Absolutely itching to do this…
The big idea behind “Ordeal by Cheque” is to fabricate one’s own story. Graphic novels can often do the same thing by allowing a reader to insert themselves into the novel (as explained in Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud).
So, just for fun, I will insert a story into The Arrival by Shaun Tan.
“The Arrival (of Souls)” – AKA Book of Life*
*where dead people are recorded
The Arrival into the Underworld
The mysterious man is fleeing genocide. Corruption has crept into his world and so, to escape the choking grasp of oppression, he commits suicide.
Because the husband is dead, the whole “odyssey” into a foreign land is really the underworld (or netherworld). The wife is only imagining how he must be experiencing the afterlife since his passing–which ultimately helps her channel and deal with her grief after his suicide.
By observing their meager surroundings, it’s easy to see that this is not a rich family. A crack in the teapot, children’s drawings instead of paintings, and prominent cheek bones ( a sign of emaciation). Maybe not dire poverty, but escaping to another land to stave off hunger is always an attractive option–especially when one has children.
NOTICE! The white bird on the shelf.
Speaking of children, he gives his daughter a white bird before he leaves. Later on, he also makes paper creatures for other children, but giving this initial dove to his daughter is most significant. He makes a white bird (dove?) for her. A small promise that they will be reunited (in the afterlife most likely).
(remember, this man is dead)
From this strange netherworld, he has fantastic imaginations of his wife and memories of family life when he was alive.
Trapped in this strange and confusing world, he requires the help of his fellow deceased to navigate. Although he has some success in collecting his bearings, he is eventually driven to seek out a family to act out his nostalgic, and distressed delusion with.
NOTICE the woman in the top middle panel is laughing…maniacally.
Now, the family is aware of his delusion; yet, they allow him to eat dinner with them. This accomplishes two things. (1) Temporarily relieving the man of his homesickness, and (2) evidencing my point. They allow him to live out a fantasy with them, because each member of this family has already died and been able to reunite.
More Evidence This is the Underworld
(for skeptics & nay-sayers)
(1) He has to take a ferry there: Last time I checked, a trip to Hades also requires a ferry (2) The doves. Everywhere: Doves are a symbol of many things, including death. (3) Only in death can one hope for utopia. This society is..not that bad. Just that is evidence enough that it is not real, and or, of this world. (4) The “sorting” process is indicative of some sort of requirement or judgement before entering this new land. Not to say that this is Nirvana, or Heaven, or even Purgatory. But what it is is not half bad, and better than his previous life.
Something else, I just noticed. People go around showing each other their own death certificates. This is why it is 1st thing he shows his guide who makes living arrangements. He is confused by his situation and hoping others can relate.
That is why this girl’s “narrative” enters in so seamlessly. Although she and the man arrived at this destination, by different means, they both ultimately all have death in common.
At the end, his wife and daughter both join him in death (aka the netherworld)–hence the connection between the little girl and paper birds (i.e. white doves) mentioned at the start. His daughter even becomes a guide into the underworld, seeing as she is growing up in it and is more likely to be more familiar than her parents, who died at a later age than she.
yup, the whole family commits suicide. It would be tragic if the art weren’t so beautiful. It may even be considered liberating since they “transported” themselves, instead of being forcefully taken away by the vacuum men (corrupt government/mass genocide). Cool.
Oh wow. Writing this was an ordeal! but a fun one.
…finals need to come soon. I’m ready to retire for the summer…
Until next year..