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.

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.