Individuals who have experienced an unconventional or life-altering event will inevitably face the judgments of broader society, hence dictating whether such individuals feel a truly valid sense of belonging. This concept of the significance of exterior factors on one’s sense of belonging is portrayed through the novel Room written by Emma Donoghue and Gwen Harwood’s poem ‘In the Park’. In its descriptions, ‘In the Park’ effectively captures the underlying themes of the consequences of motherhood such as a degraded social status and alienation within both personal and societal context. Similarly, Room proposes the hardship of independently raising a child under unordinary circumstances only to be critiqued by the broader society. Both texts emphasize on a mother’s seemingly ephemeral lifetime of fitting in until childbirth, where they are obligated under societal expectations to sacrifice time, personal leisure and factors which once allowed them to belong to the world.
The poem ‘In the Park’ features the idea of a mother withdrawn from ‘societal norms’ to tend to her children. The mother’s “unkempt state” and struggle to adhere with the role of family is conveyed within the phrase “Her clothes are out of date” alongside connotations of spacing out while her children ‘bicker’ at her feet. In addition, her former husband thinks to himself “o but for the grace of god…” after their obligated small talk. This further highlights her degraded appearance which stereotypically does not comply with the expectations of the typical housewife. Therefore, the children in this context can be perceived as the barriers to belonging whilst on the other hand, her failure to conform to social expectations results in criticism.
This notion is also present within Donoghue’s Room, which is nonetheless set in different circumstances in which the mother is forced to raise her child Jack in a confined imprisonment. She strays from the societal norms to provide the best education despite harsh conditions. Withdrawing from the norms in the context of ‘Room’ however explores darker themes contrary to ‘In the Park’. “Nothing makes Ma scared. Except Old Nick maybe.” as narrated by jack, referring to the power the father figure has over the family. These sacrifices the mother makes to ensure Jack’s safety is later backfired when the media labels her as the woman who raised (as quoted) ‘a child of rape’. Thus, she can no longer belong due to the loss of her former social identity. The concept of community based moral and social responsibilities is inferred within the two texts. Hence, responsibilities are perceived as common obligations that are carried out without dispute.
Harwood’s ‘In the Park’ possesses notions of the mother “feigning positivity” despite her desultory lifestyle. The structure of the poem allows distinction between the individual’s expected exterior output verses the true interior thoughts. This is showcased as the mother initially strikes up small talk; “It’s so sweet to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive”. Later however as her former husband departs, the metaphor “They have eaten me alive” silently directed towards her children, serves a strong symbolism of her hidden hardship. The mother is expected to conceal as she cannot articulate her internal thoughts to others as to avoid judgement, and most importantly, to be accepted.
Similarly, in Donoghue’s Room, external barriers to prevent belonging are reflected within societal and personal relations. Whilst the drive to belong is propelled by the protagonist’s longing within, the novel ultimately emphasizes belonging as being dictated by external factors and the individual’s ability to respect moral responsibilities. Donoghue expertly utilizes the problem-solution text structure with distinct chapters marked as imprisonment, escape and living. Ironically however, within the anticipated chapter ‘living’, new issues emerge when the mother battles her inner post traumatic impulses to comply with her obligation to the role of family. Psychological barriers are interweaved within the final chapters as the burdens of adjusting leads to the epiphany that the mother can no longer belong in the same way she once did. She states, “I wish people would stop treating us like we’re the only ones who ever lived through something terrible, all I did was survived”. This conveys her intent of regaining her former identity, despite constant media attention and critique from the broader society.
Personal experiences and beliefs shape the individual’s outlook upon self-identity. However, within the context of this discussion, it is the perspective of broader society that prevents ultimate sense of belonging. Thus, the main ideas in Donoghue’s Room and Harwood’s ‘In the Park’ highlight the loss of belonging due to factors without rather than factors within.