Visual Representations in The Arrival

My first impression of The Arrival is that the form allows for the audience to reflect and imprint their interpretations onto the narrative. The absence of dialogue and any formal language lets the reader form assumptions from the visuals in order to understand what is happening. For example, the images of the old country not only provide a direct contrast to the images of the new country when juxtaposed next to one another, but also depict a more gloomy and simple life. As an audience member, I picked up on the details of the cracks in the teapot, the unhappy looks, the sparse belongings and the small darker images. These images give the allusion of a struggling man with very little. However, another way to read the scenes could be to focus on the hope and symbolic passage this experience could provide. The man may not be packing a lot, but it could show the courage and belief instilled in the man that he will succeed in a new life and be able to return or send his family over.

In addition, the presentation of the arrival of an immigrant bring a sense of adventure and wonder to the story, which is emphasized through the visual representations. Relying on words to describe the emotions and events that occur during a movement of people can be hard. The image of the ship with all the immigrants is an example of this. From the visuals, we are lead to believe that hundreds of immigrants are moving locations and this man is not the only one. This image is portrayed through the small succession from a man on a ship to his window to all the many windows on the ship. This man that the audience is attempting to connect with and understand is just one of many. Text and language alone may not have been able to describe the idea of this man as part of hundreds also emigrating, or allow the audience to connect on an empathetic and emotional level. The description of the arrival could be difficult to convey, but with graphics, the emotions and visual representations of movement and arrival paired with a sense of adventure may actually be more beneficial. The lack of dialogue and language does not limit the narrative of the arrival, but instead being able to see visual representations of the narrative opens up the possibility to interpret the narrative individually.

Absence of words in The Arrival

After struggling to attempt to put the puzzle pieces of Dictee together last week, I was incredibly captivated by The Arrival. The contrast between the two is interesting to me—in my interpretation, Cha uses language as a tool to convey the complexity of an immigrant narrative. We mentioned the slight edits in the translation exercises (that would most likely go unnoticed to all but readers who speak and understand French) and the inclusion of Chinese characters as some of the ways that she incorporates this. However, in The Arrival, Tan seems to be portraying a similar aspect of an immigrant experience with the opposite approach—including no words at all. It becomes clear that an absence of words does not mean an absence of language as a form of communication. The absence of words in these stories, for me, does exactly what I think it’s intended to do—it places the reader in an unfamiliar setting to create an intensified sense of empathy and understanding for the reality of an immigrant discovering his new home. Not being able to use words can bring a sense of vulnerability and weakness in a foreign place, but this doesn’t hinder the protagonist from developing a relationship with his pet or other characters, and it also doesn’t hinder the reader from being able to interpret this.

I also found the tools Tan uses for storytelling throughout the novel to be effective. I took the two entire pages dedicated to various shades and shapes of clouds as a way to convey the passing of time. The clouds alone portray a journey, which, in a sense, all immigrant narratives represent.

The Arrival

I really enjoyed looking through this book. For the most part I could easily understand what was happening. I found the frames that depict the man struggling to find employment really realistic and eye opening. So often immigrants travel to a new country for the chance of employment and better opportunities.  Since the job market is  so competitive these days, I can only imagine the struggle that immigrants face with finding a job when they first arrive. The idea that one travels to a new country in order to establish a better life for themselves or their family (like in this story) is really eye opening when you remember that starting off in that new country isn’t so easy.  Seeing the main character struggle to adapt reminds me how difficult it must be to not only adapt to societal ways but to also find employment when you don’t necessarily know what’s going on.  I also enjoyed looking at the part where the man and young boy are particularly hospitable to the immigrant man. This reminds you that hospitality is so important and always welcome.  I’m fascinated by the end where the young daughter is presumably pointing a refugee in some direction. The transition from the main character moving first to the new country, figuring things out, then having his wife and daughter come, and then the arrival of new immigrants in general is interesting because it shows how the family went through that initially but now they’re almost experts at this transition. Lastly, two questions I want to bring up are that of 1) the tentacles/rigid tails that we see throughout the beginning when the main character leaves his city of origin- what do we think this signifies? and 2) why do we think Tan includes 60 faces in a grid formation at the beginning and end papers?  All of the faces are very different  from one another, so is this trying to bring together each individual reader and connect us in a way?

