Here is an example of the writing proficiency of my students after a year with me at Educare Sydney.
A study of Raimond Gaita’s twentieth century memoir ‘Romulus, My Father’, Euripides’ 5th century BC play ‘Medea’, reveals that if an individual’s philosophic and cultural views are incongruent to their surroundings, they are often prevented them from belonging. Through the use of powerful characterisation and symbolism, both composers explore the judgmental and prejudicial nature of their respective societies; and the struggle of the individual to find their connection and their voice.
The exercising of individual passion and thought may prevent an individual from belonging as the criterion to belong is often determined by an attempt to abide by the status quo. Gaita’s ‘Romulus, My Father’ describes Romulus, Mitru and Hora, as characters in his memoir with a developed sense of self, which appears to challenge the values of their surroundings. The importance of individuality is embedded deeply within the memoir as the acknowledgement of independent thought is notably more important that conformity and acceptance within a society: “They had been denied university study because they refused to join the communist party groups which would have entitled them to scholarships…”.
The Romanian brothers’, Hora and Mitru’s denial of freedom and independent thought expose society’s disapproval of diversity and ostracism of those who don’t conform, revealing the tyranny of social and political ideology.
Similarly Christine also suffers discrimination at the hands of society: “Others disliked my mother partly because they saw her engaging vivacity as a dangerously seductive manifestation of personality in a woman they believed to be lacking entirely in character.” By juxtaposing vivacity with the word dangerously seductive, Gaita exposes the conservative superficiality and censorious nature of society. Criticising the judgment on cultural criteria that denies the celebration of diversity. Just as Christine suffers rejection for being different, Gaita represents other figures in history who have also suffered as result their ideas: “Hora stories were always of men with ideals… who were persecuted by an arrogant and complacent establishment that cried ‘Humbug’ when they made great discoveries”. Gaita’s elaboration of Hora’s principles through the inclusion of the world ‘always’ reflects his admiration of these ‘men with ideals’. The incongruent nature of the word ‘Humbug’ used to reflect ‘great discoveries’ diminishes these men with ideals and is perhaps used to correspond to Hora’s experiences of discord against communities as they reflected an ‘arrogant and complacent establishment.’ By depicting the establishment as egotistical and self-satisfied, it contrasts against the morality of these independent minds as they refuse to accept individuals that challenge their principles, prohibiting from belonging. Romulus’ characterisation by Gaita offers a conceptual understanding of the self that allows Romulus to engage with others truthfully and be satisfied with the outcome: “He believed it was essential to decent conversation that one not pretend to virtues one did not possess – as essential as being truthful about one’s identity. Only then could conversation be true to its deeper potentialities…”.
Romulus’ belief for the pursuit of truth places him at odds with the Australian way of being, challenging the harmonious notion of belonging as he refuses to sacrifice his identity, whilst criticising those who conform.
Written in the 5th century BC, play writer Euripides gives his audience an insight into the hardships women faced within the restrictive nature and confinements of society. Whilst Medea, explores discrimination from a feminist perspective , the nature of discrimination witnessed in Romulus my father does not differ so greatly. The characterisation of Medea challenges the morality of these restrictions by publicly revealing a clear sense of self within a patriarchal society. The prose, in which Medea is given her dialogue, is suggestive of her elegance and intelligence. This challenges the Corinthian expectations of women, and as Medea is able to produce her own sense of self. She reveals that the power of identity and the ability to have an individual thought incongruent the social norms, may be seen as dangerous: “because I am clever, they are jealous, while the rest dislike me.” Medea juxtaposes herself against the Corinthian society and understands her rejection. Her ability to acknowledge her position as an outsider, “I accept my place,” creates a further sense of disassociation from the people around her as she refrains from conformity. Euripides includes a sense of pathos through the inclusion of the Chorus’s lament for her inability to belong: “Poor Medea! | Your grief touches our hearts. | A wanderer, where can you turn?”. This highlights that belonging is not always born of choice and may criticise an individual for their independent thoughts. Even Creon, who is figurative of the people as King, expresses his fear of Medea, as she appears smarter than he presumed: “I trust you so much less than before. A woman of hot temper… is a less dangerous enemy than one quiet and clever.”
The absence of trust extricates her ability to belong, and as Creon, a figure of high status, expresses his distrust for her, further places emphasis on her struggle.
Although a foreigner, like Gaita’s family in his memoir, she blames her reputation and identity for impeding her ability to be accepted, whereas Gaita reveals it is the men’s identities that strengthen their ability to belong. This brings us back to the patriarchal dominance of the 5th century BC: “My reputation, yet again! … It is my curse and my ruin. A man of any shrewdness should never have his children taught to use their brains more than their fellows. What do you gain by being clever? … All your fellow citizens hate you” The revealing of her personal values and beliefs, juxtaposes her against society and is similarly expressed in Romulus, My Father, mirroring the ‘humbug’ nature of her ideals.
