Journey - Away, the Red Tree the Violin Man. Essay

Journeys. Today the meaning of journey has been lost in many forms of literature. Every single author creates some sort of journey in the stories that they write, no matter what form or medium it is in, there is always a journey being taken. There are three different types of journey; they are inner, physical and imaginative. By categorising different forms of literature into these three options, the meaning of journey can be easily derived and the techniques in which they are constructed can be more fully understood and appreciated.

The drama “Away”, by Michael Gow has been very intricately written, Gow has used physical journey to portray the inner journey taking place in each of his characters lives. The picture book by Colin Thompson, “The Violin Man”, uses images and illusion to create the imaginative journey that a lonely man decides to make. Similarly “The Red Tree” uses a lonely character in the form of a young girl to represent all three journeys by incorporating physical, inner and imaginative concepts throughout the remarkable picture book.

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Each of these texts is constructed differently but they all use similar techniques to construct the journey being taken in each story. “Away” by Michael Gow is an excellent example of how journeys can interweave with different types of journey to create real meaning. Gow has set up a simple story set in the late 1960’s about three different families with their own sets of issues taking a holiday at the end of the school year. Although this particular journey may seem to be a physical journey, it’s simply a metaphor for the inner journey that each character from each family takes to reach a stage of restoration and hope.

From the very beginning of the play Gow incorporates “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into his own work by beginning his own drama with the ending of Shakespeare’s play with the character Tom playing “Puck”. This is extremely significant as Gow uses his play as a comparison or rather an appropriation of Shakespeare’s drama using Tom as the centre of activity and the character that initiates action. This interweaves beautifully with the character Puck as he is the fairy that directs the other fairies in Shakespeare’s drama. Gow has shown his audience who the main character is and by placing Tom in the role of “Puck” he tells iewers that it is Tom who is going to be the centre of the journeys taking place in the play. While discussing the fact that Gow uses the physical to demonstrate what is happening on the inside of a person, one can also mention the storm that takes place in the middle of the play. The storm in the storyline serves as a climax and the turning point for many characters. Not only does Gow use a holiday to represent journey but also details such as the weather and devastating natural disasters to represent what is happening inside a character.

An excellent example of a character to use is Gwen, the mother of teenage daughter Meg and wife to Jim. Gwen is an extremely snobby and proud woman. This woman has learnt to manipulate everything and everybody around her so that events take place the way that she wants them to. The reason behind her behaviour and personality is the way that she grew up and struggled with poverty as a young person, she has learnt to put materialistic possessions before the most important things in life such as the relationships with her family members.

Gwen is a woman who is content living in a repetitious routine she does not like change and feels threatened when her daughter begins to mature and form her own opinions. “Throw your future away. Give it away. Throw what I have done, what we have done, in our faces” [Ref. 1a)] Gwen feels threatened by the way she thinks her daughter is determined to live her life. Gwen is an extremely independent woman and does not like to appear weak or be in any position of weakness, and throughout her journey she is given the option to change the way she is.

Returning to the way that Gow uses physical aspects in life to represent the inner journey really taking place in the scene of the storm Gwen is stripped of virtually all her materialistic possessions and it is only then that she realises what is truly important. For her to realise that she needs her family she needed to be stripped of what she thought was important and in reality give up on trying to protect the things that can be destroyed in a single storm. Visually in the play Gow uses silent scenes to show outer and inner movement.

This is an outstanding use of visual technique and really shows the audience how the play is to finish. Using small gestures to portray a larger and much more significant gesture is the physical use of metaphor. “[She unwraps it. It is a pair of slippers. She looks at them, then at him and walks away, a bit overcome. JIM goes to her and they embrace. ]”[Ref. 1b)]. This simple silent scene shows the restoration of the relationship between Gwen and her husband Jim. Gwen has gone from complete independency to co-dependency with her husband.

Dialogue has given the audience insight to what type of woman Gwen is and how manipulative and sharp her words are. Metaphor has been used very effectively such as the storm portraying the chaos occurring in Gwen’s mind and finally the calm after the storm shows the change in Gwen’s attitude towards her family. Metaphor has become an ongoing theme in this drama and through the physical changes in environment and weather; Gow has constructed an inner journey in each of his characters and portrayed it visually. Journey can be constructed in a form of text as simple as a picture book.

