In particular, the poems In the Folk Museum, and 10 Mary Street articulates his internal struggles during his teenage years. In David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life (1978), Ovid, a Roman poet during the height of Augustan Rome is indefinitely exiled to the “barbaric” lands of Tomis. Coming from a highly cultured and ‘civilised’ background, Ovid experiences alienation largely due to his prejudices of the “savage” tribe’s people. Throughout In the Folk Museum, Skrzynecki conveys an atmosphere of detachment from the relics inside the museum.
Skrzynecki lists the relics in the museum; by using accumulation, “Hay knife, draining plough, shoulder yoke, box iron” Skrzynecki indicates the extent of his disengagement. Listing the objects evokes a monotonous tone and gives the sense that Skrzynecki sees them as lifeless objects “which isn’t [his]”. Moreover, the listing also depersonalises the objects reflecting a depersonalisation of his Australian heritage. In Skrzynecki’s 10 Mary Street, the “still too narrow bridge” is symbolic of his fractured identity which presents the greatest barrier to his sense of belonging.
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Every morning, Skrzynecki “hides the key (to the house)/ under a rusty bucket” before school. This action of hiding the key is metaphorical for him locking away his Polish identity before going to school. The use of anaphora “for nineteen years”, further emphasises the length of time has kep the two faction of his identity separate. On a superficial level, his sense of alienation is no more than a product of his Polish upbringing which isolates him from his surroundings. However, in The Folk Museum, a more nuanced cause of his ambivalence is portrayed in the poem.
As Skrzynecki approaches the end of his tour, “the wind taps hurriedly on the roof and walls”. The use of pathetic fallacy “the wind” conveys a subconscious reluctance to recognise Australian heritage as part of his identity. Furthermore, as he leaves the museum “without wanting a final look”, the museum curator touches Skrzynecki hand, “the old woman’s hand/Touches mine”. The use of enjambment leaves a truncated “touches mine” thus emphasising a sudden realisation. Like a haunting thought, the woman’s hand reminds Skrzynecki that the museum, a metaphor for his Australian heritage can never be entirely dissociated with his identity.
The curator’s hand is a parallel to the lone tree motif, a symbol of his Polish heritage, in Postcard which whispers “we will meet/before you die”. These techniques represent his internal conflict; he is not at peace with his identity and his sense of self is fractured. This internal conflict is what causes his inability to belong or associate with the museum and his Australian heritage. In Malouf’s, An Imaginary Life, the greatest challenge to Ovid’s sense of belonging is again his internal conflict with his identity.
Exiled from Rome, the epicentre of the civilised world, he finds that his former identity as a Roman poet invalidated and meaningless as he feels alienated by the “savage” environment. The use of rhetorical questions, “Am I still known? … Have I survived? ” evokes thoughts on the meaning of his existence. Malouf uses Ovid’s first hunt in part one to demonstrate his internal conflict. The hunt is significant in many tribal cultures and is symbolic of initiation and acceptance into the community. Ovid is welcomed by the old man who “greets [him] with a handclasp”.
This particular use of tactile imagery signifies warmth and invitation; Ovid is being whole-heartedly welcomed into the tribal hunt. However, Ovid does not feel a sense of belonging. Instead, he feels internally conflicted. Continuous repetition of “I am Roman” interjected in the stream of consciousness conveys his unwillingness to identify himself with the tribe’s people. Exhilarated by the hunt yet reluctant to connect, Ovid conveys how his inability to reconcile with identity proves a significant barrier to belonging.
In Skrzynecki’s 10 Mary Street, Skrzynecki shows that by engaging with his surroundings, a better sense of identity may be achieved. The house on 10 Mary Street, Skrzynecki’s childhood home, is a metaphor for his Polish heritage and identity. It is a place where Skrzynecki feels he can explore his Polish identity to gain a better sense of belonging. In the backyard of the house, Skrzynecki “ravaged the garden, like a hungry bird”. The use of simile highlights an instinctive sense of connection and nurturing he has with the garden; he is free to indulge himself in his surroundings.
This engagement leads to him gaining a better sense of belonging. The detailed allusions to Polish cuisine, “Kielbasa, salt herrings, and rye bread, drank vodka or cherry brandy”, reveals a sense of connection he has with his Polish identity. Gustatory imagery not only creates a sense of warmth and nurturing but serves as a powerful indicator of his adherence to his Polish identity. This indicates that through engagement, he feels a better sense of identity and belonging. However, his sense of belonging only exists inside the microcosm of his home.
The use of vivid and violent imagery such as referring to the factory as “always burning down”, the block being “gazetted for industry” suggests he does not draw his identity from it, that he does not belong to it. This demonstrates that a lack of engagement with his external surroundings cause him to feel alienated. Likewise, in Malouf’s An Imaginary Life, Ovid’s internal struggle to let go of the past and his prejudices present challenges to attaining a sense of belonging. “I am dead, I am relegated to the region of silence” Ovid initially states.
A deeply introspective character, Ovid constantly reflects his mental state. The use of anaphora “I am” characterises a degree of self-absorption. It is this unwillingness to engage with the outside world that is responsible for Ovid’s sense of alienation. As the novella progresses, Ovid begins to recognise that he needs to shed these prejudices to achieve a sense of belonging. Ovid summarises that “(he) had to enter silence to find the password from my own life. ” Silence is a motif used throughout the text to signify Tomis and his isolation from his Latin tongue.
In contrast “password”, a word which suggests speech and sound is juxtaposed with “silence”. This emphasises the need for him to engage with his surroundings in order to be at peace with his identity. This idea is supported by the foil character; the Child, who is an animus for Ovid’s prejudicial attitudes. Interacting with the boy, Ovid “… find[s] [him]self more and more often slipping back into [his] childhood”. Ovid explains that through his interaction with the wild boy, he learns to let go and free himself from the prejudices.
The choice of diction, “slipping back” has subtly connotes an internal resolution and that his sense of serenity is found within himself. Malouf suggests a sense of belonging can only be achieved through introspection and resolution of internal struggles. Ultimately, belonging is rarely affected by external forces. It is a realisation of one’s identity that is crucial to bring about a sense of belonging. Although Skrzynecki, unlike Malouf’s character Ovid, does not appear to reconcile his fractured identity, both writers illustrate the importance of inner peace in the pursuit to belong.