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Sample Expository Essay On Identity And Belonging

Who am I?: self and other (by Dr Jennifer Minter, English Works articles)

Theme (context/creating and presenting for Year 12): Identity and Belonging: what are the issues for self and other?

As the former Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu once said, “a person is a person through other persons.”  This statement alludes to the fact that belonging is critical to our sense of self as a person; often we define ourselves through the quality of these relationships.   Likewise an Age columnist, Ross Gittins reminds us, “we are, above all, social animals.” After we have secured our physical survival, the most important thing in each of our lives is our relationships: with friends, neighbours, workmates and, above all, with our families”.  He asks, “take away all our relationships and who would have much reason to keep living?”

Author and social commentator Hugh Mackay states, &#;we are defined more by our interdependence than our independence&#;.  Also, &#;we are individuals with a strong sense of our independent personal identity and we are members of families, groups and communities with an equally strong sense of social identity, fed by our intense desire to belong.&#;

Because we are social animals, we gravitate towards groups that become instrumental in shaping our views and values, our attitudes and behaviour.  Frequently, we find ourselves conforming to the dominant views and values of the group, but we must also seek to strike an ideal balance between belonging and individuality. In order to protect our personal dignity, wellbeing and individuality, it may be necessary to challenge the group’s expectations or assert our individuality.

The role of family (and how this influences our ability to belong)

Family relationships are obviously central to an individual’s identity. Parents provide guidance, shape expectations, and nurture talents.

Ideally, family models, parental expectations and goals nurture our talents, our views and values, and help prepare us for wider social contracts. This may be enlightening and instructive.

But this is not always the case. In his poem, &#;Enter without so much knocking”, Bruce Dawe depicts the family as a commercial product, a microcosm of consumerist society. Following the guidelines of our parents almost like traffic signals, we are socialised, learn the rules, respond to the restrictions that will mould us into commercially viable products. Social rules are like traffic signs that are learned by children as a series of imperious commands as they learn to look up to authority. “Walk. Don’t walk. Keep left.” In such an environment, the rules can be confusing, stifling and inhibiting, and overwhelming. “My God (beep) the congestion here just gets (beep)”.

In the absence of strong parental role models and family and kinship relationships, many individuals suffer a crisis in identity which differs in severity according to their support networks. Children who hail from dysfunctional families, or who are abused by a parent or authority figure, often suffer from anxiety and have low self esteem.

Many aborigines who were the victim of the &#;stolen generation&#; were denied a strong and proud cultural identity. The NSW Link-Up submission (Bringing Them Home, p. ) states: &#;Going home is fundamental to healing the effects of separation. Going home means finding out who you are as an Aboriginal: where you come from, who your people are, where your belonging place is, what your identity is.&#;

Typically, Helen (p. Bringing them Home) was removed from her family at the age of four and placed in an institution. She had no family to support her and no idea of where she came from. In the absence of parenting models, substitute attachment figures and family support, she was later unable to cope with her own children and became depressed and alcoholic. She was unable to trust others and unable to form and maintain intimate long-term relationships.

It is the s. “Peggy” is four years old when she is separated from her mother in the Cherbourg mission and sent to school. She spends much of her childhood sitting at the wire grill fence yearning for a glimpse of her mother with whom she is not even allowed to share her birthday cake. “I didn’t get to know her. To me she was just the woman who comes and goes.” Denied intimate attachments, Peggy becomes angry. She is the victim of endless punishments as the school and the dormitory transform into a goal. She is forced to stifle her emotions; those who cry are punished. Singing prayers loudly, she is punished. Not doing chores on time, she is punished, which often involves a humiliated shaved head. The “pee-the-beds”, who were often terrified of the “woop woops” at night, were isolated; they had to sleep on the verandah and were constantly insulted through the ignominious label of “pee the bed”. Stripped of their identities, they were typecaste according to their “crime”  and stigmatised in offensive ways. Peggy says, “No identity at all. Absolutely nothing”.

Teenagers and school (issues of connection)

For young adults, on the cusp of adulthood, negotiating concepts of freedom and dependence, family and schools are important. Melbourne psychologist, Dr Michael Carr Gregg believes that central to a teenager’s wellbeing is a positive sense of connectedness and identity. Teenagers “have to figure out who they are &#; get an identity; get themselves good friends; have some kind of emancipation from their mums and dads &#; some sort of separation. And they have to connect with an educational institution, so they have some kind of vocational direction in life.”

