Looking for Alibrandi

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Essay 1 – ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ ‘How are the differences between Australian and Italo-Australian culture displayed by Marchetta and what effects do they have on the protagonist Josie? ” Melina Marchetta’s cult text ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ looks at many issues of growing up in Australia torn between two cultures. The main protagonist Josie Alibrandi was born in Australia into a family with strong Italian cultural links and her battle to ‘find’ herself and her ethnicity is one that I will explore further. Before exploring Josie’s ethnicity it is important to outline its meaning.

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Ethnicity-”A complex amalgam of language, religion, customs, symbols, literature, music, food and, as its core, an internal and external perception of difference. […] one’s sense of both belonging to a group and being ‘exclu[ded] from the national definition of a country’” (Kee, 1986:7 as cited in Gunew. 1994 p 49). Throughout the text there are many instances of Josie dealing with conflict between her Italian heritage, her Australian heritage and the mix of these two resulting in the Italo-Australian culture. Josie has two main role models in her life throughout the text that stand for different things.

Her mother, Christina Alibrandi who was bought up in a strict Italian way and has many of the traits of a ‘good Italian’ girl is used by Marchetta to form a moderate or ‘mildly Italian’ character. Christina Alibrandi fulfils the requirements of her Italian Culture but also is involved in several behaviours that suggest she has moved away from the strict guidelines outlined by her mother Katia. Christina has been constructed by Marchetta in a way that shows her movement from strong Italian culture to a more moderate Italo-Australian culture.

This is highlighted when Katia (Nonna) becomes aware of the identity of Josie’s real father, Michael Andretti. ‘People will talk. They will talk for sure’. ‘You know what I think? Mama shouted. ‘I think you’re jealous because you didn’t go out and make anything of your life when Papa died. Because you didn’t mix and you wanted to so much but you were scared that people would talk. Well im not going to run my life by their rules. Things have changed! ’(pg96). It is this sort of attitude and ideal of change that gives us more insight into the way Josie deals with her Italo-Australian culture.

Josie’s grandmother or ‘Nonna’ is Katia Alibrandi. Marchetta has constructed Katia as the strong Italian influence in the Alibrandi family. As a first generation immigrant to Australia Katia had to deal with exclusion, racism, segregation and surviving in a new country. Katia brings with her a strict set of cultural rules and regulations that are expressed in the book with the dominant ideologies being the importance of marriage, the expectation to marry within your culture and that illegitimacy is not acceptable.

Katia often mentions that Christina bought ‘disgrace’ onto the Alibrandi family name after she had Josie out of wedlock. The ideology of marriage is highlighted by Marchetta through several quotes by Katia. The ideology of marriage in Italian culture is shown when Katia explains to Josie about a marriage- ‘Eleanora Castano who married Bob Jones and now they’re divorced. Why? Because he’s Australian and she’s Italian, of course. ” (p 37). The second ideology of marrying into your own culture is one that Josie uses when she feels the need, she is quoted as saying “Wogs marry the wogs”(pg 144).

This was said in a sarcastic way that was more of a criticism of her Italian background than anything else. Josie later states ‘They stifle me with ridiculous rules and regulations they have bought with them from Europe, but they haven’t changed with the times like the Europeans have’. (pg 40). This highlights her fight between cultures and the forming of the Italio-Australian culture. Marchetta again uses great character constructions to present this battle and it is through the varying ‘severity’ of the ethnicity of the characters Katia, Christina and finally Josie that assist in making her point.

Parents of second-generation Italo-Australian girls viewed domestic skills, chastity and obedience as requirements for a girl’s good reputation, which is closely associated with family honor. This is very clear through the construction of Katia Alibrandi and her thoughts of a daughter being the refection of a mother. “A daughter’s behaviour always reflects on how good a mother is. ” (p37). Her expectations on Josie to be a ‘good Italian girl’ weigh heavily on the protagonist but also provide her with a great set of well constructed guidelines to fall back on when she feels the need.

Her willingness to drop her Italian heritage when a conflict arose is something that has taken her 17 years to understand and to be able operate but took her mother a much longer period and still is yet to have any effect on Katia as whenever conflict arises or she feels pressure she speaks fluent Italian and is shown to be the total opposite to Josie as she displays traits linked with Australian culture, to the point where Katia is quoted asking Christina ‘Where is the Culture? she (Josie) will marry an Australian and their kids will eat fish and chips’. Again a derogatory comment made by Katia indicating her dislike for the Australian culture after her bad experiences in it. This continual put down of the culture allows Josie to gain an understanding of the importance of the Italian culture. Marchetta uses this tool well as Katia is not only judging Josie and her growing Australian culture but also judges Christina, her culture and the development of the newly formed ‘Italo – Australian’ culture.

