Marchetta, M. - Looking for Alibrandi: Growing up in "Looking for Alibrandi"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

28 Pages, Grade: 1,5 (A)



1. Introduction

2. Formal Aspects
2.1. Plot
2.2. Place and Time
2.3. Setting
2.4. Narrative perspective
2.5. Characters

3. Analysis
3.1. The title of the novel
3.2. Josephine’s family – three generations of Alibrandi women
3.3. Josephine’s father
3.4. School life, friends and social problems
3.4.1. School life and girlfriends
3.4.2. Sister Louise
3.4.3. Boyfriends

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

The novel Looking for Alibrandi written by Melina Marchetta was first published by Penguin in 1992. By now it has been published in Denmark, Italy, Germany, Spain, Norway and Canada (cf. Tudball & White 1999: 11). It has received numerous prestigious awards, for example, it became “1993 Children’s Book of the Year (for older readers)” and “Multicultural Book of the Year” (cf. Bednarek 2000: 39f.).

The novel points out topical aspects, like multiculturalism, immigration, social differences, but also themes like love, friendship and family life. It is the story of a teenage girl who grows up with an Italian-Australian identity and faces the highs and lows of teenage life.

In an interview (cf. Scan 1993: 1), Melina Marchetta talked about her reasons for writing for young adults and said that she “finds this group fascinating, identifies strongly with it and likes the stage teenagers are at of being so open to change and growth, so vulnerable yet so exuberant”. She thinks that she is very similar to them in tastes. For this reason, she is able to write about teenagers with truth and in the language they really use. Another point is that she is a young author, she was born in 1965. Consequently, she is not much older than the teenagers she describes.

The essential concern Melina Marchetta persues in her writing is “growth through the interaction of characters”. The novel Looking for Alibrandi reveals her concern and is about Josephine Alibrandi’s way to freedom through the interaction of her family, friends and other significant people.

The following essay deals particularly with the aspect of growing up in a multicultural society.

2. Formal aspects

Literature comprises specific structures or patterns of formal organisation (Carter & Long 1993: 182). The structure is the way in which the story elements are arranged. Writers vary structure depending on the needs of the story (Annenberg 1999: par. 3). In the following the structure of the novel Looking for Alibrandi is analysed.

2.1. Plot

The novel tells the story of Josephine Alibrandi who is a seventeen-year-old ethnic girl, coping with the problems of adolescence. Not only does she go through the typical teenager problems, but has also difficulties because of her cultural background. Josephine lives in Australia, but is of Italian origin. For this reason she stands between these two cultures, neither really accepted by the Italians nor by the Australians. The Italians reproach her of being an illegitimate child. The Australians call her a “New Australian”, an “Ethnic” or a “Wog”. Therefore she feels that she does not belong.

The novel contains Josephine’s last year at St. Martha’s, a wealthy Catholic school in Sydney. In this year, there are a lot of changes for her. While searching for her own identity, her real father comes into her life and she falls in love for the first time. Moreover, she discovers the secrets of her family’s past. As a result, she learns to show more sympathy for her grandmother. The grandmother’s life story also reveals to Josephine that she herself has only minor problems and helps her to see things in a different light. Through her experiences, she gets to know herself and her family better. Furthermore, she learns to cope with these feelings of insecurity and with the prejudices of other people.

2.2. Place, time and structure

The novel mainly takes place in Sydney where Josephine, her mother and grandmother live. Besides it takes place in Adelaide, where Josephine’s father originally comes from.

According to Forster (1968: 37-38), “the basis of a novel is a story, and a story is a narrative of events arranged in time sequence”.

In this case, the story time is one school year. It deals with Josephine’s experiences during her last high school year at St. Martha’s girls’ school. The novel consists of different episodes about her school life, friends and family, which show the reader the most interesting parts. That means that there are some periods left out, too. In addition, the plot is chronological, except for a few flashbacks, for example, when the grandmother tells about her past. Furthermore, it is written mainly in the past tense.

As a whole, the novel consists of 261 pages and 32 chapters. The length of the chapters differs. All in all, the novel has an easy style. This is especially important for younger readers, because a clear structure gives them security (cf. Scherf 1978: 64). It has short and simple sentences, which is very motivating for young adults. The language is easy to understand, because the novel is written in everyday or colloquial language.

According to Scherf (cf. 1987: 137), the first sentence of a text gives a lot of important information. In Looking for Alibrandi the first chapter starts with the following sentence: “Panic was my first reaction to the multiple choice options which lay on my desk in front of me”. Reading this sentence, you would think that Josie writes a serious exam and is not good at school. But if you go on reading, you realize that she only does a test in a magazine and she just does not pay attention to the lesson. Consequently, the expectations of the readers are disappointed. For this reason, the novel starts with a so called anti-climax.

Furthermore, the reader gets involved immediately. That means that the reader is not really asked to have his own expectations (Scherf 1978: 142). The book starts with a topic which interests teenagers: a girl sitting in school, reading a magazine with no interest in the lesson. Young readers could recognise themselves in such a situation, they probably already have been in a similar one.

2.3. Setting

The location of a story’s action, along with the time in which it occurs, is the setting. The setting is created by language. The author decides how many details he describes and what he leaves up to the reader’s imagination (Annenberg 1999: par. 2f.). The setting of a novel is very important, because the surroundings influence people.

