Written by Sally Morgan in the year of 1987, the autobiographical novel My Place has emerged to be one of the most recognized novels belonging to the genre of Aboriginal Literature (Morgan and Reynolds 1987). The novel offers a simple tale of the live of the young aboriginal protagonist, who has grown up without adequate knowledge of the past, her family, traditions or the cultural heritage she belongs to. While staying at Perth, the young Morgan enumerates the tale of her life when she encountered much problem in fitting in her school, getting acceptance in the University as well as living her life without the presence of a father. Starting with the story-telling method, till the presentation of the Aboriginal perspective of life and Aboriginal worldview, the salient features of a First Nations and indigenous literature are present within the novel. As an autobiographical account of three generations of aboriginals, the novel truly illustrates the social history of the indigenous people in Australia, and hence it is important to critically evaluate the extent to which the novel can be labeled as a “first nations” or indigenous literary work.
The first nation and indigenous literary works are characterized by the search for the past, and the quest for a meaning of life, lack of knowledge regarding the cultural heritage and traditions of the country, and an absence of sense of purpose in life (Kroller 2017). The readers of My Place have been made aware of the theme of lack of knowledge of cultural past from the very beginning. Until the age of 15, Sally, the female aboriginal protagonist was not aware of the cultural heritage she belongs to, and unaware of her Aboriginal identity, she was being asked to conceal her real identity, as she would call herself an Indian. The theme of the quest for the past, a predominant theme in the literary works of the first nation and indigenous literature is also being found here. In My Place, Sally is being found to embark on an emotional journey, where she craves to find her lost identity, by interviewing her mother, grandmother and her great uncle. However, some critics have pointed out a major difference between the popular indigenous literary works written by other Aboriginal writers, and the same written by Morgan. Unlike the other writers, Morgan’s aboriginality is forged through the creation of the text, rather than his life forging his text and shaping the story as she writes it on. Hence, the book has helped in creating Sally Morgan’s identity, rather than a book being created as a result of her Aboriginal past. A lack of cultural connectedness of the protagonist and the other peripheral characters, within the novel make the novel an exemplary first nation literary work of the contemporary period. Although the novel shows Daisy and Arthur to be the only two characters victimized as a result of the Stolen Generation, the consequence of the same was far-fetched. While Sally was not directly affected by this, her quest for the past quest for the past is motivated by the necessity to know and understand her mother’s and grandmother’s stories in order to know who she is (Lavoi et al. 2015). The novel clearly demonstrates a loss of the sense of self, as she always remains the “other” amidst a culture that forever remains unknown to her. As a young girl, she feels distorted and alienated in the sea of whiteness, just as the older Sally will feel distinctly other in the sea of white faces she encounters once she conceives of herself as black.
Sally Morgan lived 15 years of her life as an aboriginal who had been misled about her cultural background, she lived in the dark all the while fooling herself trying to accustom to the farce that she had been brought up with. This novel is an insight, a peek into the life of an aboriginal girl who had been denied the right to grow up as an equal in the society and was kept in the dark about her cultural background for years (Tarrago 1983). Sally has penned all her feelings, her insecurities, her shortcomings and her pain in this autobiography, so that she can look in the eye with the discriminating society and speak through her words off how many ways she was wronged all her life and how she never deserved the treatment. The main purpose behind penning her wonderful journey through discovering her own worth and her own place in the society had been anger, potent anger at the injustice of this color-ruled society (Attwood 1992).