Medea expresses the power of having individual thoughts as potentially endangering, as it allows her to maintain and create a definite identity, challenging the role of women within Ancient societies, where they were restricted to explicit roles. The comparison she creates of the different levels of knowledge is solely around men and the patriarchal society of Ancient Greece. This notion of the dangers of free independent thought is given rise in ‘Romulus, My father’ as Gaita draws our attention to the communist regime and how Hora and his brother had to escape as they were “on the lookout for anyone who had an independent mind and spirit.” Challenging the celebration of diversity, belonging may become redundant for individuals who proudly exercise their independent thoughts and individuality. Euripides further criticises the censorious nature of society through Medea’s definitive: “of course a stranger must conform…” commenting on the displacement of the individual if there were not to adapt to values of the status quo. Gaita’s ability to connect to his surroundings allows him feel a sense of belonging in Australia: “It was as though god had taken me to the back of his workshop and shown me something really special… the experience transformed my sense of life and the countryside, adding to both a sense of transcendence”. The romantic representation conveys Gaita’s perception of nature as welcoming allowing him to forge a spiritual connection within the land. However, the tragedy of the novel is that his parents are unable to formulate a connection with their surroundings, as they are constantly drawn to the comfort of the homes of their childhood and their memories of Europe: “he longed for European society, saying that he felt like a ‘prisoner’ in Australia”. The emotive tone creates a sense of pathos through the inclusion of longing. His disconnection to Australia is enhanced by the simile, ‘he felt like a ‘prisoner’’ indicating his lack of freedom. But Gaita challenges this feeling of entrapment in Australia, by revealing early on in the novel that even in Europe, Romulus experiences a sense of displacement as he acknowledged his differences: “A little embarrassed by his complexion, he called himself a gypsy, and later in Australia, an aborigine.” Gypsies and Aborigines have both suffered historically and have been marginalised by the collective. It is interesting to note that Romulus defines himself in the same way. The comparison of these descriptions underlines the question of identity, suggesting that even our physical differences become inextricably linked to the way we come to define ourselves. Romulus’s inability to define himself permits others to do so as well: “They were tempted to condescend to this foreigner…” This becomes a motif throughout the memoir as both Christine and Romulus express a constant feeling of displacement: “It would have been an unrealistic hope, but quiet naïve at Frogmore. A troubled city girl from central Europe, she could not settle in a dilapidated farmhouse in landscape that highlighted her isolation.” Christine’s inability to conform, places emphasis on her estrangement as the emotive nature of the landscape as it ‘highlighted her isolation’ reveals the extreme transition from one culture to another. The irreconcilable nature of ‘a troubled city girl from central Europe’ juxtaposed with the image of a ‘dilapidated farmhouse’ exposes her inability to connect to her surroundings. The conditional, ‘it would have been’ suggests the impossibility of finding ones place in an estranged environment. Unfortunately, Romulus’ attempt to satisfy his longing is paradoxical as the solace he sought, “gave him a renewed appreciation of life in Australia. But he still longed, and longed all his life for the European conviviality he knew as a young man.” The repetition of longing intensifies the constant tension drawn between Europe and Australia, ultimately preventing Romulus from acquiring a sense of comfort and highlights his displacement more than ever.
Euripides challenges the notion of belonging to an environment or community at large, mirrored within Gaita’s memoir, as they both draw on the importance of home to an individual. Medea’s removal from society allows her to evaluate her alienation: “The same does not apply to you and me…”. By comparing herself against society and other women, she exposes the divided nature between her as a foreigner and the collective. As an outsider, the emotive tone used by Medea expresses her need for a home, which corresponds in Gaita’s novel. Like Romulus who labels himself a gypsy, the Chorus labels Medea a “wanderer” as noted previously, occurs as a motif throughout the play: “You have this city, your father’s home, and the enjoyment of you life, and your friends company. I have no city; now my husband insults me. I was taken as plunder from the earth’s edge. I have no mother, brother, nor any of my own blood to turn to in this extremity.” Euripides reveals the extent of her isolation, as a foreigner through the repetition of ‘no’, exposing her lack of immediate possessions as she is juxtaposed against others through ‘your’. This shows she has been completely uprooted from her home. The absence of home highlights Medea’s complete isolation, which is a known struggle in the migrant experience that is well noted by Gaita. As Medea is portrayed as an outcast, Euripides exposes her vulnerability: “Where can you turn for shelter? Your father’s door is closed against you.” The metaphor of the closed door is a visual representation of the fragile nature of belonging and its ephemeral nature. Medea’s question reinforces her disparity, as the rejection resonates deeply within her, “what city will receive me them? What friend will guarantee my safety; offer land and home as sanctuary? None.” The definitive answer of ‘none’ severely accentuates Medea’s emotional and physical displacement as society rejects her. This is reflected in the social rejection of Christine, giving an insight to the struggle and inability to belong as rejection from society prevents any sense of comfort in a foreign environment.
Romulus Gaita fled his home in his native Yugoslavia at the age of thirteen, and came to Australia with his young wife Christina and their infant son Raimond soon after the end of World War II.
Tragic events were to overtake the boy’s life, but Raimond Gaita has an extraordinary story to tell about growing up with his father amid the stony paddocks and flowing grasses of cRomulus Gaita fled his home in his native Yugoslavia at the age of thirteen, and came to Australia with his young wife Christina and their infant son Raimond soon after the end of World War II.
Tragic events were to overtake the boy’s life, but Raimond Gaita has an extraordinary story to tell about growing up with his father amid the stony paddocks and flowing grasses of country Australia.
Written simply and movingly, Romulus, My Father is about how a compassionate and honest man taught his son the meaning of living a decent life. It is about passion, betrayal and madness, about friendship and the joy and dignity of work, about character and fate, affliction and spirituality....more
Published July 8th 1999 by Headline (first published 1998)