The Royal Dream

Like a quilt that is patched together by squares of different life experiences and cultures, America often stands as a beacon of hope for the hopeless. Because of this, America’s collective quilt of experiences often has dark patches of pain. It is certain however, that all these painful stories reflect the sanctuary that America is. Perhaps the “free man” idealism that is central to this community is what makes it so bizarre. There is no other place, but America, where you can critique the authority’s policies. Shaun Tan, in “The Arrival” coyly alludes to the strangeness of a world that, to many, is salvation. Tan contrasts the embellished, artistic environment of the “new world” to the mundane, constructions of his previous home. This contrast emphasizes the grandeur that people see in America and reflects the “American Dream”.

Our versions of the “American Dream” are different, and are at the same time the same. We long to achieve with this newfound freedom what we couldn’t achieve without it. Tan uses dark tentacles to personify the persecutions that haunt many of the immigrants who seek a new haven, which for many becomes “the land of the free.”

However, Tan also shows the dark side of the American dream, where the streets aren’t paved gold but are dirty and disease-riddled. Essentially, the author shows us the world of the ordinary immigrant. We soon see that the “New world” was not so lustrous, and underlying the hardships that many of its citizens face come to light.Tan’s use of bizarre symbols and his attention to the intricate details of this world forces us to become the protagonist. We are led to the same line of thought that the protagonist probably had. “Where are we? What is this? How does this work? Cool!”

The lack of words, or better said, the presence of constant silence exemplifies the silent martyr; the protagonist is forced to painfully adapt to an atmosphere that is the mirrored reflection of his previous home for the sake of his family. By doing this, we also see the “silent struggle” — the struggles that many immigrants face in America while trying to make a living.

Although his dream was not completely fulfilled, the protagonist achieves happiness when he reunites with his family. This warm picture speaks voluminously about the heart of America: the family. It is within this community that we are able to forge ourselves to become the individuals that we aspire to be. It is also the place where we take a step back and appreciate our environment and take pride in our accomplishments. Tan forces us to question our version of the “American Dream, Will our aspirations give us a feeling of “wholesome” if achieved? After all, how can we achieve if we have no one to work for? How can we be participants of any community if we do not have a family, our identity?

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

My eyes have been opened, all preconceived notions altered. I always understood the basics of immigration- the people and their bundles tossed onto a ship and deposited on new soil for a new lease on life. I’d heard of grueling journeys and difficulty assimilating to new cultures. Never before, however, had I seen it so clearly.

Shaun Tan’s illustrations in The Arrival speak volumes- more than words themselves could. The faded sepia tone takes the mind into the past, as do stylistic touches like old fashion and luggage. The anonymous subject, a middle-aged man leaving his wife and child to await them in a new country. After a long trip overseas (illustrated with many different images of clouds) he sets foot in his new (nameless) home.

For the first time I understood the confusion and fear felt by immigrants. There was a large hall in which the immigrants were inspected and issued their papers. All of the text was foreign- strange squiggles, lines, dots, and shapes- and it was everywhere. The main character was left nothing but gestures for communication. The landscape of the new city was like no city any of us have seen. It is almost as if Tan wanted us to be the immigrants as well- seeing floating ships, independent elevators, and strange machinery, plants, maps, animals, and buildings. Everything that the main character encounters for the first time has the same effect on the observer. We see him gradually assimilating to his new home, securing an apartment, finding food and employment, meeting other immigrants, and mailing money to his family. In the book we also see illustrated the stories of the other newcomers that the main character comes across. They show the different paths, some more perilous than others, that bring different people together in one place. No matter their origins, they were all in this one city now, all adapting and learning to live a new life. Finally, towards the end of the book, we see him reunited with his family. The final image is of his daughter talking to a new immigrant and showing her the way.

The book teaches us about the hardships and experiences of immigration. By ridding the observer of all written (familiar) word, Tan takes the experience to another level, making it foreign for both the characters involved and for us. I was moved by The Arrival and it’s beautiful poignant images. It shows us how unified we are just in being part of one city together.

Appreciation of Architectural Beauty

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is a beautiful tale yet also a familiar one – who hasn’t heard or read about an immigrant who traveled to a foreign land and assimilated? Perhaps what is so gorgeous about the story is the way in which it was told, with stunning paintings and strange creatures lurking in the background.

Part one deals with the protagonist of the story, a young husband and father, leaving his country to another land.  Strange dragon tail-like shadows snake alongside the buildings and enshroud the city, perhaps symbolizing the fumes and pollution of the industrial revolution.

What caught my eye about this picture book were the bizarre white animals that seemed to pop up wherever the protagonist went. The fact that the first of these creatures appeared after the man wrote and folded a letter to his family into an origami crane suggests that we are looking at the story from the man’s point of view, where his imagination brought these creatures to life. These animals are able to walk around because the man spilled so much of his soul into his writing, in a sense breathing life into words.

While looking through the pictures I started to wonder if they pertained to an industrialized city or a fantasyland. The images were presented in a right brain point of view; what were obviously buildings did not occur in the rectangular shape that we usually associate with edifices. Instead, they are molded into round tower-like structures that influence our emotions and creative eye.

Unrelatedly, perhaps this strange way the city was drawn alludes to  what the immigrants wished they saw instead of what they had actually seen, as in the way of a coping mechanism. Either way, the architecture was stunning.

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A Foreign World

Reading Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”, I could only think of one story I was told which I actually discussed for my Found Art presentation. The story is of my great-grandfather who immigrated to America from Italy around the period of the 1920’s. My great-grandfather left his hometown in Italy to come to America with the hope of finding the American Dream. Always hearing stories that the streets were “paved with gold”, he was excited to become successful and the rumor of the time was that America was the country to go to for prosperity.

Upon arriving at America’s doorstep on Ellis Island, my great-grandfather soon discovered that prosperity was not an easy task. America was a foreign country to him, people spoke different languages and finding a job and a place to stay were the biggest challenges he faced. Thankfully, he settled on early into an Italian neighborhood where he worked for a well known Italian shop owner. With this early job, he was able to acquire money and a place to stay to start off his new life in America.

After years of saving up and working, he fell in love with the shop owner’s daughter, but was prohibited from seeing her. So, my great-grandfather–in an act of bravery– collected his life savings and ran off with my great-grandmother to form a life of their own in America.

Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival” reminds me heavily of this story that was passed down in my family because of the depiction of an immigrant man leaving his family and coming to a foreign looking city (assumed to be New York). The man’s objective is to eventually bring his family from their own hometown which is under siege from a darkness–depicted by snaking tentacles. After arriving at the city, the man undergoes routine checkups and has a hard time adapting to the culture and the new society he is thrown into. I can only imagine that the grand city of New York looked just as foreign to my great-grandfather as the city is depicted in this book.

Going to a new land must be hard for all immigrants. The adaptation of a mixture of cultures, unfamiliar people, hundreds of languages and a vast empire to explore are just some of the obstacles to face. Shaun Tan depicts all of these hardships in “The Arrival” by showing how the main character learns to settle in to his new life. Eventually, the man becomes confident enough to try the food, mingle with the locals, learn the in’s and out’s of the city, and eventually acquire enough to bring his family over. This simple idea of adaptation to the American culture and the dream of a family is what the American Dream is. “The Arrival” depicts in beautiful picture form what the American Dream is believed to be for foreigners and what our ancestors had to endure to settle on our shores. Although the drawings may sometimes be abstract, I can’t help but feel my great-grandfather experienced many of the main character’s events in “The Arrival” and that the experience depicted is the same for many people who have traveled to the great country of the United States.

-Joseph Valerio