A study of year 8 and 12 school students conducted by the Centre for Adolescent Health at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital by Professor George Patton (of year 8 and 12 students) found that teenagers are more positive about themselves when they have a good sense of belonging and connection to the school environment. Furthermore, they are less likely to indulge in behaviour that can be destructive and dangerous when schools are prepared to listen to them and respond to their needs.  If children feel heard they are likely to feel valued and this may determine whether they treat themselves and their peers with care and respect.

Professor for Adolescent Health, George Patton, said most people in the group “remained connected in a positive way to their peers and their school and to what education was about. They felt that school was a better place to be, that it had something to offer them and that they didn’t have to look elsewhere for something to make them feel good about themselves.

Contrastingly, an inability to find a purpose and a sense of belonging can be detrimental to one&#;s self esteem. Arie Eddie is typical of  many year-old youths who are struggling to find employment and they feel that they lack a purpose and a sense of belonging.  Official figures suggest that up to 14 per cent of youths are unemployed and the situation is worse in regional Victoria where Arie lives. After being rejected by more than employers he states &#;It constantly makes me feel worthless. It makes me feel like I don&#;t have any purpose and every day is hard to get through. I feel like I have no need to be around if I haven&#;t got a job,&#; Arie said.  Contrastingly, Nick Jones who is participating in a program called Ignite that provides customer service training to young adults, remarks that it has had a big impact upon his confidence and pride.  He says, “it has given me a great sense of self-worth and motivation”.

Vertical and horizontal identities
In Far from the Tree, Yale professor, Andrew Solomon, identifies different types of identities. He explains to Emma Alberici, (Lateline: &#;One of the central ideas of the book is that there are many kinds of identity which are hereditary, which I called &#;vertical identities&#;. So your ethnicity, your nationality, your language, frequently your religion. And even if those identities are difficult, nobody is trying to cure them. We&#;re only trying to cure a society that enacts prejudice toward those people.

But there are other kinds of identities that emerge in which a child has a central defining characteristic completely different from anything his parents have dealt with before. And I call those &#;horizontal identities&#; because they&#;re learned from a peer group rather than from parents.

He believes that the way parents negotiate these horizontal identities will have a big influence on the family&#;s wellbeing. In fact, “that negotiation of differences is a central part of how parents and children develop a relationship to each other.&#;

Just as important is the way individuals build and develop a sense of resilience in order to respond to the slings and arrows of daily existence.

Identity and change: self and other (resilience and neighbourly networks)

In her Boyer Lectures () entitled &#;Australians at their Best&#;, Governor General Quentin Bryce discusses the importance of &#;internal&#; qualities such as compassion, courage and resilience which she identifies as &#;static&#;; they change according to how an individual interacts with circumstances, the environment and with people. &#;Rather than think of them as static, internal qualities &#; the self-contained hero who fights hardship single-handed &#; I suggest that they are also a means of action and agency.&#; &#;It&#;s not just a person&#;s ability to harness fear, or to walk in another&#;s shoes, or to bounce back to the status quo. It&#;s their marshalling of the resources at hand to cope with challenge, being pragmatic, adapting to change, embracing the possibilities that change creates for people and communities.&#;

For Quentin Bryce, the &#;unassailable&#; spirit of Maddy who lost everything in the Victorian bushfires is testament to the ability of courageous individuals to change, develop and bounce back, with the help of an encouraging support network of teachers, grandparents, friends and the Governor General herself.

Contrastingly, in the absence of such neighbourly support networks, individuals suffer. Their confidence evaporates and their self-esteem takes a sharp dive. James Fry, who joined a neo-Nazi radical group, believes that he gravitated towards such a group because it offered him a place that he could not find in mainstream society.

&#;So what happened to me was I had significant behavioural problems, drug and alcohol problems. I was on the periphery of society. So, achieving any kind of success in terms of mainstream goals, in terms of, you know, doing well at sport, or at school, all the stuff that young blokes tend to mark themselves by, was no longer available to me. So I was looking to achieve in some other way. How could I feel like I belonged? How could I feel like I was part of something, doing something good instead of constantly getting in trouble?&#; (James Fry, Q&A November ).