This way of showing journey is extremely effective visually. Colin Thompsons “The Violin Man”, is completely different to the previously discussed text and is in the form of a picture book. Although the book still communicates to the audience visually, the pictures must show the journey rather than seeing actual people act out the journey. To add complexity to the plot there is no real physical journey to take place but rather a journey entirely based on the past. This text challenges the boundaries between the real world that exists and the imaginary world that changes for whoever is taking the journey.

In this case the person taking the journey is a lonely old man called Oscar. The real world that this man lives in is a cold dark world where people walk past him continuously as he plays his beautiful music through an old violin. In the first double page spread the old man is pictured holding his violin and the picture is quite simple. The use of dark and light is extremely significant as the viewer progresses through the book, in this particular picture there are two simple yellow spotlights and they give light to people waiting in a line and Oscar holding his violin. Oscar lived in a world of dreams. And when he played the violin outside the theatre, he took other people into his world too” [Ref. 2 a)]. This picture is quite dull and shows the reader that the real world is not necessarily the best place to be. As the page is turned the journey begins and readers are taken to a familiar scene, but it has been altered considerably. Brilliant colours and characters shower the page where the light shone in the previous page. The dark areas such as brick wall and pavement remain the same but the light areas show what Oscar sees and the places that he escapes to.

In essence it shows where he takes people when they listen to his music. This story follows the everyday routine of an old man who has lost his daughter, a beautiful ballerina who would dance to the music he played on the streets. When Oscar lost his daughter he really traded the journey to fulfil his lifelong dream for the imaginary journey to his past where he can play with his daughter. Thompson uses irony in his book because Oscar continues to wait for his chance to play in the theatre and when he is given the chance to do so he realises that the dream no longer holds any joy for him. He closed his eyes again to see Marietta, but she wasn’t there either. ”[Ref 2. b)]This is ironic because by Oscar closing his eyes he opens his eyes to the imaginary world and is discomforted because his daughter cannot be found on the journey he is sampling. As Oscar realises that he would rather be playing in the streets the audience discovers that by playing in the streets Oscar recreates the past and the joys of playing music for his dead daughter. Oscar is content living in the dream world and he allows the past to dictate his future.

This can be related back to Gwen in Gow’s “Away”, who allows the past to dictate her future and although she is given the chance to move on, Oscar in comparison makes a conscious decision to stay in the past. The journey to forgetting the past and moving on with the future is commonly used in writing and is significant in “Away” and “The Violin Man” because although the characters are faced with the same problem they both deal with it differently. “The Violin Man” does not use necessarily comforting pictures but rather the use of abstract objects and completely random scenarios make the world that Oscar lives in completely absurd.

Thompson has used symbolism very effectively, in one picture Oscar is seen sitting on a chair sipping tea, but the strange thing is at the feet of the chair the reader sees Oscar becoming part of the chair that looks rather like a tree trunk. This doesn’t mean that Oscar is part of nature itself but rather the routine he is stuck in has become a part of him and he has been set so long in the same nature that it has grown on him and slowly been taken over by the growth. In reference to his journey this growth that is his imagination has hindered him from making the journey to fulfil his ream and stopped him from moving on. By using extreme forms of symbolism and contrast to what is real and imaginary Colin Thompson has shown the audience the kind of power imagination can hold over the way somebody will, or will not continue on their life journeys. Journey is very well constructed in the form of a picture book because audiences can relate directly to what they see on the pages. There are many different styles of picture books and “The Red Tree” by Shaun Tan, is a strange book that represents all three journeys, physical, inner and imaginative.

This text is also a picture book but extremely different to “The Violin Man”. Rather than using a specific character the main character in this book is not anybody in particular but rather a reflection of whoever is reading the book, taking each reader on their own journey. This character is already an example of symbolism in the book. On the first page the small girl is pictured in her bedroom and small black leaves are scattered around her room. The use of symbolism in this book is outstanding, already on the first page the physical journey begins with a new day symbolising the beginning of a journey.