In the course of her novel the author has stated her and her mother’s view in this society of white men, it can be clearly concluded from, her novel that the mother daughter due believed in the core of their heart that the culture and history of their Nation was ‘about the white man’, they or their culture had no place in the societal hierarchy. Sally was ruthlessly deprived of any exposure to her cultural ethnicity and was brutally misled for the most part of her life by her own family. She has suffered the loss belonging and comfort while she was trying to align herself to the Indian cultural background that she was told she belonged and she could find her niche in the aboriginal culture when she was finally told about her ethnic background. She spent 15 years of her life trying to blend into the white society as an Indian, tried to find her niche within the Indian culture, and failed. And when she understood she belonged to a completely different cultural background she failed to find the sense of belonging to her original cultural background either (Coyle 2016). She has penned down all her anger and frustration and helplessness in her novel at her mother and her family and mostly at the society. The purpose behind her writing this novel was not just to lash out at the injustices of the society, she has tried to connect with every aboriginal or anyone from minor ethnic backgrounds, struggling to find a place among the sea of white faces and foreign culture to embark on a journey to discover their cultural backgrounds even if it is painful. She has willed the rest of the society to feel the pain of not belonging anywhere, of being treated as the outsider just due to the color of their skin or the language they spoke. She has willed the society to change the age old ways and embrace all ethnic backgrounds equally setting aside differences and appreciating the uniqueness of all backgrounds (Heiss and Minter 2014).
As a reader, the sad story of a girl who struggled to belong all her life breaks your heart. Sally Morgan weaved magic with her words and let everyone feel the pain of being alienated in her own hometown. As reader progresses through her beautiful story they will get to know of the experiences of a young girl struggling to find a sense of belonging among all white faces in school, being alienated for being a black skinned Indian girl. Along the years the readers get to experience how she could not find a niche for herself in the society she grew up in. As the story moves further, the lie that she has lived all her life is revealed. The readers along with Morgan feel the suffering and hopeless rage at being misled and the helplessness and sorrow for not being able to know her ethnic background. Morgan had felt vacant all her life, not being able to belong to anywhere, any cultural background and as she embarked on a journey to discover the history of her family she discovers only pain (Oliver 2013). The pain of aboriginal families, the loss of land, loss of security and even loss of children is penned beautifully. The readers are forced to feel everything the aboriginal residents had to undergo all through their life. The readers are propelled to question the unfair ways of this society and how the unfortunate helpless ones are convicted and tortured in this unfair society. The impact of this particular novel on the readers and the common psych of the society is paramount, the turmoil that Morgan had to undergo in her journey as a social cast out forces anyone who reads her story to question their own actions and conception about aboriginals and their rights in this society (Oliver 2013).
On a concluding note it can be said, that the prime focus behind this novel is the search for identity for an aboriginal black girl, lost in every sense of the word. Morgan attempted to connect herself to aboriginal culture and people even though she had scanty exposure to indigenous culture and she had very limited knowledge about the indigenous culture as well. The verdict at how effective her portrayal or aboriginal culture is questionable, but her effort however is not. It has to be understood that her novel had been one of the first aboriginal literatures and her works shines among the native tribal background. She has attempted to share her grief in the hopes of providing a sliver of solace to the ones suffering like her, and she succeeded in providing the light of guidance and support through her words in flying colors.
Attwood, B., 1992. Portrait of an aboriginal as an artist: Sally Morgan and the construction of aboriginality∗. Australian Historical Studies, 25(99), pp.302-318.
Coyle, J., 2016. A Companion to Australian Aboriginal Literature, edited by Belinda Wheeler. Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 16(1), p.2.
Heiss, A. and Minter, P. eds., 2014. Anthology of Australian Aboriginal Literature. McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP.
Kröller, E.M. ed., 2017. The Cambridge companion to Canadian literature. Cambridge University Press.
Lavoie, J.G., Kaufert, J., Browne, A.J., Mah, S., O'Neil, J.D., Sinclair, S. and BlueSky, K., 2015. Negotiating barriers, navigating the maze: First Nation peoples' experience of medical relocation. Canadian Public Administration, 58(2), pp.295-314.
Morgan, S. and Reynolds, M., 1987. My place (pp. 325-50). Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.
Oliver, S.J., 2013. The role of traditional medicine practice in primary health care within Aboriginal Australia: a review of the literature. Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine, 9(1), p.46.
Tarrago, I., 1993. Response to Sally Morgan and the construction of aboriginality.