Belonging: The Intricate Mix of Social Relationships and Individual Identity

“Belonging in texts is designed to highlight the intricate mix of social relationships and individual identity. ” Discuss. In your answer you must refer to your prescribed text and one text of your own choosing. The notion of belonging is complex and often ambivalent. Developing an intricate mix of social relationships with others can provide positive and moderating influences. On the other hand an individual also needs the personal space which allows for self reflection and the nurture of identity.

The condensed, confessional poems “I had been hungry all these years” and “I gave myself to him” by Emily Dickenson have a unique economy of style which actively challenges these dichotomies in the notion of “belonging”. Moreover Dickenson is contrasted with Annie Proulx’s shocking short story “55 miles to the gas pump” which promotes the view that geographic and social isolation, taken to extremes, can result in destructive and macabre outcomes.

In Dickenson’s poem “I had been hungry all these years” it is clear that, while an individual needs seclusion to nurture identity, there is also a need to be part of communal life. Emily Dickenson use of hyperbole in the opening statement “I had been hungry all the years”, emphasises her exclusion from the greater community. Additionally Dickenson utilises the repetition of personal pronouns such as “I” and “my” to privilege her feminine voice and hence express her literary identity and uniqueness.

The biblical allusion of “ample bread” draws a link to the last supper, which acts as a metonym for a communal gathering and the comfort it provides, yet Emily Dickenson’s juxtaposition of the “ample bread” with the frugal imagery of a “crumb” indicates that she prioritises the nurture of her own identity over the communion with others. The poem also presents, as binary opposites, the desire for individuality and the personal costs associated with relationships and the effort and energy that they require.

Dickenson needs privacy to express her creativity, and her profound insights. Yet she “hungers” for relationships and participation with others. This yearning is defined in the last stanza “…so I found…the entering takes away”. Similarly Annie Proulx’s, short story builds up to a climatic definition of isolation, with a singular shocking sentence, “When you live a long way out you make your own fun. ” The poem “I gave myself to him” conveys the view that social relationships like marriage may be idealised.

Dickenson indicates the reality of such social “contracts” and the everyday implications. In this poem Dickenson’s inverts the meaning of marriage, through the conceit “the solemn contract of a life”. The conceit establishes the idea that marriage may not involve unconditional love, and simply be a transaction. Economic allusions such as “depreciate”, “wealth” and “contract” also convey the problematic nature of marriage as a social institution.

Dickenson also juxtaposes ideas such as expectation and reality in stanzas 1 and 2, “…was ratified this way” and “…the daily own of love” to contrast the “ideal” and “real”. Furthermore the binary opposites “mutual risk” and “mutual gain” presented in the last quatrain expresses the ambivalence of belonging in marriage and the intricacies involved in a relationship. It provokes the question, whether marriage is a gateway to developing a sense of belonging or whether it is a “risk” to an individual’s identity. As a result the poem becomes Dickenson’s self-reflection on marriage.

In the same way, Annie Proulx’s Short story implies that Mrs Croom “gave herself to” Rancher Croom, yet her decision for this “holy” matrimony was ultimately a “mutual risk”, as the story spirals into a graphic catastrophe where she discovers the gruesome evidence of her husband’s sexual aberrations “…wrapped in newspaper, nipple to knee”. Annie Proulx’s “55 miles to the gas pump” is a fast-paced short story which illustrates the destructive impact of isolation – taken to extremes. Like Dickenson, Annie Proulx employs a unique economy of style to express her ideas.

Proulx uses the metaphor “stray hairs like curling fiddle string ends” to characterise Rancher Croom’s personality, and by doing so, Proulx ingeniously describes both Rancher Croom’s physical appearance and personality, giving him the persona of a mad man, thus emphasizing the effects of isolation on his identity. He is presented as out of control, and lacking moral compass. The short story also explores the overt sexuality and violence of both rancher and Mrs Croom – both victims of geographical and social isolation.

Proulx structures the short story in two paragraphs with a climactic concluding line that defines isolation. Proulx uses parallelism in the first two paragraph, “Rancher Croom in handmade boots…” and “ Mrs Croom on the roof…” to juxtapose the male and female personas in the story. Similarly Dickenson also challenges the male voice by contrasting it with her own feminine voice, employing ingenious oxymorons such as “tender majesty” (from “this is my letter to the world”). Proulx uses cumulation of graphic imagery such as “…one wrapped in newspaper nipple to knee” and loose sentences to build tension in her short story.

Additionally, Ranger Croom’s sexuality involving acts of necrophilia, is the result of his isolation from societal constructs, culminating in the climactic concluding statement “when you live a long way out you make your own fun”. Furthermore this overt sexuality is contrasted with Dickenson’s own covert sexuality, which is seen in a “narrow fellow…” . In a similar manner to Proulx, Dickenson ends her poem climactically, defining her own sexual suppression by the quote “But never met this fellow…”, the said “fellow” in this poem can be seen as a conceit, which utilises phallic imagery.

Human beings need a moderating influence in their life through developing an intricate mix of social relationships with others; on the other hand it is also true that individuals need space for self-reflection in order to nurture their identity and realise their potential. The poetry of Emily Dickenson and Annie Proulx’s vignette expresses this, and ultimately shows that the notion of belonging is complex and multifaceted. One can conclude that both belonging and not belonging are important in life, but for an individual – the dilemma even danger, involves taking either to extremes.