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“The Rabbits” written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan

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With the use of visual and language techniques Marsden and Tan depict and help develop our understanding about wider issues within the community. Marsden and Tan skilfully display more sophisticated issues that are not so commonly aimed at children such as conflict, industrialisation and loss of culture which are all an adverse effect of colonisation. “The Rabbits” is an allegory that represents the destructive path of the European colonisation on the Indigenous people and their environment. It expresses the chilling story of the invasion and destruction, and the devastating effects that came along with it. This picture book is written from the natives’ point of view where they are portrayed as numbats and the invaders are depicted as rabbits. The use of rabbits is also significant as rabbits were introduces in Australia in 1859 with the white European settlers; reinforcing the infestation imagery that colonising creates.

The picture book which would usually be targeted at children has many underlying important issues that evoke emotion and empathy within the responder. Opening 5 of “The Rabbits” strongly depicts the important issues of industrialisation and loss of culture due to colonisation, affecting not only the people but also the land. The salient image in this opening is the huge, golden framed portrait in the centre of the opening drawing the responder to the centre of the page. The portrait conveying the rabbits’ master plan and future for the numbats land. The image glowing of gold’s sets a picturesque and perfect scene, also suggesting the power, wealth and royalty of the rabbits. This ‘master plan’ by the rabbits highlights the industrialisation and complete takeover, this evoking emotion and empathy towards the numbats in the responder as it signifies the control and destruction of their land, the loss of tradition and change of culture.

The motif of the red flag of the rabbits is common throughout this opening, not only is the flag seen in the distance it is also pictured upon the tops of the buildings found within the blueprint. Red having many connotations of power, anger and danger this attracts attention and adds further meaning. The symbolism of the flags depicts the takeover, dominance and continuing control that the rabbits have over the numbats land and their future. Tan and Marsden continue to confront the responder with powerful images and texts within this opening. Behind the salient image the responder is drawn to the puzzle like pieces being used to construct the many buildings as seen on the blueprints. The puzzle like pieces are symbolic as they are ‘building blocks’ to the rabbits plan, highlighting that the plan is in action, as has the industrial and cultural takeover.

The rabbits have already caused so much destruction and pollution to the numbats culture and land, the image of the road of new buildings creeping into untouched land furthers that the rabbits will not stop until they have claimed and destroyed everything. The use of simple, direct speech and oppositional terms such as ‘we’ and ‘they’ express the difference between the two and the strong change in culture for the numbats. “They didn’t live in the trees, like we did” and “They made their own houses” are juxtaposing and highlighting the strong difference between their ways of life and culture. The numbats standing by and viewing suggests they have no say in the matter and their culture is being obliterated in front of them. Within opening 8 of “The Rabbits” Marsden and Tan use a variety of techniques to express the major issue of conflict between the rabbits and the numbats. The use of colour imagery within the opening help create the scene and atmosphere, the colours are dark, sombre and depressing.

The browns and sepias also suggest a flashback or memory of the numbats and their natural brown soiled homeland. The large collage of fighting indicates the abundance of conflicts, and the rabbits’ destructive and violent nature is highlighted through this. The negative symbols of guns and swords further the destruction caused by the rabbits, as these weapons epitomise colonisation and conflict around the world, “pens write the rule, guns enforce the rule” as the violent phrase goes. The symbolism and imagery of the tallies drawn on the rabbits’ hats are seen as a method of keeping track of their many kills. This displays lack of compassion for the natives, and viewing them as lesser people. The rabbits destructive ways and their dehumanising nature is emphasised throughout the opening, again highlighting their dominance. Not only does Tan use many visual techniques, Marsden also uses a variety of language techniques throughout the opening to emphasise the issue of conflict.

The use of truncated sentences implies the simplicity of the numbats previous lives, also adding a short, sharp and violent tone which emphasises the conflict. “Still more of them came” is underlined with dots, this line is shown as drawn by a rabbit which conveys that the rabbits are writing the history and future for the natives as if they have not and do not exist. “But there were too many rabbits”, supports the image as it is located on the picture of the thousands of rabbits lined up from foreground to background which is suggesting that there are too many rabbits to fight against and the numbats powerlessness is conveyed. “The Rabbits” is a powerful and allegorical picture book that depicts strong and important issues that would not commonly be found within a children’s book. Marsden and Tan skilfully use many visual and language techniques to portray the issues of conflict, industrialisation and loss of culture.

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