Marchetta sets up numerous instances of Italian tradition where many generations are involved and uses the character of Katia to drive the effectiveness of these. The prime example of this is ‘Tomato Day’ (pg 171). This day is a tradition that all the Alibrandi women respect and adhere to although this tradition is a perfect use of cultural conflict for Josie. Tomato day sees may Italians drink wine, listen to Italian music and make tomato sauces.

Josie adheres to this cultural requirement and does it yearly and although feels embarrassed to do so continues along this tradition. Josie does question the tradition and asks ‘Why can’t we go to Franklins and buy Leggos or Paul Newman’s special sauce’ (pg 171). But then later in the text comments that ‘Like all tomato days we had spaghetti that night, made by our own hands. A tradition that we’ll never let go of.

A tradition that I probably will never let go of either, simply because it is like a religion, culture is nailed into you so deep you can’t escape it. No matter how far you run! ’ (pg 174) Nothing more explicitly highlights the willingness of Josie to drop her ethnicity when it serves her purpose than this quote . Josie Alibrandi has ties to Italian culture through both the women in her life but it is as her relationships with Jacob and John develop her willingness and ability to ‘drop’ or ‘change’ her ethnicity becomes more evident.

This is a tool Marchetta has used in her writing to display the value for the teenage protagonist to have the option to move from one culture to the other gain ‘the best of both worlds’. Josie’s awareness of the popular preconceptions about Italian girls is evident, for instance, when she informs Jacob that her dress is a potential family heirloom, made of fabric from her glory box, and demands that he avert his gaze from her underwear (pg96) whilst in another area of the text Josie displays the Australia side of her culture by dating an Australian boy (Jacob).

Katia asks Josie ‘Why do other Italian Girls have Italian boyfriends and you date an Australian?. What do they know about culture? , do they know how we live? ’. (pg37). Another example of Josie’s ability, need and willingness to change her culture when she feels fit to do so. The effect of the strategies used by Marchetta to display Italian culture (Katia) and Italo – Australian culture (Christina) has a massive effect over the protagonist Josie.

Her inability to fully understand and appreciate the battles her grandmother had to overcome as well as the changes her mother has had to endure in dealing with her own ethnicity mould the character. Josie’s involvement in mainstream Australian culture through her schooling and some of her friends allows her to see the opposite lifestyle to that offered by her Italian culture. Josie comments that ‘They stifle me with ridiculous rules and regulations they have bought with them from Europe, but they haven’t changed with the times like the Europeans have’. pg 40). This shows her frustration as to the traditions and rules that she is forced to abide buy, but she later comments her thoughts on her traditions, “A tradition is something that we’ll never let go. A tradition that I probably will never let go of either, simply because there are some things that could offend people I love. You live with such freedom Jacob… You live without religion and culture. All you have to do is abide by the law. “ (pg 132).

This again shows the battle Josie fights in trying to find herself inside her culture and the continually changing culture she lives in. As an teenage girl following a strict Italian culture Josie Alibrandi fails, as a teenage girl following an Australian culture she also fails but slotting in between in the Italo-Australian culture Josie finds her calling. Marchetta uses the main characters and numerous situations and scenes where Josie moves from one culture to the other to appease family, friends or the scene she is in.

This flexibility of changing cultures when Josie needs to is proof of the strong female roles models in her life and their cultural differences. Marchetta’s protagonist Josie is clearly an Italo-Australia with neither of her two cultural backgrounds ‘owning’ the other. Her cultural diversity is clear, but the labeling of her as Italo – Australian is also a very useful tool for her as she chooses when ‘to be Italian and when to be Australian’, a trait many third generation immigrants face today and will continue to face into the future.

REFERENCES:  Melina Marchetta, Looking for Alibrandi (Ringwood: Penguin, 1993).  Film – ‘Looking for Alibrandi’, Roadshow, 1999  Cultural Diversity + Children’s literature. Deakin University, 2006  Stratton, Jon, ‘Race Daze: Australia in Identity Crisis’, Annadale: Pluto Press, 1998)  Anderson, Benedict, ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of Nationalism’ London: Version (1991)

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Looking for Alibrandi. (2017, Sep 14). Retrieved December 6, 2022 , from

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