Similarities and differences (how we belong (or fail to belong)

Apart from family, we tend to seek out groups and individuals who share our views, values and interests in life. Such people (and groups) share our goals or provide support, relief from troubles and help with problems.  As we grow and change, so too do our friendships and social groups. In many ways, the groups we join and the groups we reject help to define us as individuals.

Perhaps for this reason, the protagonists of the Summer of the Seventeeth Doll, gravitate towards each other because of their desire for an alternative, non-conformist lifestyle – one that seems more glamorous to the  stars who share in the illusion of eternal youthful happiness and romance. Olive, Barney and Roo have survived 17 lay-off seasons because they all seem to enjoy participating in the idealistic romantic dream of fun-filled and glamorous summer seasons. Olive inflates the image of the men as “eagles” and likewise Barney and Roo perpetuate the myth of a romantic summer, which glues the partners together and often appears strange or exclusive to outsiders such as Johnnie.

When we start a new school, or move to a new community, we have to negotiate our place in a new group. We have work out where we fit in and we hope that people will like us. As Dorothy Rowe states in her book, Why we Lie, being “disliked is so frightening”. “We don&#;t want to be disliked, because being disliked erodes our sense of being a person.”  In other words, the desire for acceptance fuels the basis of our self concept. In particular; being disliked leads to feelings of inadequacy.

We learn through differences (How does difference impact upon our identity and personal growth?)

Often when we try to fit into the dominant groups in society we are forced to confront our differences. Significantly, these differences define us as individuals and have a transformative effect on our identity. Those who embrace difference eventually overcome its foreignness and benefit in many ways. As Solomon says, &#;intimacy with difference fosters its accommodation.&#;

However, those families who fail to develop such intimacy, pay a high price. As Solomon implies, their inability to tame difference can have destructive consequences.

As Patti Miller points out in “The Mind of a Thief” the aborigines are excluded from the “main story” and this leads to feelings of worthlessness. They are made to feel like second class citizens and are subject to segregation; “It was segregation like South Africa”, says Evelyn Waugh. () At the cinema Evelyn was told, “get back down ‘ere you little nigger”. (). “She knew the hurting inside herself, the pain of not being regarded as fully human”.()
The indigenous citizens feel a strong sense of hatred and often become violent. Many, like Jimmy Govenor, snap after years of alienation and ridicule.

Likewise Wayne Carr, who suffers from a “wound that never heals” says, “I was a complete madman. Absolutely mental. Absolutely mental.”

Wayne is typical of those aborigines who suffer from a lack of purpose, a lack of connection and a lack of pride and dignity. His own immediate family is dysfunctional and his daughter becomes institutionalised because of her drug addiction. Wayne was sexually exploited during his childhood and is psychologically scarred. As Patti Miller states, he suffers from “a wound that never properly heals”.

Arie Eddie is typical of many year-old youths who are struggling to find employment and feel that they lack a purpose and a sense of belonging. Official figures suggest that up to 14 per cent of youths are unemployed and the situation is worse in regional Victoria where Arie lives. After being rejected by more than employers he states “It constantly makes me feel worthless. It makes me feel like I don’t have any purpose and every day is hard to get through. I feel like I have no need to be around if I haven’t got a job,” Arie said. Contrastingly, Nick Jones who is participating in a program called Ignite that provides customer service training to young adults, remarks that it has had a big impact upon his confidence and pride. He says, “it has given me a great sense of self-worth and motivation”.

It is very difficult to be oneself if one belongs to marginal groups. In this case, individuals are often restricted by disadvantage or by injustice. (Being an outsider has a big impact upon one’s sense of self.) Patti Miller shows that many Aborigines lack opportunities because they are the victims of prejudice in the community. They also lack a strong and purposeful sense of self and suffer what could be called an “identity crisis”.

One victim of the stolen generations who was removed at 8 years old from her aboriginal family states: &#;We were completely brainwashed to think only like a white person.  When they went to mix in white society, they found they were not accepted (because) they were Aboriginal. When they went and mixed with Aborigines, some found they couldn&#;t identify with them either, because they had too much white ways in them. So that they were neither black nor white. They were simply a lost generation of children. I know. I was one of them.&#; (Bringing Them Home, p. )

One indigenous woman, placed at the Umewarra Mission in South Australia described how the authorities banned their language which literally and symbolically denied the aborigines a voice. “In the home they used to tell us not to talk that language, that it’s devil’s language. And they’d wash our mouths with soap. We sorta had to sit down with Bible language all the time. So it sorta wiped out all our language that we knew.”

