up with strong morals and values, differing to those of his son, Amir. While Amir enjoys reading and writing stories, Baba fears that his son will struggle to ‘stand up for what’s right’. Amir admires his father, whom he views as a role model. His admiration is evident when he shares stories of his father ‘once wrestling a bear’. However, without common interests and experiences the two cannot relate. A mid shot shows Amir sitting writing stories as he considers ‘he hates me’, referring to his father. The film then cuts to another mid shot, with the camera placement now behind Amir. As he looks out the window into a miserable, rainy setting, a point of view sense is created, allowing the viewer to experience Amir’s sense of dislocation to his father. Although Amir and Baba’s relationship is largely negative due to the lack of commonality, the kite fighting tournament acts as a symbol of how their relationship could flourish with shared experiences. Baba won the kite fighting tournament as a child – a feat Amir achieves. During the tournament Baba watches in excitement as a wide shot captures his delight. When the two meet afterwards Baba hugs his son for the first time in the film, exclaiming ‘good job’. This is the first intimacy shown between the two and arises through the fact that they have something in common and further, they can relate to each other. The filial relationship explored in the Kite Runner is largely influenced by shared experiences. This consequently alters their sense of belonging to each other.
Baba and Amir draw upon a shared migratory experience from Afghanistan to America to build an enduring relationship:
After migrating to America, Baba and Amir’s relationship strengthens due to the shared experience of fleeing Afghanistan. Through sharing despair, isolation and confusion an enriched sense of belonging is achieved. Because Amir is older when he and his father immigrate, he is already instilled with his father’s cultural practices. This is evident through Amir’s traditional wedding which takes place. He respects the values he has been brought up with which results in no cultural barrier inhibiting their sense of belonging. Baba’s change in attitude towards his son is shown after Amir graduates from college. Baba exclaims ‘my son, the college graduate’. He continues to say ‘tonight, I’m very happy’ while close up camera shots of Baba shows his proud emotion. Amir’s degree is in writing fiction, which while in Afghanistan Baba was strongly opposed to. Now, in America and because their shared migratory experience has strengthened their relationship, Baba supports his son’s carreer path. This results in Baba and Amir achieving a greater sense of belonging to each other.
Skrzynecki’s poetry and Forster’s film explore many of the same themes concerning their belonging experiences:
Both Skrzynecki and Forster present ideas of belonging through following migrant struggles to find acceptance in a foreign country. The two poems and the film explore how shared experiences affect relationships and consequently a sense of belonging. Both similarities and differences are evident between the three texts. Feliks Skrzynecki and The Kite Runner explore specific filial relationships while Migrant Hostel presents a more general condition that immigrants face. Feliks and Baba are similar characters while Peter and Amir contrast subtlety. The age at which they immigrate impact greatly on the outcome of their relationship and consequently their sense of belonging. Peter immigrates at a younger age and is therefore greatly influenced by the foreign culture. Amir differs as he was older and already following traditional Afghani customs. Because of this he relates better to his father than Peter. This reflects their differing senses of belonging. Migrant Hostel and The Kite Runner reflect how exploiting shared migratory experiences enhances relationships. By congregating in nationality groups and associating with others exposed to similar hardships, mutual support can be offered. Baba and his son embrace their similar migratory experiences which enhances their sense of belonging. Similarly, this occurs with the Skrzyneckis. Many comparisons can be drawn between the three texts with each exploring the hardships immigrants face in foreign countries.
Belonging is fundamental to human survival. The instinctual desire to belong is enriched through relationships and the shared experiences that occur as a result. Having commonalities ensures people can relate to one another and in doing so, enhances their senses of belonging. Skrzynecki’s poems Feliks Skrzynecki and Migrant Hostel and Forsters’s film The Kite Runner explore the connection between shared experiences and their effect on relationships. These relationships then alter a person’s sense of belonging, whether enhancing it or inhibiting it.
Khaled Hosseini’s Other Books:
And the Mountain Echoed
“A powerful book…no frills, no nonsense, just hard, spare prose…an intimate account of family and friendship, betrayal and salvation that requires no atlas or translation to engage and enlighten us.” -The Washington Post Book World
A Thousand Splendid Suns
“This novel is an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love… A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.” – Barnes and Noble