By Mary Flathers, V Form
Belonging in Cunha’s “A Study of Homeland in Displacement” and Alexie’s “Honor Society”
Belonging is a widely discussed topic in the present day. Whether it is belonging to a certain race, religion, or gender, a sense of unity is created among people who share a common aspect in life. Within Fernanda Cunha and Sherman Alexie’s short stories, respectively entitled “A Study of Homeland in Displacement” and “Honor Society,” the element of belonging is explored in depth. In both of these stories, the narrators struggle with family ties and their identities. However, in Alexie’s story, the narrator focuses on creating a future and leaving behind a home, while in Cunha’s story, the narrator holds onto her past by maintaining the home in her mind.
These stories are similar in a multitude of ways, and the most prominent similarities appear in the narrators’ management of family and identity. In Alexie’s story, the love and respect the narrator has for his family are evident when he begins to “sing and drum with [his] mother and father” (Alexie 1). Though he does not believe in the “God” they sing of, he is willing to overcome the pride he has in his own ideologies to respect the beliefs of his family. Similarly, in Cunha’s story, the narrator has fond memories of a loving community. She recalls her grandfather as a man who “smokes a pack a day and laughs the way [she] remember[s] like he’s invincible” (Cunha 1). Though at times the borders placed around her family by the nations they live in seem too large to bear, as seen when the narrator tries “to better [her] [native language,] Portuguese, soften it so it is less jagged” (Cunha 1), the attachment the narrator has to her family allows for her to overcome these obstacles. Through studying this vital aspect of her memory, the narrator maintains her past identity.
She hopes that the shrinking language barrier will give her the opportunity to return to the place where she is most comfortable with herself: Brazil. Likewise, the narrator in Alexie’s story is working on his educational skills to gain the opportunity to expand his. He is “ambitious…[and wants to] see the world beyond” (Alexie 1). By taking advantage of his tenacious character, he hopes to gain admission to a college where he will be able to create his own identity, separated from his tribe. Through their reverence for family members and persistence in managing their own identities, the narrators are working to become the people they have aspired to be for many years. These aspects of family and identity give these stories similar backgrounds, however, there are also differences between the lives portrayed within them.
The main differences between the stories are the contrasting focuses on different stages of life and diverging opinions surrounding home. Alexie’s story focuses on a teenage boy anxiously awaiting what the future will bring. The narrator yearns to attend a “SAT Prep course that guarantees [he’ll] raise [his] test scores by 20%” (Alexie 1). The narrator’s life is surrounded by the stress of being admitted to the course and, as a result, the stress of creating a better future for himself. The narrator of Cunha’s story, however, is more focused on her past. She allows herself to “dream of people [she] won’t see for another 10, 12 years, some not at all” (Cunha 1). She becomes trapped in a state of mind where she can only reminisce about her past, creating for herself a convoluted future. When she continues thinking about her past, her sense of home also becomes unclear. She reminds herself that she once had a life in this “Home, or the memory of it. In this Brazil,” she had a family, friends, and a past (Cunha 1). In the future she lives in, she has far fewer people in close proximity who cares about. She holds on to memories unsustainably and continues longing to regain the Brazilian home she once took for granted. In contrast, in Alexie’s story, the narrator’s home is a place he longs to escape. He does not want to end up “on governmental welfare and tribal charity” like his parents (Alexie 1). Alexie’s narrator wants to leave his childhood home in order to procure a more successful life than the future his parents have shown him.
Unlike him, Cunha’s narrator desires a return to the innocence of a childhood home.These main contrasting points of hope and a sense of home lead to the completely different meanings of the stories.
Both of these stories focus on past homes and future opportunities. These themes are strongly related to the lives of students at Saint Mark’s. Like Alexie’s narrator, all students at the preparatory school are looking forward to college and their future careers. But, like Cunha’s narrator, they will be leaving behind a beloved place where they are cherished, are cared for, and have lived for many years. The characters, though their situations are vastly different than those of students in Southborough, Massachusetts, hold the same aspirations, doubts, and insecurities.
Sherman Alexie and Fernanda Cunha effectively demonstrate the difficulties in embracing a new culture while leaving behind a known one in their stories “Honor Society” and “A Study of Homeland in Displacement.” The similarities of family and identity strongly tie the stories together. However, the differences in aspirations and home are where the stories attain distinct meanings. The struggle of “fitting in” is universal, whether it be in Spokane, Washington, Brazil, or Southborough, Massachusetts.
Mary Flathers is a V Form day student from Southborough, Massachusetts. She enjoys writing, gardening, and photography.
Alexie, Sherman. “Honor Society.” The Rumpus.net, 19 Nov. 2016, therumpus.net/2016/11/saturday-rumpus-fiction-three-short-stories-by-sherman-alexie/. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.
Cunha, Fernanda. “A Study of Homeland in Displacement.” The Rumpus.net, 26 Sept. 2016, therumpus.net/2016/09/a-study-of-homeland-in-displacement/. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.
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