Another indigenous woman who was removed from her family in the Kimberley region in Western Australia in and placed in the Cherboug reserve said: “Aboriginal people weren’t allowed to speak their language while white people were around. They had to go out into the bush or talk their lingoes on their own. .. We could have a corroboree if the Protector issued a permit. It was completely up to him. I never had a chance to learn about my traditional and customary way of life when I was on the reserves.”

It is very difficult to be oneself if one belongs to marginal groups. In this case, individuals are often restricted by disadvantage or by injustice. (Being an outsider has a big impact upon one’s sense of self.) Patti Miller shows that many Aborigines lack opportunities because they are the victims of prejudice in the community. They also lack a strong and purposeful sense of self and suffer what could be called an “identity crisis”.

We learn through conflict and dilemmas

In many ways, the way we cope with adversity will be a true test of our mettle. In his poem, “No one is a loser”, Nigerian poet Ben Okri states that those who transcend “their apparent limitations” and “embrace their marginalisation” are greater than those who have little to transcend. In other words, those who triumph through adversity are greater than those who reach the same heights without the obstacles. The way we deal with adversity can be a true test of the individual’s mettle.

Similarly, Arthur Miller states in his autobiography, “Timebends”, “a character is defined by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he had walked away from that cause him remorse.”

Often individuals themselves embrace a variety of different perspectives according to their experiences in life. A change in our physical condition, can lead to a change in our mental outlook and hence differing perspectives. A near tragic accident or near death experiences can heighten our sensitivity and alter perspectives on life. Closeness or first-hand experience has a big impact upon a change in perspectives as does an accident that may involve a significant physical change. (Refer to soldiers’ experiences upon their return from war. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which in itself leads to, or results from a different perspective of life. First-hand experience of the horror and brutality of war, can also lead to changed perspectives about one’s own sense of courage and honour as well as reflection upon dominant political agendas.)

For example, Brad Connelly broke his neck in a bodysurfing accident and his life changed forever. Learning to communicate through lip-reading leads to a significant change in relationship patterns as does the fact that he has to learn to live with the feeling of being a constant burden. (“I shattered so many people with my injury.” From a tactile perspective, he also had to rethink his relationship with his children as he can only feel their skin through his face. As he states, “It’s not how I envisaged being a father”. His relationship with his wife Pam is not physical but rather they “sit and talk for hours” contemplating “life’s big questions together”.

Whilst Brad personally struggles with the vision of himself as a burden, contrastingly, Pam, his wife, expresses gratitude for his life and from her perspective is thankful that she did not lose her husband. She believes that she has grown through their physical interdependence and admits, “I’ve never had a problem with the wife/carer thing. Now it’s like his body is my body.” In a strange way, she believes that the accident has even “improved our

A personal anecdote. (If you are inserting a personal anecdote in your essay, ensure that it is meaningful, insightful and interesting. See, “writing hybrid essays”. )  I used to feel embarrassed when I was in primary school and my mother worked in the canteen. At first I was happy to see her, but I soon changed when my classmates started making fun of her accent.  She spoke broken English and was the butt of their jokes.  I soon ignored her because I was too scared of what my friends would say. However, in one of my classes at secondary school, one of the teachers told us when we were studying prejudice that racism reflects the person who has said the racist remarks and reveals their ignorance and lack of understanding.

These comments helped me recognise that these derogatory comments were not a reflection of my own inadequacy. I developed greater confidence in myself and in my parents. I now looked back on my past relationships with some regret. I found a different sort of love born of acceptance. I realised how much my mother had sacrificed for the family. I decided then to spend more time listening to her stories of her difficult encounters with people who were often so rude to her.

Similarly, as a Vietnamese outsider who came to Australia in via refugee camps in Thailand, year old Ms Naji Chu initially struggled with her identity and her ethnic difference. In response to racist taunts during her tough childhood, Ms Nahji Chu dressed like a “punk”, dyed her hair pink as a sign of her resentment, and stymied her mother’s attempts to open a restaurant. Disowning her cultural roots, Ms Chu sought a new beginning in a new city, Sydney.  She has since established a number of Asian tuckshops in both Sydney and Melbourne, and has produced a cookbook and a fashion label. Her interest with food helped to reconcile her with her roots, her culture and with her family.  She now recognises the importance of embracing one’s culture; she is proud of her heritage and encourages the next generation of Vietnamese to likewise discover their roots and their culture.

