The free verse novel, The Simple Gift, composed by Steven Herrick, the dramatic fairy tale film, Edward Scissor hands, directed and created by Tim Burton and the novel Matilda composed by Roald Dahl, all explore the concepts of belonging and relationships through the strong use of literary techniques; and focus on a changing Identity as a base for belonging. All texts have significantly different perspectives of belonging and identity. Edward yearns to belong and become part of society’s conformity and routine, whereas Billy aspires to a life of solitude and self-reliance and Matilda tries to belong somewhere in her life.
Billy is a misfit in high school, having no significant relationships and a heartless abusive father, the ‘old bastard’. Before he embarks on journey for belonging, it is evident that he lacks a sense of belonging at home and in his community. Billy describes his home house as ‘Deadbeat no hoper shithole lonely downtrodden house in Long lands road, Nowheresville’. This string of informal negative description emphasizes Billy’s emotional isolation and dislocation within his community. His missing sense of belonging gives him the identity of an outcast, which proves belonging or not belonging greatly influences an individuals’ identity.
Billy’s escape from his town, Nowheresville to Bendarat coincides with his discovery of relationships, acceptance and nourishment from strangers. Herrick has used the characterization of Billy’s father figures to portray his desire to belong. When Billy first escapes his town, and we first see the weather motif, mirroring Billy’s belonging to place, the rain is personified as Billy describes it as ‘hitting you in the face with the force of a father’s punch’. This metaphor shows why Billy needed to escape from his abusive tyrant father, and his lack of intimate relationships and belonging.
Herrick later utilizes the characterization of Ernie and Irene, total strangers who through altruism and kindness offer him refuge and simple gifts. Ernie starkly contrasts Billy’s father, and introduces the motif of gifts, which influences Billy’s selfless nature. Irene, the librarian, offers Billy empathy and doesn’t judge him. The two characters of Ernie and Irene have anagrammatic names, because they were both designed to serve the same purpose -offer the simple gift of kindness and altruism. Billy’s relationship with these characters fosters his change of identity to a much more caring person.
Although Billy’s sense of not belonging is evident, he finds places of isolation, safety and familiarity throughout The Simple Gift. His makeshift home, a train carriage becomes his home and provides him with sense of belonging to place. Billy describes the train carriage as a ‘cave’ and ‘a hotel’. He classifies it as a cave because it protects him from the elements and furthermore as a hotel because it is not his permanent residence. His places of belonging and refuge greatly influence his identity. Further on in The Simple Gift, Billy discovers true belonging is found through meaningful, emotionally nourishing relationships.
Billy’s relationship with Old Bill is one of the most important, as they give each other purpose, safety and nourishment. Billy explains “that’s why I help Old Bill, for no reason other than he needs it; this shows Billy’s altruism through the use of simple gift motif. Billy develops another significant relationship with Caitlin, a wealthy girl who is ‘smart enough to realise none of this means anything’, because like Billy, she values a lack of material possessions, and dislikes the identity associated with being wealthy.
Billy’s relationship with Caitlin provides him with a sense of belonging to friendships. Edward scissor hands tells us a story about an artificial man, ‘Edward Scissor hands’, who was made by a lonely inventor who lived on top of a hill near a small town. Long after his inventor’s death, Edward is brought into society by Meg, a local resident and encounters many new and interesting things as he attempts to belong in civilisation. This film explores concepts of belonging to groups or communities and a sense of belonging in relationships shown by Edward’s endless struggle to find clarity and purpose.
A sense of isolation can come from ones difference to others, whether it is physical mental or spiritual. Edward’s hands made out of sharp scissors are iconic of his separation from the rest of society. They create a physical barrier between him and others which greatly limit the amount of physical contact Edward can have with others and the rest of the world and in turn creates a sense of isolation. This is carefully and noticeably communicated by Burton by the use of colour and contrast, specifically Edward’s initial costume is completely black leather, decorated with metal studs and rings.
His hair is jet black and very messy and his face is pale white. This along with Edward’s mansion, a dark place riddled with cobwebs and falling apart, so far away from society, juxtaposes fantastically with the bright and vibrant colours of the town, the houses and the clothes and outfits of the townspeople. He in fact only finds a sense of belonging when he is shown kindness and outreached by Meg. She gives him clothes to wear, which although do not seem to break his theme of darkness and dullness, do still symbolise his inclusion and belonging in their society.
She also offers him purpose by letting him use his scissors to trim her garden hedges. The novel Matilda is a clear representation of the concept of belonging the ideas that are conveyed in the film are relevant to belonging by how they are displayed. From the start of the novel you come to realise that Matilda doesn’t relate or isn’t able to connect to her family. This is demonstrated in the quotes “Are you in this family? ” “Mmmm….. Hello are you in this family” “I’m fed up with all this reading! You’re a wormwood, you start acting like one!
Now sit up and look at the TV” this quotes tells us that Matilda loves reading but her family love watching television so the father questions her belonging to the family. Matilda finds a sense of familial belonging with Miss Honey. When Matilda first enters her classroom she gets as strong sense of belonging with her teacher because she is drawn by her warm, kind hearted nature. These three texts have all shown a sense of belonging or not belonging greatly influences an individual’s identity. Throughout all these texts the use of literary techniques and all focus on changing identity. Thank you for listening.