Empire of the Sun: ESSAY QUESTION: “Compare and contrast life for Jim in Shanghai and the camps and how these settings hurt or helped Jim’s survival. ” Living and growing up as a foreigner in Shanghai, life for Jim was very easy and luxurious until he was captivated and taken hostage in a war camp. There, his lifestyle turned 180 degrees, which taught Jim many lessons, both good and bad. We can tell a lot about Jim’s former life in Shanghai from his surroundings and his relationship with them. The reason why Jim was keeping residence in Shanghai in the first place can say a lot about his background.
It is not an unreasonable assumption to make that his parents were probably there for business purposes, perhaps setting up a company or on a contract. “Jim was delighted when his mother told him that they would leave the house in Amherst Avenue for a few days and instead would stay in the company’s suite at Palace Hotel. ” [P20] This suggests that they were quite wealthy people, especially in comparison to the poor living standards of the average Chinese. This would also mean that there was frequent contact with other people of importance, either of high Chinese social status or other diplomats.
For example, Mr. Maxted, the father of his best friend and the entrepreneur who had designed various nightclubs in Shanghai, was a figure that Jim admired and wanted to grow up to imitate. We can therefore also assume that many things were paid for in the Graham family, and that Jim was a very spoilt child. This was probably especially true due to the fact that he was an only child. In the very beginning of the book, we are introduced early on to one of countless fanciful festivities Jim innocently attends with his family; this one hosted by Mr.
Lockwood, the vice-chairman of the British Residents Association. Here we see a perfect example of the kind of offhand immunity Jim has acquired towards the luxury of these events. Quickly bored of the soiree itself, Jim soon wanders off to explore the abandoned aerodrome. At another social gathering, being introduced to Madame Sun Yat-Sen not so much as lingered on Jim’s mind for a second. At Jim’s home we can pick up lots of clues about his wealth. Before Mr. Lockwood’s party, Jim dons clothes of exquisite quality – a silk embroidered shirt, blue velvet trousers and Persian slippers.
Jim does not dress himself, either. Along with Yang the chauffeur, an amah and nine Chinese servants, Vera is his full-time governess, paid to do anything Jim pleases. “This bored young woman, little more than a child herself, usually followed Jim everywhere like a guard dog. ”[P5] We also find that as expected of a rich, spoilt child, Jim does not naturally treat these people as equal individuals. “His mother had told him to be kind to Vera, and not to tease her as he had done the previous governess. ” [P6]; “As he flung his cassock to the amah… ” [P5]; “ ‘Amah, don’t touch it!
I’ll kill you! ’ ” [P7] Jim also has trouble imagining a lifestyle different from the one he lives, because he knows none other. The prospect of Vera’s parents living in a room smaller than his dressing room is to Jim completely absurd. “ ‘One room! ’ To Jim this was inconceivable, far more bizarre that anything in the Superman and Batman comics. ” [P6] All of this shows Jim’s weaknesses in independence and knowledge about survival. Showered with expensive things and constant help, there is no way that Jim would know how to deal with himself, by himself.
However, there are certain factors about him that are of great help. For example, during the winter of 1941, Jim’s parents are very pre-occupied with the war and as a consequence have little time for Jim. “He decided to raise the matter with his mother and father, but as always they were too distracted by news of the war even to notice him. ” [P6] Although he still has his numerous servants to do the practical chores for him, not only is Jim quick to explore and learn, but he is also determined to find solutions to problems that he realizes affects the people around him, no matter how big. How two people could survive in so small a space was as difficult to grasp as the conventions in contract bridge. Perhaps there was some simple key which would solve the problem. ” [P6]; “He would try and cheer up his father and think of some way of stopping the Germans at the gates of Moscow. ”[P8] Quite ironically, Jim is used to seeing the poor conditions and beatings of the Chinese by Japanese officers in the street while being untouched himself, and his reaction to being taken hostage by the very same soldiers is quite interesting. One must remember that he is a child and extremely adaptable to most situations.
We can see this very clearly through his journey, and it is probably the key factor that helps him to survive. He still does, however, start out like a fish out of water. His attitude towards and understanding of war is very naive and limited. When Jim walks into the old battlefield (as mentioned earlier), he does so calmly and carelessly, seemingly unafraid and un-reactive to the appearance of the soldiers. Strangely, he does seem to understand the danger present in the situation, at least on his father’s part, as opposed to being completely oblivious to the tension between his father and the soldiers. But Jim felt vaguely guilty and annoyed with himself. He had lost his balsa plane and lured his father into a dangerous meeting with the Japanese. Solitary Europeans who strayed into the path of the Japanese were usually left dead on the roadside” [P20]; “Although the sergeant ignored him, Jim knew that he had decided what to do next with this small boy. ” [P19] He also seems to somehow want to test the boundaries of the situation, seeing how far he can push the envelope with both his father and with the soldiers. “ ‘My plane’s down there. I could get it, I suppose. ” [P19] All of this shows Jim’s enormous sensitivity to the mood and tension of any given setting, and this is exceptionally helpful for him to adapt quickly and take advantage of many different situations. Jim’s transition from spoilt, pampered rich boy to stranded, parent-less street beggar does not go all too smoothly. His first mistake is in assuming that his parents would be at home, waiting for him. Upon discovering that they are not, Jim continues to live on his own, draining the tap of its water and forgetting to shower, change his clothes or clean up after himself. Soon he has run out of provisions.