Evidently, then, exclusion can lead to a sense of inferiority but often forces individuals to develop resilience and resourcefulness.  Novelist and Age writer, Fiona Scott-Norman states in her book, Don’t peak at high school” from bullied to A-List, that people who are bullied or are unpopular at school are often forced to rely on their own resources and become very resilient. Norman states that people like Penny Wong and Megan Washington, the comedienne Stella Remington and TV presenter Tiffany Hall, who have been threatened at school, often develop amazing life skills and a fierce determination to succeed.  This may be because they know how unbearable it is to be lonely and depressed.  The moral of their stories is that all conquered their fears and went on to have successful lives. In other words, when the going got tough, they got going.  &#;Being bullied shaped these people,&#; writes Scott-Norman. &#;There are advantages to being unpopular at school, because you are forced to fall back on your own resources.&#;  Often when we don’t fit in, we often have to develop life-skills that make us more resilient.  Certainly, Sandra developed such skills as she was forced to live a life of hardship with the black community which was exacerbated by her violent husband.

Take the story of Anh Do, the Vietnamese comedian, Happiest Refugees. According to Do, his hardest gig as a comedian was also one of his most rewarding. He recalls his friend Dave Grant who used to say that “hard gigs were an opportunity to test your mettle: Learn from them Anh, treat them like a rare gift” () And that is what he did when he was faced with a room full of RSL soldiers who were commemorating the fallen brothers in World War Two, in Korea and Vietnam.  They observe a two-minute silence for the dead soldiers who were killed by Asians during the wars and then Anh Do is expected to entertain them.  He performed a five minute comedy gig to complete and utter deafening silence which reinforced his vulnerability.   Rather than wallow in despair and nurse his defeat and humiliation, Anh turns adversity into a personal triumph.  He relies on his wit, intuition and  imagination to recount personal experiences that help to overcome barriers of animosity and a great deal of prejudice among the audience.  He has the foresight to concentrate on similarities and proves that he is just an “Aussie kid”.  He states that this gig was one of the most rewarding moments of his career and he marvels at the modest praise: “You’re funny for a slope” was the ultimate compliment.

The power of the group

In some cases, a change in group dynamics is instrumental. Groups often define us, through the physical and psychological power they exert. Often, too, the dynamics and hierarchies of the group lead to an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses. The group often plays an instructive role, helping us to define ourselves through our aspirations, as well as our limitations. Any chink in the status-quo often forces group members to recognise uncomfortable truths and make adjustments.

As a leader of the canecutters, Roo, humiliatingly,  is forced to confront his own (physical) limitations through the rivalry with Johnnie Dowd, whose star is on the rise.  Likewise, Roo is forced to confront the humiliating circumstances of a loss of leadership and authority as  Dowd becomes the new boy in the cane-cutting gang.  Plagued by self doubt, Roo realises that he cannot keep up the fast and furious pace and realises that he cannot he cannot cling to the myth of his superiority.  As someone who has built their reputation on his physical skill and prowress as a canecutter, the awareness of his limitations strikes a blow to his pride. His ability to eventually confront his problems and to make adjustments is testimony to his inner strength and eventual resilience.  (See Brad Connelly above.)

Likewise, another outsider, Pearl, confronts the unrealistic dreams perpetuated by the remaining threesome and challenges Olive to think about the dwindling glamour.

If newcomers threaten group cohesion, a change in one’s personal circumstances can also threaten the solidarity of the group. For example, Abigail Gorman, who is a member of her deaf community, states that the decision to get a cochlear implant was very difficult because members of her family were worried that this would change their relationships. She said, “my mum worried that I’d lose my identity as a deaf person.” As a consequence they had a lot of arguments, because her mother thought that her daughter would lose her roots and would align herself more with hearing communities. However, the support of her mother eventually made her decision easier, and she resoled that despite the ability to hear, and straddle both communities, her first allegiance would always be to the deaf community. “I’m still a proud sign language user, and would always choose to sign rather than speak.” Likewise, Alastair McEwin, president of the deaf society, became Australians’ Disability Discrimination Commissioner and said, &#;My mandate is to make sure that it fulfils its aims of making sure that people with disability, no matter where they are, can be active members of the community.

