“Who am I? ” is a universal question that has at least one stage or another, pried the minds of people. The quest for knowledge and shaping of our identity is aided by various influences in our lives with one of the biggest influences being our sense of belonging. The idea of belonging is significant and fundamental as it emerges from the connections made with entities such as people, places and communities. The feeling of connection or relation with these entities is formed from the perception of oneself being a concept that many desire and seek for.
This idea of unity and association is explored within “Romulus My Father” by Raimond Gaita, and “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J. K. Rowling. Both texts give an in depth exploration of the journey of self discovery, alienation and belonging revealed through the authors clever use of language techniques. “Romulus, My Father” written by Raimond Gaita is a biographical memoir delineating the life of Raimond’s father Romulus. The text exemplifies the hardships, betrayals and the events that drove Romulus to his insanity.
Even in the beginning of the novel, the feeling of disconnection is already present as the association to the landscape and society that a person is residing in is a trigger that encourages a person’s sense of safety to the community. Though Romulus lived the majority of his life in Australia, he never recognised it as home as “To a European or English eye it seems desolate, and even after forty years my father could not become reconciled to it. ”(p. 4) Romulus does not feel a bond with the land and rather has a negative view on the landscape which is symbolic of his isolation from the Australian culture. “He longed for the generous and soft European foliage… But the eucalyptus in Barringhup, scraggy… symbols of deprivation and barrenness. ”(p. 14) The author, Gaita juxtaposes the European flora with positive connotations to the Australian’s with negative references to aid in clarifying Romulus’ extrication to Australia. Likewise, this feeling of disengagement to the home is also present in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.
J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is about the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his experiences, search for identity and knowledge of his parents at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The protagonist Harry Potter similarly to Romulus also feels a sense of separation to his home in the “muggle” world at 4 Privet Drive with his relatives, the Dursleys. Though living with the Dursleys, Harry is not privileged to a room and instead resides in “the cupboard under the stairs… and that was where he slept” (p. 0) The Dursley’s are cruel to him and treat him as an outcast metaphorically comparing him “as though he was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug”(p. 22) Rowling uses the use of simile to show comparison of Harry to a vile creature illustrating how much the Dursleys loathed him. Even “at school Harry had no one. The Dudley’s gang hated that odd Harry Potter in his baggy clothes and broken glasses. ” (p. 27) This shows Harry’s uncoupling to the human world where he is exiled of existence in which the world of magic he is loved and honoured.
Both characters, Harry and Romulus, sense separation and detachment to their residential place. Their feeling of being an outsider shapes them in a way where they do not know where they stand. Filial and Familial relationship is a stepping stone where an individual can learn the genuine meaning ‘to belong’. The feeling of attachment with particular family members can determine whether an individual can correlate elsewhere. It also shapes the identity of an individual as family is linked through blood with an invisible string that ties them together shaping a person’s features to self worth.
In Raimond Gaita’s memoir there is a clear indication of filial relations between Raimond and Romulus. It is initially evident in the title of the memoir where the use of a personal pronoun, ‘my’, which affiliates Gaita with his father whom he continuously juxtaposes to the likes of a saint. He lavishes praise and positive connotations of his father through his words about his father being “not merely skilled, he was a man of practical genius”(p. 4) Gaita expresses the importance of his father with the quote “I know what an honest man is. I know because I remember these things in the person of my father,”(p. 4) which utilizes repetition to emphasise and glorify his father’s life. Juxtaposition is also used to highlight Romulus’ admirable qualities by contrasting them with the morals of Christine who neglects the attention of Raimond. My father’s devoted care of me contrasted obviously with her neglect and this fuelled the hostility towards her. “( pg 31) Alternatively the notion of an adult reflecting on his childhood-awe of a father is echoed in the lines ”fearlessly lifted me up on his shoulder” where the father’s physical strength is symbolic of paternal protection and love.
Romulus acts as Raimond’s mentor and governs him by imperatively ordering Raimond “You must not lie”(p. 49) as a way of teaching him. A central theme of Harry Potter is also the familial and filial relationship. Harry has never known of his mother and father and so live with the Dursleys. Though they may seem to despise him they still took him under their care because he is family and no matter how much they despise, have relation with him. This shows the bonds and strengths of families under no matter the circumstances.
Even though Harry is an orphan, Hagrid act as a substitute patriarchal filial character to Harry protecting him and supporting him. Hagrid and Harry’s friendship is profound in the beginning of the text as Hagrid metaphorically “howled liked a wounded dog” (p. 17) when he had to bestow Harry to the Dursleys accounting for Hagrid’s attachment to Harry. He worries about Harry and blames himself for Harry getting hurt “It’s-all-my-ruddy-fault! I told him! It was the only thing he didn’t know an’ I told him! Yeh could’ve died! I’ll never drink again! Rowling overexercises the use of the exclamation point to show Hagrid’s hysterical resentment for himself as he believes he is responsible for Harry’s safety and has failed. The repetition of the word “I” is another example of Hagrid’s regrets and deepest sorrows against Harry’s misfortune as he fully blames himself. This ideal the idea of the male filial is present assists in a person’s journey of self discovery. Romulus and Hagrid both act as a guide and role model for Raimond and Harry offering them friendship, protection and love.
Having a retreat creates a sense of true self as it is where a person can relax and feel at ease. For Romulus, his passion for blacksmithing became a refuge from the alienating world outside, where he could truly immerse himself in “his joy in having a hammer and steel in his hands”(p. 4), characterised by the onomatopoeic “rhythm of his hammering – tap tap bang, tap tap bang”(p. 4). His love of blacksmithing is conveyed through Raimond’s superlative language “my father worked furiously, doing in an afternoon the work it normally took two men to complete”(p. ) showing the intensity of his passion, and more emphatically that it was Romulus’ passion for blacksmithing which helped him mentally recover so quickly from his motorcycle accident “when he recovered physically, his work brought my father again into spiritual equilibrium” the spiritual allusion highlighting how his passion for work became a source for tranquillity. His passion gave him respect from the Australian’s who appreciated his “superb craftsmanship… in which he took such pride”.
This acknowledgement was critical to maintaining Romulus’ sense of belonging, which otherwise suffered due to what he perceived as the moral failings of society. Unlike Romulus who finds refuge when working, Harry is at safe heaven when he was in front of “The Mirror of Erised”. The mirror is unlocks Harry’s understanding of his family. When presented on front of the mirror, the mirror gave him a “powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness”(p. 153) though he could not tear his eyes away from the reflection of his family and repeatedly visits the mirror to seek comfort. Harry only had one thought in his head, which was to get back in front of the mirror” shows his fixation and attachment to it. “There was nothing to stop him staying here all night with his family. Nothing at all. ” Rowling repetitively uses the word “nothing” twice to further imply Harry’s attachment and fascination with the mirror which gives him consolation and warmth. When in their place of comfort, Harry and Romulus are both allowed to truly connect and concentrate allowing a sensation on importance. During one’s lifetime a person’s impression of where they fit in shapes who they are and their individuality.
Romulus My Father” by Raimond Gaita and “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J. K. Rowling. investigates the thought of displacement and disconnection to the home and family, but also parallels to the idea of filial relationships and sanctuaries for assimilation. Romulus Gaita and Harry Potter have both felt what it is like to belong and what it is to not. It has shaped them in ways of making Romulus a hardworking man of many ethics and beliefs, and Harry into a boy of courage and self worth. It is when a person can feel a sense of belonging, fostering and love that the age old question of “Who am I? ” can truly be answered.