The black leaves represent troubles, doubts and worries that the little girl feels introducing the imaginative and inner journey that she is about to make. “Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to”. [Ref. 3a)] As the young girl continues through her day she faces obstacles that challenge the borders between the real world and the imaginary world that exists inside her. Much like “The Violin Man”, “The Red Tree” is a book that shows various everyday life aspects but with some form of absurdity to depict the imaginary world escaping from the mind.

This challenges the boundaries between what is real and what is not. In each picture a pattern begins to form and a small red leaf is shown but the girl never seems to see it or even look for it. Again the use of symbolism is put into practice and the red leaf signifies hope or happiness but the character is so focused on the negative aspects of life she fails to see the positive. The character has constricted her journey to one that holds only sadness and worry and she does not allow herself to see other options.

In “Away” Gwen has constricted her life to materialistic objects and independency, in “The Violin Man” Oscar has limited himself to the past and the world that exists only in his imagination. “Darkness overcomes you” [Ref. 3b)]. On this particular page all three journeys are pictured. The physical and real world is shown with ordinary people walking and going about their business nobody seems to notice the enormous and unsightly fish that hovers above the girl.

That is where the journey escapes the imaginary boundaries and crosses over to the characters reality this is what the character believes follows her and blocks out the light in life. The light symbolises opportunity and the positive aspects of life. The inner journey can also be pictured in the red leaf that she refuses to see on her way and she continues in the same negative state of mind. Much like Oscar from “The Violin Man” this girl restricts herself to live in the imaginary and dark world that she has created in her mind.

Obviously the worlds that Oscar and the girl escape to are extremely different and the reason for escape is completely different but the decision to live in the imaginary still stands. Similarly in “Away” by Gwen pretending that the materialistic things in life matter she has blocked out the importance that her family should hold. The tone of “The Red Tree” is very regretful and hopeless in most places. When one reads the book and becomes the character they feel very much alone and restricted to the place where this girl dwells. A place of sadness and darkness. Wonderful things are passing you by” [Ref. 3c)]. This particular page shows the contrast between two worlds. The world that is inviting and enticing to the girl and the world that she continues to live in. The girl is stuck behind an old dark window that is locked while outside an extraordinary flying machine is passing by. This again shows the contrast between the real world and the imaginary aspects that she connects with the world that she could live in. Symbolism is used once again and the window that keeps her from the extraordinary world outside is locked with a padlock labelled “regret”.

This girl allows her regret and past decisions to dictate her future. Once again the red leaf is right in front of her but the girl is too busy longing for other things that she fails to see the positive once again. By ignoring the positive, the character has limited her journey and continues to live with barriers surrounding her hindering the progression in her life journey. At the end of the day girl returns to her room and it is dark, physical aspects such as the dark helps the audience to understand that the inner journey is at an end and she has limited time to find hope before its too late.

As she walks into her rooms a small sprout of red leaves is growing on a small tree in the centre of her bedroom. This tells the audience that the girl has found of hope and the significance of the light shining on it tells the audience that the hope has been brought to the light and the girl has seen it. In the last picture the sprout has transformed to a tree full of red leaves. This tree and the amount of life growing on it tells the audience that the amount of hope has increased and multiplied and has found strength by taking root in her life.

This journey has nothing to do with plants and leaves but rather the decision to overlook the good things in life and only see the negative. Much like characters mentioned in the previously discussed texts the decision to let go of what seems to be important and hold on to what is important is the key to completing the journey. By placing obstacles in front of themselves each character has neglected the choice to change where their journeys are headed and the consequences of those journeys. It can be seen that these three texts all show different aspects of what journey is and what happens when one takes a journey.

Although each journey is different they have common messages such as messages about the past. Many characters let past decisions dictate the lives that they lead, and that dramatically affects what the future could bring. This is because the past has become a limitation for each character and the decision to move on changes the future, just as the decision to continue living in the past greatly affects the journey. Throughout the three different texts symbolism is used to represent things that are darker and deeper than the actual storyline may suggest.

By challenging the boundaries between what is real and what is imaginary the authors have shown their audiences that often journeys are mostly what people experience emotionally rather than physically. Metaphorically representing inner journeys by using physical journeys has made the transition from one state of mind to another easier to see and understand. The use of visual and literary techniques greatly affects the way that meaning is constructed in a form of text, and the intricacy of each detail is often overlooked.


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