However, group membership can also be stifling; opting for the security of a group often inhibits growth and development.  As Bruce Dawe’s young man in &#;Enter without so much knocking&#; would soon realise, the group smothers his dreams and his yearnings. He becomes the &#;realistic&#; &#;godless money-hungry back-stabbing miserable so-and-so, and then it was goodbye stars and the fort cry in the corner&#;.

Nancy has the courage to confront what she believes is the escapist dream of the foursome which privileges the romantic myth of the lay-off season to the detriment of a mainstream, stable, permanent and settled future. Recognising that the youthful myth of endless summer seasons will inevitably be exposed as just that – a myth —  Nancy expects a commitment from Barney, that never comes. As Emma admits, Nancy was the “shrewdest” of all of them; “buy and sell Olive any day” (84)  Likewise, the confrontation between Johnnie and Roo forces Roo to readjust his standing in the group and his role of leader. It is a humiliating experience for him, but one that prepares him for the adjustments he will need to make.

Contrastingly, Barney and Olive who lack the courage or the desire or the foresight to make the adjustments are impoverished. Barney spends the summer pining for Nancy. The wedding photos of Nancy become a symbol of loss that usher in a period of soul-searching that makes him think about the passing of time.

Belonging and not belonging at the same time: the outsider group

Hanka and Siegmund Siegreich meet as teenagers in a Nazi slave labour camp in Poland. They are treated like vermin, reprimanded for any minor transgression.  Love at first sight, they marry as soon as they are freed after a hasty day courtship. Their wedding feast takes place in an abandoned German hospital and consists of leftover food and a half cup of warm coffee.

However, they forge a very special friendship and support each other. As Siegmund says, they were so close and so dependent upon each other, that they became each one’s entire family. “We were father and mother, brother and sister.”  They were children “without a childhood” learning how to survive. “We relied on each other. We had nothing”.  At various times both risked their life for each other.

Remaining true to self

As Jane Austen said, “we have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” In other words, as we navigate our way in the world and negotiate our relationships, we must do so in a way that enables us to develop as individuals. We must nurture our own authenticity, our thoughts, our feelings and desires.

However, this is not as easy as it seems. Sometimes, attending to our “better guide” takes an enormous amount of courage. Such a struggle to be ourselves, forces us to make very difficult choices and accept the consequences which often may be extremely devastating for one’s sense of security. Often the struggle to be oneself can lead to enormous sacrifice and come at a huge personal cost.

Stories of self

&#;Every people has an origin story that it tells itself&#; (Age writer, Stephanie Bunbury)

The stories people tell about their origins and ancestors help them relate to place and find a sense of purpose and belonging.

The pursuit of land claims helps the indigenous people reconnect with their cultural ancestors and gives them a strong sense of pride. Wayne celebrates with his ancestors the story about the mythical Baiame who came out of the sea with his “emu feet”. He was a “giant of a man with his two wives and strode up through the Valley and he created it.”

Patti Miller suggests that although Wayne Carr is not part of the main story, his historical and spiritual connection with the land gives him a much stronger sense of place than white settlers, such as Patrick Reidy, will ever have.

Patti Miller believes that the stories we tell and share among ourselves are critical to who we are and our self concept. The stories we weave, the questions we ask about our past, and the way we reinterpret these stories is important to our sense of identity. Also, Patti Miller believes that critical to a sense of who we are, is how we weave together the different aspects or themes of the story of self, family and ancestors. “identity and connection could only be found in the telling. It wasn’t the threads of the story that really mattered, it was the weaving of the threads.”

An aborigine’s identity is not just based on the biological family but also on the clan, the skin groups and the aboriginal language group into which they are born. Kinship laws determine their totems (the crow and the eaglehawk for the Wiradjuri clan), who their leaders are, and who can interpret for them, the important values of life. As Wayne explains , your “moiety gives you the right to identify spiritually with certain areas of land.” (). The clan also determines their relationship with the land and “who has the right to speak for it”. Kinship laws determine the individual’s place, their relationships and their degree of power. They tell them who they are and where they belong.