Human Experience

to others, these accounts are about (one more) distant land, like (any other ) distant land, without any discernable features in the narrative, (all the same) distant like any other.”

I was surprised by how much The Arrival was able to convey without using any words. Though the format was different, I think it presented the most traditional version of the immigrant narrative. Still, the different visual representation defamiliarized it enough for it to simulate what its like to be in a foreign place. The alien like language and different creatures effectively portrayed what it would be like not to speak the language or identify with the locals.

It was interesting to see the immigrant experience visually. The way he chose to depict the main character’s homeland overtaken by monsters was an apt visual metaphor.I also enjoyed the depiction of the various objects the man accumulates over his journey and what they each represent. Due to its broad narrative, I kept thinking of the different ways The Arrival seemed to be in conversation with some of the works we’ve read in class. These two pages in particular

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reminded me of this passage from Dictee: “I have the documents. Documents, proof, evidence, photograph, signature. One day you raise the right hand and you are American. They give you an American passport… Somewhere someone has taken my identity and replaced it with their photograph. The other one. Their signature their seals. Their own image.”

I kept remembering different fragments from Dictee as I was looking through the novel. It was almost as if Cha’s disjointed text was narrating the emotional essence Tan was depicting. I found this a bit ironic too considering so much about Dictee has to do with speech whereas the arrival counts on images and expressions.  IMG_0942 IMG_0941

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“you are going somewhere. You are somewhere. This stillness. You cannot imagine how. Still.  So Still All around. Such stillness. It is endless. Spacious without the need for verification of space. Nothing moves. So still. There is no struggle. Its own all its own. No where other. No time other conceivable. Total duration without need for verification of time.”

Representation of Self and Communication in The Arrival

I was very eager to read (examine? look at?) this text, and it was just as thought provoking as I anticipated. Two aspects of the book that I found very interesting was how the main character was presented, and the modes of communication present in the text. I thought that the overall style of the book was very fascinating. While it’s presented in the form of a wordless graphic novel, it definitely does not take on many of the tropes of that form and uses an artistic style that’s somewhat elevated for this medium. Typically, graphic novels use a very cartoony style, and often when the subject matter of that book is more serious, that cartoony-ness is more amplified (like Persepolis, or Palestine, or Maus). However, Tan uses a very realistic style that’s even more detailed—and at times even photo-realistic—when depicting actual people. Typically, these political/historical/memoir-type graphic novels will use a less detailed, cartoony style so that the reader is put into the place of that character. This is, in part, because humans have a natural tendency to personally connect with abstracted representation of humans (to an extent). I think Tan’s purpose in drawing these characters—and specifically the main character—more realistically is in part to respect the story of the protagonist. Thus, it’s almost a more ethical approach to portray the characters as they were so that their personal journey is recognized and told. Additionally, in taking a consistently realistic approach to drawing these characters, Tan is able to make the additional characters more diverse and thus respect the multiplicity of immigrant narratives.

Additionally, I found that the modes of communication in the book were truly fascinating. Leaving this as a wordless graphic novel was such a great approach since so much of new immigration really is an art of communicating without words. Thus, the reader is immersed into the immigrant experience (again, without having to be immersed in the immigrant experience via cartoonish characters). Furthermore, there is also a presumed method of interpreting the panels that is not necessarily implicit in the text. I might be cheating just a little bit because we actually talked about a spread from this particular book in one of my other classes, but there are many instances where the reader doesn’t necessarily have to read the text from left to right—how we read English. Thus, the fluidity of the panels can perhaps connect with the fluidity of communication—and how this fluidity may not always be construction in effectively…well…communicating. When there are no word to set up the parameters of a situation, like in graphic novel without words or in a new immigrant experience, this sort of nebulousness of other modes of communication can often result in miscommunication.

