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.

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.”

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.

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?

Conforming to a Language

Throughout Dictee, a major question I had about the piece relates to the text and form of the narrative. Dictee cannot be easily categorized into a singular genre. Perhaps that is the goal of the text though. The unmarked pictures, broken language of the narrative, and frequent translations could be commenting on the immigrant experience as depicted in the narrative.

The unique language and form used in Dictee reflects the often broken speech experienced when learning a new language.  As Guan Soon mentions in Dictee, “Still, you speak the tongue the mandatory language like the others. It is not your own. Even if it is not you know you must” (45). Language for the narrator is much more than a way to communicate. Immigrants are often forced to learn a new language in order to adapt and survive in a new country. The imposition of the Japanese language onto the people demonstrates the expectation of conformity; it must be understood. The significance of the form of text in Dictee reflects the struggle of language for the characters.

Guan Soon also shows the influence language can have on future generations of immigrants. As her mother is forced to learn another language, there is still some potential resistance. However, as the narrative develops for Guan Soon, the audience gets the impression that the once foreign language imposed on Guan Soon becomes the other language and the native tongue is abandoned. Guan Soon mentions at one point that, “I speak another tongue, a second tongue. This is how distant I am” (85). In Dictee, imperialism stretches far beyond simple land boundaries, but includes language and culture. So, Guan Soon may view language as one of many things she had to change, which create distance from her native country.


Halfway through the book I start trying to place Avice’s role in the narrative. It occurs to me that for a novel that supplies information so little background about this new iteration of the universe, Avice slowly becomes a historian by telling the story of what happened and fully acknowledging that it is a limited account of what transpired. After her falling out with CalVin, she admits defeat “I’ve been trying to  present these events with a structure. I simply don’t know how everything happened. Perhaps because I didn’t pay proper attention, perhaps because it wan’t a narrative, but for whatever reasons, it doesn’t want to be what I want to make of it” (145). Given the way things escalate with the hosts, I wonder if Avice has full credibility. At various parts of the novel, she even admits, “I wasn’t there but that’s how I was told it happened” (242).

In a novel about power structures, politics, and language, I have a hard time believing Avice’s account as truth. I don’t think we’re mean to. The book is designed to let us trust her story given that it’s mostly told in hindsight.

I have to admit that I might be giving Avice too much importance or not enough but I have a hard reading her character/role in the narrative because of the many genres the novel can be classified as. If it’s political anti-imperialist novel then Avice can very well be preserving  history in a future that seems to have a hard time preserving it. If it’s a story that suggests that lying is the epitome of language (if only in the sense that it sets it up as the next evolutionary step) then Avice must then be a representation of political justification (“a lie was performance; a simile was rhetoric”) since she happens to be a simile, in which case she’s making the events tell a history that justifies the war that changed embassytown.

Some Thoughts on Tsiang

I really enjoyed learning about the context in which Tsiang was writing, and his political motivations at the time of And China Has Hands. As a far left-wing activist in early to mid-20th century China, Tsiang developed a distaste for capitalism and I think it shines in this work. Both Wan Lee and Pearl Chang represent failed models of the American Dream. One searches for fortune destined by his own name, while the other chases fame reserved for white American actresses she idolizes. In either scenario, America was supposed to provide enough freedom to instantly catalyze financial growth and personal triumph, and did not.

I can imagine someone with the political leanings of Tsiang would exhibit this failure of the “rags to riches” cliché as a shortcoming of American policies. In Chapter 4 a Chinese salesman comes to sell Wan Lee an overcoat. “No matter how much money you had you could not change your face, but with money you could change your manner,” he says referencing the plight of Chinese people in America. (p. 44) Wan Lee considers his offer and remembers exactly how many thousands of items of laundry he would have to finish before he could afford the luxury. Here I think Wan Lee manages to spell out the struggle facing both himself and Pearl Chang throughout the novel. No matter how hard some try to advance in American society, ultimately they may either fail or abandon hope entirely, especially as part of a minority or immigrant group.

These scenes, and most of the opening passages describing the character’s aspirations reminded me of a clip from the movie Which Way Home that chronicles the story of some young Central American boys as they travel by train to the United States-Mexico border.

If you skip ahead to 1:20, a young man Kevin starts talking about his American Dream: the big city. In a time when immigration is a hotly contested issue, and success stories of Forbes charted immigrants frequently hit the headlines, stories like And China Has Hands and Which Way Home display the difficult/impossible journeys a majority of migrating people have made. I think it’s particularly interesting to see an immigrant narrative through the lens of politicization, and especially in the eyes of H.T. Tsiang.