Home. I’ve heard the word before, and I’m sure you have, too. Definitions of home seem to be everywhere, from the stories our friends tell to the throw pillows and inspirational posters that litter the homes of our grandparents. Some people insist that home means something different for everyone – but, at the same time, popular media seems to consistently portray the same few dominant conceptualisations. On our TV screens and in the pages of our books, home is repeatedly linked with identity, belonging, culture and familiarity. It’s tied to the bricks of our houses, the walls of our colleges, the eyes of our family’s puppy and the clothes in our suitcase. How on earth are we supposed to narrow that down to something universal?
The first obvious way to define home is as a physical place. It’s the building where we sleep at night, where we grew up, and where we wake up to have breakfast in the morning and come home to for dinner at night. Separating the home from the place is impossible because the mattresses wouldn’t slide down any other staircase as smoothly, there couldn’t possibly be a house with more sneaky hide-and-seek spots, and there definitely isn’t another house with more family memories. This idea is epitomised in the cult classic Australian film The Castle, in which the Kerrigan family fight against the compulsory acquisition of their house to expand the nearby airport. Led by persistent Darryl, they argue that their house is worth much more to them than the $70,000 they are offered because it is not just a house, but a home full of memories. The climax of the film occurs before the High Court of Australia, who decide that the Kerrigan family may keep their house. For the Kerrigan family, the definition of home is crystal clear: it’s in the walls of the house built around them.
Maybe that’s not quite right though – maybe the people are more important than the place. The feeling of home is created not by where you are, but who you are with. This feeling is strongly felt by Harry in the Harry Potter series, who spends his first 11 years longing for a home. He does have a roof over his head and walls around him, albeit in a cupboard under some stairs with his abusive relatives, but Privet Drive never feels like home to Harry and he is always reluctant to abide by Dumbledore’s wishes and return there every summer. Instead, Harry finds his home with magic and with the friends he makes at Hogwarts. He consistently feels much more comfortable with the Weasley family than his own – in this case, home does not have to be where your blood relations live. In fact, Harry only really seems to realise how much his new home means to him when he is torn away from it at the end of The Philosopher’s Stone. He once again retreats to a terrible summer at Privet Drive and counts down the days until he can return to the world of magic and his friends.
Further proof that home does not have to be in one place is the recent growth of online communities. Rapidly developing technology and widespread internet usage – at least, in the developed world – has allowed people to access global communities and connect with other users who could be on the other side of the world. One such example is Nerdfighteria, an online space created by John and Hank Green for viewers of their YouTube videos. Nerdfighteria doesn’t exist in a physical space, but instead it can be found in the comments of their videos, internet forums, Minecraft servers, email chains, podcasts and certain social media hashtags. Despite this, John and Hank commonly refer to Nerdfighteria as their hometown, often ending videos with the tagline: “As they say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome”. So maybe home could also be an online space filled with different people from all across the globe. Technology definitely makes this more possible than ever before and makes it easier to find people with very specific shared interests. This seems like a positive development for younger people who may not feel at home in their current physical environment – they get the option for a second, or alternate, online home. Perhaps Harry Potter would have enjoyed his first 11 years at Privet Drive more if he could have formed connections to an online ‘home’.
These different and conflicting accounts reveal that even in the popular media there is no universal definition of ‘home’ as a concrete, unambiguous entity. There are definitely common threads between these interpretations – but perhaps just as the meaning of home seems to depend on the telling, it does indeed depend on the person. It can be a place, a person, an online space or a thing. It can be all of those things at once or maybe none of them at all. I can’t wait to digest the next telling of home I come across.