Relationships and experiences shape who we are as an individual and our sense of belonging, this is explored through Steven Herrick’s novel ‘The Simple Gift’. Herrick represents this idea through Billy’s journey discovering what it feels like to belong. Billy struggles to find a sense of belonging throughout the start of Herrick’s novel, the impact of relationships are shown through Caitlin and Old Bill’s friendship with Billy. Billy’s experiences throughout the novel also help him feel like he belongs, throughout Herrick’s book, Billy advances from a shy boy to a confident young adult who eventually feels as if he has a home and friends who love and care for him. The author uses a wide range of way to prove to the audience that your relationships with people and experiences that you have endured can shape your sense of belonging.

A sense of belonging is something that all humans need, just like food and water. A sense of belonging is demonstrated in Herrick’s novel ‘The Simple GIft’ through Billy’s relationships with the other characters. In the poem, ‘Champagne’ Billy quickly gets to the point of explaining to the readers what his relationship with his father is like. When calling his father an ‘Old Bastard’ it shows the readers that Billy and his father do not get along. Billy’s mother is also absent from his life as she is not mentioned at all in the book, this would affect Billy’s sense of belonging in many ways as he does not have a mother figure in his life to help him feel as if he belongs in a family. Billy feels no sense of belonging when living with his abusive father, to the point where he would rather be homeless than live in the house his father lives in.
Caitlin Holmes also affects Billy’s life and his sense of belonging throughout Herrick’s novel, when Billy states ‘”This morning I woke and I knew where I was going for the next few months – to the Library, to McDonald’s to the river and home here to the Hilton – a circuit of plans with Caitlin at the centre and me spinning crazily in her orbit” this uses symbolism referring to gravity as they are pulled together as gravity pulls you towards the earth.
Old Bill helps induce a sense of belonging in Billy’s life, they start as two people who live in the same carriage and eventually grow to be close friends who are always supporting each other, when Billy states “I hugged Old Bill like I’ve never hugged a man before sure that he’d saved my life.” it shows the readers that Old Bill helped Billy find somewhere he belongs and somewhere he can fit in without feeling like a burden. Relationships have a huge impact on people’s lives and help them find where they belong in the world and who they belong to.

Our experiences also shape our sense of belonging, Billy Luckett has had to endure many awful experiences including the absence of his mother throughout his childhood, and having to live with his abusive father throughout his whole life and attending a school where he spent his days alone with no friends. In the poem ‘Comfort’ when Billy says “I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t want any… I kept myself in my bedroom, reading and avoiding my father attached to his lounge, his television and his smell unkept house” the author juxtaposes Billy feeling isolated in his miserable household with the pleasure and satisfaction Billy felt when reading the books from Westfield Creek, the library near his father’s house. Billy also felt a sense of belonging when reading, it was his happy place, Billy stated “I read to give myself an education the Wentworth High never could” in the poem ‘Comfort’. This shows that the school he attended in Nowheresville was not helping him feel as if he belonged because they were not giving him the education he wanted or needed.
All three characters in this novel have experienced loss and deprivation in their family which has had a negative impact on all their lives, this helps them share their negative experiences with each other knowing the person they are sharing with will understand, this creates some sort of bond between the three helping them belong as a group and towards the end of the book they are seen as a family. Billy has had to endure the emotional trauma of living with his abusive father and the absence of a mother figure. While Old Bill has experienced losing his daughter and wife just a year apart from each other, Caitlin has had to encounter her parents seeing everything as superficial and being materialistic.
Throughout Herrick’s novel, Caitlin is very distant from her parents, her parents are very rich and use materialistic things to show their love for her, Caitlin states “a dad who spoils and buys you unnecessary crap… I’m not a spoilt brat OK, spoilt to boredom but I’m smart enough to know that none of this means anything” this hyperbole shows that she has no real relationship with her father and he tries to express his love through materialistic things that mean nothing to her, Caitlin wants something more personal with her father, something that will show her that he really loves her. This stops her from feeling as if she belongs in her family because everything in her life is superficial.
In the Simple Gift, the protagonist’s endure the feeling of not belonging through past experiences and relationships which transform into a sense of belonging by the end of the book. Throughout the novel, the protagonist’s have had to accept their past experiences and share them with their new found friends to find a way to move on and start a new life with people they belong with. Even though they have had to face things such as homelessness, loss and isolation Billy and Old Bill soon come to find their own independence in their hometown Bendarat. Where Billy finds somewhere he belongs and can finally start his life in his new home. It is these relationships and experiences that help these characters find their sense of belonging in the world around them.

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