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Author of 'Looking for Alibrandi', Melina Marchetta, discusses strong aspects of Australian life through the portrayal of the characters in the novel. Josephine Alibrandi is an Italian- Australian teen, attending an exclusive Catholic school on a scholarship. Socially outcast by her prejudiced peers who are from families of high social standing, Josie longs to be "(Please God, let me be) accepted by someone other than the underdog". Struggling to come to terms with her Sicilian background in suburban Sydney, she is torn between two entirely different yet demanding cultures. Throughout the novel, Josie, being a victim of discrimination due to her cultural background and strict family expectations, questions why she cannot live life her own way.
Question: We should be able to live our lives the way we want; not be influenced by dictating cultural expectations.
Thesis: 'Looking for Alibrandi' raises the issues of living your own life, crossing cultural boundaries, self-acceptance, personal identity and breaking free of cultural expectations; all of which are clearly part of Australian society today.
If you're living in a foreign country, and were brought up in that country, to parents who were also born in that country, should you abandon the cultural heritage your grandparents grew up with? Or should you tolerate their bias, old-fashioned ways and live up to the cultural expectations and stereotypical mould they cast for you from birth. Should you marry the man they choose? Do the job they pick for you? Be dictated to live your life the way they expect you to?
Josephine Alibrandi doesn't think so.
Josie dislikes visiting her Nonna (grandmother), and endlessly longs to break free from her clutching, dictating family unit that oversees and controls everything she does. Yes, the same family unit, stuck in its' old ways, that suffocates Josie's vivacity by inflicting cultural, marital and career rules and regulations on her. Josie, whose actions are constantly scrutinised, feels the need to rebel against these principles, and escape from the clichéd female in Italian culture that her family assume she will, with time, become. Josie, feeling inferior, is battling to balance herself to satisfy both cultures in a middle class existence. Josie's long for freedom is clearly stated when she make comments such as "I'm not going to follow in their footsteps, as I know a lot about escaping tradition", or "Traditions will never let go. Simply because like religion, culture is nailed into you so deep you can't escape it. No matter how far you run."
So, should Italian-Australian teens, born in Australia, live by the entrenched Italian culture? Well firstly, entrenched cultures such as the Italian don't exist in the Australian way of life. Australia is a modern, multicultural country, and rather than one ruling religion or culture, aspects of many different cultures are combined into one. Up to this point in time, the majority of Australia has had a western outlook on life. But as time passes, this country's cultural diversity is increasing, and in the future, Australia will most likely become more orientated towards an Asian perspective of life. For example, Australia once was 'part of Europe', whereas nowadays we are gradually becoming a 'part of Asia. Aspects of this change in culture can be referred to already, such as China being Australia's biggest trading partner, compared to Europe and America.
Migrants that come to live in Australia must integrate themselves into a multicultural society. In other words, if they want to rebuild their lives here, they must the fact that cannot continue living their lives by a single, entrenched culture. Some say 'if they want to bring their ways with them, then Australia is not the place for them' while others say that this attitude towards migrants is a racist one. But surely if the migrants aren't open-minded to a new approach on life in a mixed cultural environment, then they should stay in their country of origin, instead of inflicting their beliefs on others. At one point in the novel, Jacob Coote, Josie's first love, answers Josie "Well, what the hell are you? The other day you called me an Australian as if it was an insult. Now you're not an ethnic? You people should go back to your own country if you're so confused".
Here's the thing: each new generation has to evolve from the previous, otherwise there would be no progression in future outlooks and ideas. Josie's situation is a 'clash' of generations contradicting one another; the older generation- for example, Josie's Nonna and great aunts- refuse to recognise the fact that the younger generation- Josie's generation- is moving forward with their new beliefs on life. Nonna's generation do not know any different, remaining deep-rooted to the customs they were raised with. Not understanding why the later generations want to explore the Australian culture that surrounds them, they inflict an Italian-orientated lifestyle on them to a point, like Josie, where they want nothing more than to escape it. Nonna's arrogance to Josie's wishes can be seen when she makes comments such as "Where is the culture? She'll (Josie) grow up, marry an Australian and her children will eat fish and chips", or "Josie, I deserve respect and I will not have you disgracing this family's good name". When Jacob wants to meet Josie's grandmother, Josie feels she cannot introduce the two for fear of being scrutinised and gossiped about by her family. To Josie's refusal to introduce them, Jacob answers "If I was Italian there wouldn't be a problem, would there?" To this a defensive Josie responds "Why can't you understand my life? Things aren't as easy for me as they are for you. You live with such freedom. With no religion or culture". Jacob replies "Your grandmother is one of the most influential people in your life. I want her to know that I plan to be another person in that life". This is an example of outsiders noticing that the cultural boundaries set for Josie are taking their toll on her.