Peter Skrzynecki’s poems ‘St Patrick’s College’

“To what extent is an individual’s sense of belonging determined by external forces? ” An individual is significantly influenced by their surrounding when striving to achieve a sense of belonging with others and oneself. Individual’s identity is solely shaped from how they belong in the world, differentiating us from everyone else. An individual’s interaction with people, society, and community and their response will determine if we’re able to develop a sense of belonging or not.
They may choose to reject and challenge our behavior; character, values and beliefs making us feel excluded. But only when these features are accepted and recognized we’re able to gain a sense of belonging. This concept of external forces affecting an individual’s sense of belonging is explored in Peter Skrzynecki’s poems ‘St Patrick’s College’ and ‘In the folk Museum”. These are the poems from the Immigrant Chronicles which are a collection of Peter’s and his family’s migrant experiences and their endeavor to gain a sense of acceptance and belonging in their new country.
This is a similar situation reconnoitered in the graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan, where the author captures every move and thought of the migrant who strives to fit in into the new environment and people. Belonging in any sense is not possible without the affirmative of others. We as individuals rely on others to for acceptance and affection in order to belong. However, at times our thoughts and values may clash with others such, as the community or the society, preventing us from achieving a sense of belonging.

This sense of detachment is evident in ‘St Patrick’s College’, where Peter is forced to attend a Catholic school by his mother who is “Impressed by the uniform”; the use of adjective here shows his mothers had high aspirations for her son. “What was best” this dialogue cliche indicates that his migrant mother wants her son to be educated in a way that will help him belong in a new country. “I walked Strathfield’s paths and streets” it’s in singular pronoun used to show that he did not have friends and indicate a tone of loneliness. Like a foreign tourist, uncertain of my destination”, simile is used here suggesting a sense of alienation and confusion – not knowing where he really belonged. “I’d been privileged to wear” ironic; imitating what he was constantly told to feel about the school. The implied disorientation suggests he had no attachment with the school. “Unchanged my either years’ weather” indicates that he never really learned or gained any knowledge from his time at school. This he poem ends with the mother’s hope for her son getting “best” out of school.
This perspective of the mother had forced Peter to attend a school, for 8 years which is repeated throughout the poem, was a waste and a journey of isolation and inauspicious experience. External forces that drive individuals to achieve a sense of belonging does not necessarily have to be other people; it could be the person’s past experiences as conveyed in ‘In the Folk Museum’. It is about Peter’s disassociation with the Australian past represented through his experience of his visit to a museum. The first stanza has a tone of isolation and alienation with the imagery of “darkness” and “betrays”.
The room is silent and dark, lacking human life and vitality. This suggests Peter’s longing to connect with people. The objects in the “Victorian Bedroom” belong to a past that Peter cannot relate to. “To remind me of a past/Which isn’t mine. ” The caretaker sits “without looking up” suggests that she does not even acknowledge Peter’s presence and lacking any sort of warmth and friendliness. This creates an atmosphere of hostility for Peter and a lack of connection with the place. In spite of the alienation described through the poem, it ends with a measure of human connection when the old woman touches his hand.
But then ironically, he is reminded by her only words to him “Would you please sign the Visitors’ Book? ” that his is all but a visitor to the place. Even when he tried, he was still unable to develop any sort of connection or belonging with the place. On the contrary, our surrounding factors do not necessarily limit our sense of belonging. They may encourage and guide us in building our sense of belonging to a place. ‘The Arrival’ is a story of an unknown migrant who is faced with harsh situations in his mother country and is forced to leave his family and migrate to seek better opportunities in a different country.
He arrives there with no clue about the place and lacking the language skills required. The alien-like creatures symbolize the arrival’s experience in the foreign country. When he arrived into his new home, he experiences isolation and loneliness, which is shown through his image diminishing in size. The pet-like creature the arrival finds in his home becomes his companion and following him everywhere he goes. The arrival soon starts to communicate with other migrants who share their traumatic experiences with him and assist him to assimilate into the new environment.
They show their acceptance towards him and provide inclusion. The arrival’s family rejoins with him and their sense of belonging is completed. In any kind of environment, belonging is needed for human well-being and happiness. But to achieve this sense of belonging a mutual connection is needed with others. Our past experiences and the way we interact with people are major contributors in gaining a sense of belonging. This concept is portrayed in both the poems in Immigrant Chronicles and The Arrival where the individuals are affected by external forces when striving to achieve a sense of belonging.

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