Natalie Portman, who directs A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on Israeli writer&#;s, Amos Oz&#;s book, tells the story of his family&#;s fight for survival, their pain and suffering. Oz believes that the family tale symbolically reflects the story of Israel. Portman deliberately constructs the film in the Hebrew language, because it is critical to the story and sense of self. She also says, that Oz&#;s stories of woe and triumph also resonated with her &#;own family&#;s histories and mythologies and the kinds of things I grew up hearing&#;

She also believes that sometimes there is a tendency to become too obsessed with stories, such as, for example, the Holocaust, which makes people &#;paranoid&#; rather than &#;empathetic to others&#;. The film deals with the problematic nature of mythmaking and story-telling about origins and purpose. &#;What stories do we tell ourselves to form our identity? And then in what ways are they wrong? If you believe in your mythology too much and don&#;t let it change, that&#;s essentially a kind of suicide. To solve real problems, you can&#;t be dealing with dreams or resort to whatever the ideal was a hundred years ago. You have to deal with the situation now.&#;

There are many stories where people have had to struggle to gain acceptance in communities or to assert their own individuality.  As Zorba the Greek wisely said, “a man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.”  Likewise, Age cartoonist and writer Michael Leunig, says “if we don’t make for ourselves some small hand-crafted peculiarity it will certainly be provided by fate in due course.”   However, nurturing and maintaining this “hand-crafted peculiarity” and following our true path can be fraught with danger. Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye rails against the phoniness and pretentiousness of his school environment. “One of the biggest reasons I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies.” And of the headmaster, Mr Haas, he claims he was the “phoniest bastard” he had ever met in his life. Holden criticises the materialistic view of life of his school peers. At school “all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day…” and he tries to separate himself from the hypocrisy. Unfortunately, Holden is forever vulnerable and likely to fall through the cracks.  He knows what he doesn’t want to be. But he can’t find a positive alternative. He is heading for a “horrible fall” and unable to stop himself as he retreats further into an idyllic childhood world where innocence and spontaneity are cherished but unrealistic commodities.

But the most important thing is that he does not stop trying. His failure perhaps reinforces the magnitude of Sandra’s fight for justice and for integrity in a world that is so completely hostile.   Armed with love and plenty of good will, she finally makes it through, but not before she loses her husband, suffers the indignity of abuse and almost loses her children. After several marriages later, she finds the comfort and support she deserves and surrounds herself with a brood of love.

Carving our own space

At times, we need to find our own space that is free of social pressure.  Such a space helps us to discover ourselves free from the cravings of belonging. In Bruce Dawe’s poem, &#;Homo Suburbiensis&#;, the man finds harmony and a sense of self by withdrawing into the serenity of his vegetable patch. There he can find himself, explore his inner thoughts, and enjoy some “constancy” in a forever changing world. It is his “patch” – his territory &#; a place where he can vent his frustrations; it is a place where he has total control. It is a place where he can reflect upon his place in the world and enjoy the passing of time. It is a place that complements his need to be alone and to get in tune with his inner being. Like Sylvia Plath, who states “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart.  I am.  I am.  I am.” so too does Dawe suggest that it is the natural in man, our thoughts, feelings and instincts, that make us truly human.  Likewise, in his collection of articles, The Lot, Age cartoonist Michael Leunig states he enjoys spending time in the bush which he refers to as “home-based rehab,’. He describes the process of “communing with birds and beasts” as therapeutic and an activity that heals his soul. “This I find immensely healing.” ()

Such stories prove as Confucius notes, “no matter where you go, there you are”.

Dr Jennifer Minter, Identity and Belonging, dfknj.wz.cz
VCE resources: thematic studies

Other Links that you might find useful

  1. See Personal Growth in The Doll.
  2. See Language Analysis Tips for Exam
  3. See Tips for EAL Persuasive Language
  4. See Tips for Language Analysis EAL exam
  5. Perfect your language analysis skills for the Year 12 exam: see our VCE workbook for students: The Language of Persuasion: an essay-writing guide.

    Please click here to download a PDF version of the Exercises in the Language of Persuasion: an essay writing guide for immediate use. By using these exercises, you will be able to follow our support material on each exercise (See &#;turn to exercise&#;). Each &#;turn to exercise&#; includes key strategies, suggested responses, students&#; samples and assessors&#; marks and comments.

See also our VCE workbook for students: The Language of Persuasion: an essay-writing guide.

We include a PDF version of exercises to match the &#;suggested response&#; on the website.

 

 

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