As I have shown above, the novel takes place in Sydney. Sydney is a multicultural city and growing up in a multicultural society is the major issue in the novel. The book shows how complex it is to live between different cultures and social classes. This could even be noticed in Josie’s family itself. Her father is a barrister, he belongs to the upper middle class. Her mother is a secretary and belongs to the middle class. Josie herself attends a wealthy Catholic school, which actually is for the upper middle class and wealthier children. She only can go there, because she has a scholarship.

Moreover, there are a lot of places in and around Sydney mentioned, particularly different districts, names of streets, cafés, cinemas and the harbour. Josephine and her mother live in Glebe, a suburb outside the city centre of Sydney and near the harbour (cf. Marchetta 1992: 5). She says that “Glebe has two facades. One is of beautiful tree-lined streets with gorgeous old homes and the other, (…) has old terraces with views of outhouses and clothes-lines. I belong to the latter”. Here, the setting indicates Josie’s social status. The reader can imagine what her family’s living standards are like. Josephine’s grandmother lives near Leichhardt, where also Josephine’s mother works (cf. Marchetta 1992: 5).

Another place which turns up quite often is St. Martha’s, the wealthy Catholic school Josephine attends. It is in the eastern suburbs. In the school episodes different places appear, for instance, Martin Place, where the “Have a Say Day” takes place (Marchetta 1992: 25). Martin Place is in the middle of the city.

Josephine’s friends live in other districts in Sydney. She often goes with them to the harbour to visit bars and cafés (Marchetta 1992: 139).

At the very beginning Josephine has got a job at Mc Donalds which is also an indication for her social status (cf. Marchetta 1992: 49). Later, she works in the barrister office of her father and belongs somehow to the upper middle class (cf. Marchetta 1992: 132).

Michael Andretti, her father, comes originally from Adelaide, where he lives in a suburb near the beach. During her holidays they make a trip to Adelaide (cf. Marchetta 1992: 156). During his stay in Sydney, he works at the Chambers (cf. Marchetta 1992: 132). The setting shows that he has a higher social status.

2.4. Narrative perspective

The question of the relation in which the narrator stands to the story is an important aspect. According to Forster,

the novelist can either describe the characters from outside, as an impartial or partial onlooker; or he can assume omniscience and describe them from within; or he can place himself in the position of one of them and affect to be in the dark as to the motives of the rest; or there are certain intermediate attitudes (Forster 1968: 85-86).

As a result, Forster explains, “the speciality of the novel is that the writer can talk about his characters as well as through them or can arrange for us to listen when they talk to themselves” (Forster 1968: 92).

The novel Looking for Alibrandi is written by a first person narrator. In this case, from Josephine’s point of view. Therefore, the reader gets a very subjective view, which is limited to just one person. The reader needs to realize that what the narrator is recounting might not be the objective truth. So he should question the trustworthiness of the account. Consequently, such a point of view could influence the reader, especially when a book is written for young adults. Maybe they are impressed by the major character and follow Josephine’s example. At any rate, the novel raises many important issues found in most teenagers’ lives.

Moreover, there is a lot of dialogue and direct speech in the book. For this reason the readers get more involved, it makes the novel more vivid.

2.5. Characters

According to Forster (1968: 75ff.), “we may divide characters into flat and round”. Flat characters “are constructed round a single idea or quality: when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round”. He claims that

one great advantage of flat characters is that they are easily recognized whenever they come in (…) and that they are easily remembered by the reader afterwards (…), because they were not changed by circumstances.

But a novel, which is at all complex, often requires flat people as well as round characters. Forster explains,

the test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. If it does not convince, it is a flat pretending to be a round (Forster 1968: 85).

In Looking for Alibrandi, the major character who dominates the story is Josephine Alibrandi. At any rate, she is a round character, because she changes a lot during her last high school year. Her attitude in the beginning differs from that in the end, because she learns to come to grips with her multicultural identity and she accepts her life. Josie also learns to understand the people around her, especially her grandmother, which is a surprising aspect.

The characters could be divided into adult and adolescent characters, too. Adult characters are Josephine’s mother, Christina Alibrandi, her grandmother, Katia Alibrandi and her father, Michael Andretti. They are all round characters. With their relationship to Josephine, they develop in the course of the action.

Besides there is Sister Louise, Josephine’s teacher at St. Martha’s. She has her position in school and also her values, which are important, referring to Josephine’s process of growing up. She could be called a flat character, she stays the way she is.

Contrary to the adult characters, there are Josephine’s adolescent friends. The boyfriends are called John Barton and Jacob Coote. They are round characters. John has problems with the high expectations of his family and Jacob has difficulties with his social and cultural background.

Josephine’s girlfriends are Anna, Sera and Lee. They appear from time to time in the novel. They seem to be flat characters. Carly Bishop, a schoolmate, should also be noticed, although there is only one chapter about her. She is a flat, but nevertheless important character.

Another significant character is Poison Ivy, who is Josie’s enemy at first, but in the end she is a kind of friend for her. Poison Ivy changes her behaviour in the course of the action. She is a round character.

Which part those characters exactly play in Josephine’s life, will be analysed later in this essay.


Excerpt out of 28 pages


Marchetta, M. - Looking for Alibrandi: Growing up in "Looking for Alibrandi"
Karlsruhe University of Education  (Institute for Foreign Languages and Language Research)
Growing up Ethnic in Australia
1,5 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
495 KB
Marchetta, Looking, Alibrandi, Growing, Looking, Alibrandi, Growing, Ethnic, Australia
Quote paper
Dajana Gleim (Author), 2004, Marchetta, M. - Looking for Alibrandi: Growing up in "Looking for Alibrandi", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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