This sense of desperation is shown clearly in his innocent and naive attempt at surrendering the war to a group of Japanese soldiers in the street. His stroke of luck comes with meeting Basie, who takes him under his care and teaches him little tips and tricks on how to be a survivor. But according to the cliche “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”: despite the fact that Jim quickly latches himself onto Basie, Basie needs Jim just as much in return. “Jim sat still as Basie’s white hands explored his pockets. ” [P68] Basie is also the one to christen Jim with his new name: “ ‘A new name for a new life. ”[P68] This signifies Jim’s switch from regular life to life in war. Jim being the bright boy that he is quickly catches on to exactly what kind of relationship he shares with Basie. “It soon became clear to Jim that Basie was trying to sell him to the traders. ” [P73] However, because he is exposed to the concept of wanting something from other people early on, it helps him in the future by creating a routine trade with many of the Lunghua campmates, and especially with Basie. “[Sergeant Nagata] knew from Private Kimura that Jim was involved in every illicit activity in the camp, but had never been able to catch him. [P151] He realizes that in order to be able to sojourn for a longer period of time, he must create a good reason for his surrounding peers to want him to stay. “ ‘If you can find a way of helping people you’ll live off the interest. ’ ” [P86] However, he is not afraid to use Basie’s advice against him; when he senses that Basie is done with Jim and is about to leave him, he quickly tempts him with the prospect of Jim’s beautiful house on Amherst Avenue and manages to lure him right into the path of the Japanese. “Jim knew that they planned to leave him there… ‘Could we go to my house?
It’s even more luxuriant. ’ ” [P77]; “Did he know that Jim had managed to trick him? ” [P84] Because of this, his lifestyle back in Shanghai did help Jim to a certain extent. By trying to imitate his amah back at home, he can take care of and work for Basie by fetching him water and bringing his food. Other aspects of his previous life haunt him as well- Mr. Maxted has also arrived at the Lunghua camp, now weak, starved and extremely dependent on Jim’s help. While staying at the detention center, Jim seems to live solely to be re-united with his parents. “Jim was determined to have his share of rice.
He knew that he was thinner than he had been before the war, and that his parents might fail to recognize him. ” [P81] It is surprising that Jim’s desire for food stems from the importance of having his parents recognize him rather than having an energy input. However, once arriving at Lunghua Camp, Jim does not speak or think much of his parents and lives merely to stay alive. He hears occasional news about them, including the lies that Basie feeds him in order to keep him by his side, but this may also be another tactic that helps Jim to keep going. He may worry that they have changed as much as Mr.
Maxted, and also knows that longing for them will only slow Jim down and distract him. He has the remarkable ability to maintain a boyish amount of energy for most of his time away from his family, always on the go and always learning new things. He has the drive and the will to keep living. “He felt sensitive about his ragged clothes and his determined efforts to stay alive. ” Every piece of information given to him about how to survive that could be even remotely beneficial he takes with him and remembers: to eat the weevils, to only drink boiled water, to steal food– not only that but attempts to help others with it as well. ‘Right. But we should eat the weevils, Mrs. Vincent. ’ ” [P138] He takes regular lessons with Dr. Ransome, in the assumption that he will live long enough to make it through the war and go back to school. He also picks up on little things that may help him on his own. “Masking the tic in his cheek, he smiled brightly at the Japanese sergeant, and tried to look strong and healthy. Only the healthier people tended to leave the detention centre. ” [P82] Conversely, his camp roommates Mr. and Mrs.
Vincent seem have given up on hope completely, and this makes Jim’s determination emphatic. Despite the opportunity to be taken care of by the adults at the camp in return for acting like a servant to them, Jim is the only one to refuse among the other children. “Jim alone had refused, and never fetched and carried for Mr. Vincent. ” [P129] This is a surprising act of independence on Jim’s part, the decision perhaps made because he is older than the other children, or because he has found a fitting rhythm and routine with Basie.
Despite the various bouts of illness that Jim experiences, Mrs. Vincent fails to lift a single finger in favor of Jim, yet this does not phase him in the least. “For some reason he still liked Mrs. Vincent… although her nerves were always stretched and she had never made the slightest attempt to care for him. He knew that if he starved to death in his bunk she would find some polite reason for doing nothing to help him. ” [P129] Throughout the novel Jim has always harbored a feeling of admiration for the Japanese soldiers, despite his English nationality and Chinese residence.
This may be linked to his fascination with airplanes. For example, the air raid that occurs at Langhua Camp excites Jim like nothing had for several years. “His eyes feasted on every rivet in their fuselages, on the gun ports in their wings, on the huge ventral radiators that Jim was sure had been put there for reasons of style alone. ” [P145] The Japanese’s frequent association with planes may be what attracts Jim. The Japanese have also always seemed strong and righteous to Jim, and this may be what caused him to have such great respect for them. Jim was glad to see the Japanese. ” [P78]; “Despite his headaches, he tried unsuccessfully to make friends with the Japanese soldiers. ” [P80] This may also be induced by Jim’s knowledge that being captured by the Japanese meant going to a camp, where there would be a roof over his head and regular ration of food rather than begging on the streets. In conclusion, we can see that although the differences between Jim’s life in Shanghai and life in the camps are great, almost opposites, certain aspects of Jim’s past helped him to survive.
Considering his background, we would have expected Jim to perish within days of being separated from his parents, and yet with a mixture of Jim’s brains and sheer luck he managed to fight his way through. He took what he knew and put it to whatever use he could, forever fighting to stay alive. This initiative alone makes Jim a fantastic survivor. “ ‘Survivor? ’ Basie chuckled at this. ‘That’s a useful word. Are you a survivor, Jim? ’ ” [P165] Bibliography: Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard Published 1984