Guest Post: Albert Camus and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree

By Jess Phillips, Honours Candidate in Literary Studies, Monash University. Jess’s thesis explores the use of metaphor and simile in Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar to represent and describe the experience of madness.

The Red Tree is a picture book, written and illustrated by Australian artist Shaun Tan. It depicts a young, redheaded girl journeying from her bedroom through a series of surreal and what Tan and other critics have termed, ‘absurd’ landscapes. Our protagonist encounters a giant groper suspended above a city street, is submerged in a wine bottle within an old-fashioned scuba suit on the sea’s edge and in another spread, we witness her seated atop a giant snail, tallying her wait time on its shell. And yet our protagonist never smiles, not until the final pages where the red tree literally makes a home in her bedroom where it is at once bright, vivid and quietly waiting.

The Red Tree’s images are ambiguous and indeterminate, and the reader is never quite sure what Tan is attempting to convey. And yet the second person pronouns used in what little written text there is (you, your), the anonymity of our protagonist coupled with the unspecified time markers (sometimes, some days), convey something universal about the predicament facing the young girl: that her experience of not knowing who she is supposed to be, or what she is supposed to do are predicaments that can overcome anyone at any time. Her predicament is your predicament, my predicament and our predicament. Read more>>