Childhood Depression and the Picture Book: Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree


This paper examines how award-winning author, Sean Tan uses the vividness and complexity of the picture book form in The Red Tree (2001) to offer readers a space in which to meditate upon the darker aspects of childhood subjectivity and emotional life. It then reflects upon each spread in Tan’s book, looking at the various ways in which Tan uses spatial and architectural metaphors to chart interior states of melancholy, alienation, disconnection and self-estrangement creating a dystopic imaginary which includes nightmarish and uncanny urban vistas. The bleak mood of the protagonist is inextricably linked to her environment. The environments in which she finds herself act as both projections of and catalysts for her mood. As Tan’s young girl is faced with the ‘rapid change in external stimuli’ in a progressively mutating landscape, her subjectivity and sense of self is overwhelmed and eroded. The Red Tree, however, is not a story of despair. While the narrative charts the journey from alienation to integration, its central thematic is hope. The red leaf, which appears on each page, becomes the transcendent symbol of optimism and disalienation which eventually restores a sense of self.


Peer-reviewed, Abstract only


Further information about the 4th Global Conference may be accessed here

The Author:

Dr Deborah Pike