The Arrival - Shaun Tan

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The Arrival is a migrant story expressed as a sequence of images that seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, in search of better prospects in an unfamiliar country on the other side of a vast ocean. He ultimately finds himself in a puzzling city of foreign customs, unusual animals, curious floating objects and incomprehensible languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of money, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of profitable employment. He is aided along the way by compassionate strangers, each with their own unspoken antiquity: stories of struggle and survival in a world of inconceivable passion, upheaval and hope. Tan’s drawings of people and animals encompass the relationship between individuals and their respective environments, their sense of ‘belonging’ to a place.

Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ stands to convey the feelings of isolation, belonging (and the desire to belong), the long process of integration and establishing a sense of familiarity, security and friends. The story emphasises the isolation that is often experienced by many people arriving somewhere new and unfamiliar.

Tan demonstrates the different aspects in which we may or may not belong to a particular group, be it a country, language or friendships. We begin to appreciate the optimistic features of belonging and the sense of self gained when this is possessed, as well as the segregation, uncertainty and insecurities we develop with its absence.

The apparent reproduction of an old leather bound book is a structural feature of the text that is used to convey meaning to the envisioned audience through the intended familiarity it establishes. This initiates the reader into an experience that involves the past and things that are valued sentimentally, like books and photographs and memories, a technique which generates a feeling of colloquial normality that is easily recognised and...
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