The Arrival Observations

I really enjoyed reading The Arrival, because it put into pictures what immigration can be like in a country. One aspect of this piece that I connected with was the main character’s entrance into the state. The “exams” that the immigrant went through and the line he had to stand in was very reminiscent of Ellis island to me. On Ellis island they had to complete similar “medical exams” in order to be deemed “fit” to enter a country.

Another part of the book that I liked was when the main character met a woman on a transportation ship. Although no words were spoken, I was able to follow her entrance into this country as a refugee. Getting stuck in a labor camp, but being able to flee for refugee status is something that many immigrants yearn to do. Obtaining refugee status can be a difficult process, particularly for immigrants that are already in a country illegally. I like how this book showed the different kinds of immigrants that there are. Through the main character we are able to understand that even though all these immigrants had different stories, they are able to connect in similar ways over the hardships of entering a new society. Immigrants share a common bond, because they understand the struggle of entering and adapting to a new community.

This book is unique because it tells the story of immigration in a way that most people can understand. Even within the novel, the main character initially communicates through pictures. Pictures are universal and through pictures, people from around the world can share stories and feel empathy for one another.

Pets and non-human representations in narratives of immigration

I think that pets in the narratives of immigration are extremely meaningful because they allow the immigrant character to think about his/her human condition. Being outside the hegemonic culture is also being outside what’s been defined as “normal”. I consider that pets and non-human beings are a strategy for representing the immigrant as an in-between condition that does not feet completely into the human category. Consequently, pets in immigrant narratives allow the reader to place the question about what’s missing in the immigrant performance in order to be perceived as a human being by the hegemonic culture. For example, dogs in The good Ana don’t have a proper house, they are always moving to provisional places, as the protagonist does. For this text, being a human is a synonym of having a home, a private place where you can live, love and die according to your own ethical system. Another example is the cat in And China has hands. The protagonist makes a comparison between his cat and Pear Chang trying to know who is more intelligent. For this text, being human is fitting into a notion of what’s “pure” in Chinese culture.

In The arrival, there is a defense of a speechless empathy that is linked with the idea of a pet. The protagonist meets immigrants that narrate their story even though they don’t share the same language. Affection and empathy transcended the boundaries of language. I think this is a way of arguing that, even though a speechless being is “less human” than somebody who is able to speak a language, it does not interfere with the capacity of recognizing and empathizing with the immigrant-other.

I think that this idea is extremely meaningful in a book that also represents displacement as a consequence of human extermination. The giants with big vacuums, the corps in the soldier’s history, even the act of separating “damaged” pieces at the factory, are showing that a fixed notion of what’s human can be used to eliminate anyone that does not feet the category. This is the logic that supports national discourses based on racial differences that lead to genocides. If this is not a man (paraphrasing Primo Levi’s writings about the Holocaust) then it doesn’t belong to public space and civic rights. The arrival introduces non-human figures and proposes the immigrant as an in-between stage in order to negotiate the limits of what’s human and what’s not. The practice of empathy goes beyond the limits of the human because of the representation of the pets and beyond the limits language. In this sense, this book can be read as a defense of the immigrant’s role in a new society.


After finishing the novel there are a few things I want to reiterate from discussion last week. I think it’s interesting that the characters throughout the text are never officially identified. Why do we think this is? Also why do we think the text transitions between first and third person? Why do we see an unidentifiable ‘she’ throughout the text as well as read Cha in the first person? Interestingly, there is not any dialogue in the text. What might be the purpose of this? Lastly, one theme I notice is that of language and the silence/speaking binary. On page 75, Cha writes, “One by one./ The sounds. The sounds that move at a time/ stops. Starts again. Exceptions/ stops and starts again/ all but exceptions./ Stop. Start. Starts. / Contractions. Noise. Semblance of noise./ Broken speech. One to one. At a time./ Cracked tongue. Broken tongue./ Pidgeon. Semblance of speech./ Swallows. Inhales. Stutter. Starts. Stops before starts./ About to. Then stops. Exhale/ swallowed to a sudden arrest./ Rest. Without. Can do without rests. Improper/ to rest before begun even. Probation of rest./ Without them all./ Stop start./ Where proper pauses were expected./ But no more.”  These one word sentences resemble a constant pause like in a speech. Why do we think she includes this passage? Clearly language is important to Cha but what about speech is also important? What else can we conclude besides it being a form of power and a way of communication?


