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.

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.