Themes in "Immigrant Chronicle" by Peter Skrzynecki

"Immigrant Chronicle" is a collection of poems by Peter Skrzynecki that recounts his Polish family's immigration from postwar Europe to Australia. Skrzynecki's earliest memories of this time include a month-long sea journey to Sydney, living in a migrant camp and moving to a working class suburb at 10 Mary St. His parents, Feliks and Kornelia, worked as laborers and grew their own vegetable garden while Peter attended the local Catholic school. Skrzynecki’s poems speak to these experiences as well as the bigotry and deprivation he endured along the way.

All About Belonging

Belonging is the dominant theme of "Immigrant Chronicle." Skrzynecki explores the concept of belonging through family, school or workplace, and religious, sporting, cultural, social and political groups. He employs these literary techniques: personification, metaphor, symbolism, imagery, historic/biblical allusions, direct speech and hyperbole. Ultimately Skrzynecki’s poems illustrate how exploring personal, historical, cultural and social values may develop a feeling of belonging to one’s self and in turn, a strong sense of belonging to humanity.

Personal Belonging

Possibly the most clear and significant message of the poem "Feliks Skrzynecki" is that belonging comes from within. This message is expressed through a father and son’s contrasting perceptions of belonging and the necessity of belonging. Feliks, the father, “kept pace only with the Joneses of his own making,” demonstrating independence and emotional self-sufficiency. Interactions with a store clerk and references to Hadrian’s Wall symbolize the son’s struggles to overcome feelings of alienation and a desire to protect his new territory.

Historical Belonging

The question “Who am I?” and the search for identity it entails is the theme of the poem titled "Postcard." In the first section, the narrator dispassionately struggles to imagine Warsaw and its place in his life: “you survived / in the minds / of a dying generation / half a world away.” This is contrasted with the second section, in which he addresses the town as an old friend. The poem concludes with “we will meet / before you die,” implying the inevitability of belonging.

Cultural Belonging

"10 Mary St." is a poem that explores connection to place and the discomfort that comes when the place is "gazetted for industry" or threatened. It is a descriptive poem that deals with immigrants claiming identity while building community only to lose both. The use of first person plural -- “for nineteen years we departed” -- demonstrates connection, belonging and a long-term attachment. In Stanza 5 the family finds themselves mindful of all that they lost, “naturalized” as Australian citizens and “inheritors of a key / that will open no house.”

Social Belonging

The moral of the poem "St. Patrick’s College" is that doubt makes us stronger. It begins with the aspirations of a working class mother “impressed by the uniforms / of her employer’s son.” The narrator considers choosing not to belong: He violently “stuck pine needles” into the [school’s] motto. Ultimately, he prays “that mother would someday be pleased” and realizes “that the darkness around me wasn’t ‘for the best’ / before I let my light shine.” This suggests the “best” is yet to come and someday he will belong.

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