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Analysis: The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

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Shaun Tan once said “You know it’s not real, but you can’t help but be drawn into the reality of it”. His picture book ‘The Lost Thing’ reflects on this statement; you know that the storybook world Tan has created is not in the slightest bit real, but if you look closer you can start relating it to your real life. This is shown in the way the main character has been presented as well as the lost thing, the reader can relate to both of these characters either by being lost or finding something lost. At the start of the book many adults are around but only the boy seems to see the lost thing, this shows that the adult world are so absorbed in what they are doing themselves that they never stop to look what is right in front of them. Tan also look at the idea of belonging, and when the lost thing finds a place where it doesn’t really belong but is happy, it is questioning the obsession we as humans have of belonging. Tan creates a story world with which we can relate to our own lives and use the morals we found there in our reality. As readers we tend to relate ourselves to the main character of the book, in ‘The Lost Thing’ we can relate ourselves both to the lost thing and the boy.

The boy represents times when we have been busy, too busy looking at something else to realise the things right in front of us, “I was, as usual, was working tirelessly on my bottle top collection” The use of the commas in this with the words “As usual” leads us to think that the boy is admitting that he is always working on his collection, so absorbed in it. Being absorbed in one thing is the reality for most of us. We look down at our phones or are constantly trapped in our own thoughts and not look up to see what is standing all but three feet away from us and for that we miss out on it. But, the boy did look up he did notice the lost thing and it took him to a state of helpfulness, trying desperately to find it somewhere to belong, some people could also replate to this in the way that we have all had friends or relatives who have strayed from their path and needed a little help to find it again.

The lost thing is in the complete opposite position of the boy, he is lost and doesn’t have anywhere to belong, and nobody knows where he should be, “It had a sad, lost sort of look” The use of the adjective describes to us the feelings of the lost thing, the way the boy could tell he was lost. We as humans constantly feel lost, especially during adolescence, we feel like we have no place to belong, we don’t know where we are headed or what we want to do with our lives. This is why the lost thing is so important as a character, he reveals a part of ourselves we don’t always see or think about but is always there. Relating to the characters draws us more into the story because we picture ourselves as the character we find a small part of ourselves in. In the world we live in we are busy, we spend more time absorbed in our own thoughts but we don’t ever wonder about what is around us.

This is proposed by Tan in the early stages of the book “Nobody else seemed to notice it was there, they were all too busy doing other stuff” the use of particular language shows that what they were doing wasn’t even really that important. “Stuff” is described as matter, material or an article that is specified, where here, the author does not specify, what the adult world is doing is simply nothing of any great importance, simply “stuff”. If one does not specify, it cannot be of importance especially in a book with so few words. At the end of the book the boy (now a man) confesses “Maybe there aren’t so many lost things around these days, or maybe I’ve just stopped noticing” As an adult he has stopped noticing things as he used to, he has no wonder for the world around him anymore, just what he has to do in the world and what his responsibilities are. As we grow older this is the truth, when we are younger we go exploring, we marvel at the world around us, but as we grow older we think of the basic things around us and ignore the things we don’t know because we think we already know the world and all its wonders.

By these quotes Tan explores the magic of childhood in simplicity, he compares the way a child sees the world to those views of an adult. We are captured by the way we are reminded by our childhood as compared to now therefor drawing us deeper into the story. Humans all have completely diverse personalities, qualities and interests making them all individuals, but we have always had an obsession for fitting in which clashes with a person’s individuality. This is explored through the text “I mean, I can’t say the lost thing actually belonged in the place it ended up. In fact, none of the things there really belonged. They all seemed happy enough though, so maybe it didn’t matter. I don’t know…” by this Tan is telling us that to belong somewhere is a complete myth. People may all have ears, fingers and a belly button, but we are nothing alike. This is symbolised by the way the other things are drawn, not one thing is alike everything is so out of place, awkward, but also absolutely beautiful in their own way, just in the way we human beings are. But we as humans can’t have both; we can’t belong and be ourselves, it’s an impossible task we have set ourselves as a society.

Tan cleverly uses imaging as a way of telling us this as well as the text of the narrator’s thoughts. By this we feel a sense of relief, like we no longer have to try to be both, because trying to do both is exhausting, it wastes all our energy and then we have none left to see the world around us. This makes us look at the world and accept it, be happy with what we have instead of being judgemental. The book creates a sense of community amongst the readers and they feel like they know what Tan is talking about, relating to the situation and are intrigued by his viewpoints because it gives them the answers they want. “The Lost Thing” might not look like the type of book that would discuss ideas on some of the topics it does, but then again we shouldn’t be judging a book by its cover, we should be accepting it and be happy with it even if it is different, because we are all different.

Shaun Tan doesn’t say much in his book but he communicates a lot of ideas through such little words and the strange paintings of his fictional world. He gets the reader to look at the real life aspects he has put into it and take another perspective of the world around us. The book deals with personal issues that we don’t necessarily talk about in everyday life but Tan gets us to look at them through the use of a picture book. “The Lost Thing” is definitely, now that one looks closer at it, one of the best pieces of post-modernism our world has seen yet, there is so much to be interpreted from thinking about your own personal view, because we as individuals all have a different one and because the book is so personal we are drawn into it like Tan is talking to us specifically. We can definitely relate “The Lost Thing” to our own lives.

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