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The Shifting Heart

Uploaded by kathylambchop on Nov 08, 2001

When a Polish-Jewish immigrant slashed his throat because his workmates could not understand him and tormented him and himself being a victim of racial hatred, Melbourne-born Richard Beynon expressed his feelings, drawn from these experiences, in his prize-winning play- The Shifting Heart. An Italian family, the Bianchis, consisting of Maria, her Momma and Poppa and younger brother- Gino, tries to adapt in Collingwood, Australia, during the 1950s. They live with Maria’s Australian husband, Clarry Fowler who too undergoes racial prejudice until Gino dies because of it. The main theme is clear and simple. Beynon wants the reader to realize that xenophobia (the fear of strangers and foreigners) exists and the various family relationships as stated by Leslie Rees in The Making of Australian Drama:

The Shifting Heart relies not on the shocking fact of race-hatred for its major interest, but on its virtually human domestic problem- how to maintain cohesion and solidarity in a family plagued by tensions, whether outside or inside.

Whether the hatred bubbled because of the war that killed many ANZACs or because there was an influx of immigrants, racial hatred and xenophobia are expressed subtly and blatantly. Subtle are Leila’s (friendly neighbour on the right), Mr Wilson (shop owner) and Clarry’s jokes, but such acts differentiate the Bianchis from the society, just like the names “Momma Macaroni” and “Poppa Spaghetti” do e.g. when Clarry joked to Poppa:

If they’re all like you, Pop, no wonder the Roman Empire packed up.

As the play progresses, there is evidence of more hostile attacks like Donny, Leila’s husband, calling Poppa a “rotten dago” and from anonymous members of the society which indicates that injustice is generally amongst everyone. The neighbours on the right who never reveal themselves, throw garbage over the fence, children pelt pebbles at the house and Clarry’s mother’s refusal to meet them. Gino wants to be Australian, but with all this discrimination going on, it prevents him from being accepted. If the prejudice could be measured using a thermometer, it would’ve burst when Gino is bashed at the dance and when detective Sergent Lukie makes his racist remarks e.g.:

I was under the impression that all da… Italians carried knives. Thought it was a national trait.

Unbelievable isn’t it? Would one ever think that a policeman, a civil servant upholding justice and supposedly unbiased, could say such comment?

However, Lukie’s comments further highlight Clarry’s own prejudice. Clarry is trying to love the family...

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Uploaded by:   kathylambchop

Date:   11/08/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   4 pages (970 words)

Views:   3243

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