Dictee kept reminding of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior Although Dictee is far more experimental and fragmented than woman warrior, both novels invoke other historical and familial female figures in order to tell their own stories.

Cha invokes Guan Soon,  while Kingston invokes Fa Mulan as a way to discuss sacrifice and heroism. In some ways, both novels take on historical figures mythify their lives.  Cha seems particularly aware of this, she writes that “from an early age [Guan Sooon’s] actions are marked exceptional. History records the biography of her short and intensely lived existence. Actions prescribed separate her path from the others.  The identity of such  a path is exchangeable with any other heroine in history”(30).  The description made me think that Cha could have in fact invoked a different revolutionary female figure and the text would have still worked. Besides the cultural connection of Guan Soon being a Korean figure, the themes of her life are those of any other dutiful daughter of a nation. If history cares to canonize a woman, especially by including her in the national narrative, it tends to give her story the same treatment. The description also made me think of the way history is passed on, and the way certain figures are clung to and emphasized over others. Similarly, retelling such a key piece of history becomes an act of coming home, of returning to a reassuring history in an otherwise fragmented existence.

I thought there was a strong tension between wanting to tear history and its fallacies apart and wanting to preserve one’s personal history and reframe it. The tension seems to be a big part of immigrant work. George Washington Gomez attempts to do the same thing by constantly referencing historical events while presenting a character who is pulled in two directions.


Intimacy in Cha’s Dictee

Despite its cryptic and avant-garde manner, Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha makes powerful statements about the role of women in heterogeneous romantic relationships. Much of the language in the beginning of the book refers to female characters as she and her, which simultaneously places women as the main character yet fails to ever attach any form of identity (name, background, individuality) to these characters, perhaps alluding to the neglect or inferiority women felt in Korean societies. It is not until one hundred pages into the book that readers get a glimpse into the strict expectations of women and see how she interacts with he in a marital relationship.

Passages such as “One expects her to be beautiful…You are shown the house in which she lives, from the outside” suggests that women are often judged and treated differently based on their physical appearance (98). This passage also reinforces the idea that women are not valued as multi-dimensional, emotional women, but rather as repressed and domesticated wives, mothers, and providers.

Furthermore, there is lack of intimacy in the marriage between husband and wife. On page 102, Cha writes, “He is the husband, and she is the wife. He is the man. She is the wife. It is a given…You only hear him taunting and humiliating her. She kneels besides him, putting on his clothes for him. She takes her place. It is given.” Here, the wife assumes a slave-like position, responding without contention to her husband’s every wish. While the husband has freedom to taunt and humiliate, the woman shows no speech, a theme that runs throughout the novel as a symbol of women’s oppression and disenfranchisement. Cha continues, “Perhaps she loved him…Perhaps she loved him inspite of. Inspite of the arrangement that she was to come his wife. A stranger. A stranger to her….It was given. She took whatever he would give her because he gave her so little. She takes she took them without previous knowledge of how it was supposed to be how it supposed to be. She deserved so little” (110). In this passage, Cha vacillates between whether she loves her husband out of obligation, expectation, desperation, or sincerity. Cha implies her self-confidence has been diminished down to so little that she believes this is what she truly deserves. No where in a chapter entitled “Love Poetry” is there any mention of intimacy, closeness, or warmth, yet there is mention of sex, which suggests that love serves as a strategic tool for economic, political, and religious reasons rather than romantic reasons.

It is also interesting to consider Cha’s repetition of what is “given”. Throughout the book, I find myself asking, who is the giver and who has laid the foundation of what is given? Who is the receiver—is it always women or are men also susceptible to what is given?