The picture book The Red Tree by Shaun Tan uses very effective visual and language techniques to convey the main themes and ideas of the story. These include entrapment, alienation, isolation, loneliness, depression, self discovery, journey through life, hope and optimism.
One of the themes or ideas that run through the book is entrapment. This theme is shown in a couple of images. It is shown on pages 6 and 7 as well as 16 and 17. The visual technique that is used to express this theme in both sets of pages is composition. On pages 6 and 7 there is a little girl sitting, curled up in a glass bottle with a diver’s helmet on. As she sits inside, the world can see into the bottle and she can see out but can not physically get out. She is trapped.
Also the image on pages 16 and 17 show entrapment. In this dual narrative, the little girl is standing behind a closed window. The window has a padlock on the outside so she cannot get to it. The words used on this page are “wonderful things are passing you by”. She can see all these “wonderful things” but she cannot interact with any of them. She cannot escape.
Loneliness, isolation and alienation are also themes of the book The Red Tree. Throughout the book the little girl is by her self, whether it is walking on the street, in her house or anywhere else, she is always alone. The lack of expression on her face makes her look upset and sad. This can be a side effect of loneliness, isolation and alienation. Also her face is always tilted downwards. This makes her look like she is withholding herself and her feelings from the world. Some of the images used are set in isolated places including a desert, the middle of the ocean and an empty street.
“The world is a deaf machine” is a metaphor. The little girl feels that no one is listening to what she has to say and the problems she is going through.
On the two pages with the snails, the repetition of the words “and wait” is used to emphasise the fact she is waiting for something but it never comes. She sits there alone and waits.
Another theme or idea of the book is depression. The colours that the composer has used through out the book aren’t bright and happy colours, but plain, dull and sad colours that set a sombre mood for the story. Shaun Tan used dark blues, greys, blacks and browns. The little girl is always sad and lonely. These can be side effects of depression. Her face is always very emotionless and is not very detailed. Although most of the images shown are emotionless, in the image of her on the cluttered stage she has a single tear running down her left cheek. A single tear shows deep emotion, which can relate to depression, when you can’t control your feelings.
Self discovery and a journey through life are yet another theme or idea that runs through the book. “Sometimes you just don’t know what you are supposed to do, or who you are meant to be, or where you are”. These quotes from the book are questions people ask themselves almost everyday. The little girl is trying to discover who she is and what she is meant to do with her life.
The whole book is a journey through a day in her life. It shows you how she feels, not what she does, beginning when she wakes up and concluding with how she feels when she goes to bed. The layout and composition of one image in particular shows a journey. She is standing at the bottom of the page on a game board and there is a path going from where she is standing to a monstrous looking creature at the top. She is standing with a huge dice in her arms while the words say “terrible fates are inevitable”. The little girl puts her fate and her future in the hands of a dice.
One of the last themes and ideas in the book The Red Tree is hope and optimism. Hope and optimism are shown through the book by a little symbol and motif which repeats itself on each page of the book. The symbol of hope and optimism in this book is a small leaf. The leaf at the start of the book is dark brown colour and gradually becomes bright red at the end. This leaf on every page represents that there is a little bit of hope in everything you do in every part of your day.
Each page shows a small amount of brightness, a light side to the situation. On the page with the giant fish, the shadow is only over the little girl, the rest of the page is bright and sunny. Also in the page where she is trapped in the glass bottle, she is out at sea with storm clouds and dark greys skies above her, while in the distance there is sunshine and light. In the image of her and the “deaf machine” she has a small light bulb which is glowing and could represent a sign of hope.
At the end of the book the little girl has a tiny smile on her face when she walks into her room. The red tree in the middle of her room, a symbol of hope, now has all the leaves from the various parts of her day on it. All the little bits of hope now joined together as one.
In conclusion I feel that the visual techniques Shaun Tan used to convey the main themes and ideas of his dual narrative The Red Tree were very effective. They far outweighed the language techniques in my opinion.