Living in a multicultural Australian community in the nineties where the enforcement of opposing cultures, beliefs and opinions is expected and the pressures of expectations are abundant would not be easy. This is especially obvious if the victim’ is emotionally unhinged (or at least slightly ajar) and looking for stability through constants, including their heritage and who they actually are.
Josephine Alibrandi has all of these pressures heaped on her adolescent mind but the impact is doubled because she doesn’t know who she is, which isn’t helped by the fact that she has trouble initially bonding’ with her father, which is a necessary step. It also doesn’t help that everyone is promoting a different and contradicting image of who she might or should be and what rules she should govern her life by, partly due to the scandal of her illegitimacy. These are some of the troubles facing Josephine Alibrandi, the main character of, and narrator in, the novel Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta.
Josephine’s perspective on life and her attitude towards the influences in her life changes throughout the novel. Initially she is confused about her nationality, her social standing and, probably like any other teenage girl, she is unsure of her attractiveness. However, by the end of the novel she has realised who she is and is proud of it. “If someone comes up and asks what nationality I am, I’ll look at them and say that I’m Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through my veins.
I’ll say that with pride, because it’s pride that I feel” (Marchetta, 1992, p 259) Her emotions and internal battles are made tangible to a lesser degree through the fluent and descriptive language, but obviously no amount of intimate emotions can be conveyed easily without the use of First Person Point of View. The structure of the novel is somewhat like a diary, making it seem like she is revealing her innermost thoughts and feelings, which vary and change erratically as she reveals the nature of her relationship with her father.
Although Josie is struggling so hard to learn who she is, the first time she encounters her father, Michael Andretti, she forces him to make a promise that they will stay out of each others lives (Marchetta, 1992, p69). However, through circumstance and need, the latter mainly on Josie’s part, they are forced back into each other’s lives and eventually end up having a pretty good relationship. The nature of this father/daughter relationship is most easily deriver from their dialogue, as their harsh accusations turn to light-hearted banter throughout the course of the novel.
The First Person Point of View also reveals how her hate turns to camaraderie and gradually starts to grow towards love. It also shows how little some people know, as Michael Andretti’s mother struggles to communicate with her frustrated grand-daughter, erecting unnecessary barriers through her ignorance of the fact that Josie can speak english perfectly (Marchetta, 1992, p 164). Sydney, being a typically Australian city and actually one of the most diverse cities in the world, is comprised of numerous cultures, all catalogued and sectioned off in their little pockets of the city.
Unfortunately, due to human nature, there is always bound to be some friction between cultures. “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” (Marchetta, 1992, p 123) People like Josie have to bear the brunt of this as they try to find where they belong. The issue of multiculturalism is raised several times throughout its novel through dialogue, the memoirs of Katia and the paranoid self-destructive thoughts of Josie herself.
These thoughts are only really significantly delved into once near the beginning of the novel, as she was pondering how unfair her situation in life was, being the subject of ridicule racially and socially, the latter because of her illegitimacy. Living in a very strict Italian community, Josie cops a lot of flak’ over her illegitimacy, which she finds out runs in the family. Both cases of illegitimacy in Josie’s immediate family resulted from a single act of intercourse that happened because of the need to be loved. “‘It was not like being wit Francesco,’ she said, no longer looking at me.
She clutched her hand to her heart and I noted the tears in her eyes. He undressed mecarefulcareful as if I was special and he laid me down on the bedmy marriage bed, Jozzie, and he loved me. Not like Francesco who would lie on top of me for two minutes and then roll over and go to sleep. He loved me, Jozzie, for more than two minutes. When I was wit Marcus I was so angry wit Francesco because I realised then how much he hadn’t given me. He just took all the timeit was as if I had no rights, but wit Marcus I had rights'” (Marchetta, 1992, p 223)
This need was the direct product of years of rejection. Therefore, even though at the outset of novel Josie thinks and acts like a pure-bred Italian, she finds out through the course of this chapter of her life that only one quarter of the blood pumping through her veins is Italian and she turned out none the worse for it. One of the more meaningful revelations of the effect that being illegitimate has had on her life is displayed by the structure of the novel, as it leaves the diary format and goes back into her memories.
It goes back to the long ago game of hide and seek that was ended suddenly when a person she was playing with was dragged away by his name calling mother (Marchetta, 1992, p35). The First Person Point of view again comes into play as she wallows in self-pity at the beginning of the novel. She thinks everyone hates her and gossips about her because her father left town before she was born. She has to learn to accept that people will always gossip, and she can’t avoid it so why worry about it. Emancipation. Despite all of the odds against it, Josie has obtained her one true goal in only a year.
She has made amends with her family, faced the imagined scandal of her illegitimacy and the prejudices against her Italian culture by a select few in the diverse community who cannot accept it, and she has found Alibrandi. As she faced her problems they fell away, revealing an understanding she could never have otherwise reached. Its easiness to read and the absence of and boring sections makes the novel a work of art; one that anyone can appreciate, even though it is based on an adolescent girl. And we cheer as she reaches it, her emancipation.