Courseworks

Empire Of The Sun

Empire Of The Sun is a first hand description of most of the experiences of the author J.G. Ballard who was interned there from 1942 to 1945 in the same prison camps mentioned in the book. It is a sincere and moving account of what it was like to be a boy in Japanese occupied Shanghai at war time.It takes you to the pre and post World War II and the effects of the detonation of the atom bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the eyes of a very young British boy trapped in a war where there are no winners. Jim experiences the massive conflict between China and Japan during World War II as a British prisoner of the Japanese army.In 1941, China has been at war with Japan for four years. Jim lives with his parents in the International Settlement of Shanghai, where about 30,000 British and American citizens lived . A typical eleven-year-old, he sees the world as made for his own enjoyment. As a British boy in Shanghai, he has it all; the privileged young son of an English business executive, a good education, clothes and his passion for airplanes. Day and night, the boy dreams of flying. He knows the names of all the airplanes and can spot them by their silhouettes. When they fly overhead in Shanghai in the last days before World War II breaks out, they may be an threatening omen for his parents, but for him they are wonderful machines, free of gravity, free to soar.His placid world comes apart when World War II reaches his doorstep.Jim is separated from his father in St. Marie’s Hospital in the French Concession. He is discharged from the hospital and he finds himself walking the streets of Shanghai alone in a world turned upside down.This begins a three-year journey that will see Jim come of age during the most difficult of circumstances. This journey takes him from abandoned sectors of Shanghai, to vast Japanese internment camps full of death and disease, This is what the book is all about – a young boy coming of age – similar to Catcher in The Rye. Jamie, is transformed from a child who in late 1941 is naive to how horrible war is, into Jim, a young man in 1945 who has lived nothing but war for those four yearsOn returning to his home on Amherst Avenue, he finds it all changed. The lawn is uncut, the power is cut off and the swimming pool is drained. For a while, he enjoys life without adult supervision. But food is hard to find, and he doesn’t know whom to trust.Ballard uses language to indicate Jim’s state of mind during the early days of his isolation from his parents. When he first returns to Amherst Avenue he clambers into the backyard and views the beginnings of decay unemotionally. He is able to live there happily for a number of days, and sets out again as if on an adventure. He finds the world has altered in even such a brief period of time – he is beaten by an amah. Living in the remnants of the Maxteds’ apartment we see the first sign that all is not well with Jim as he struggles with day-to-day tasks and cannot mend his bicycle. When he breaks into the dentist’ residence he finds himself in the “dense foliage of the garden, which clung to the house like a dark dream refusing to be woken” (p. 80). The teeth housed in glass cabinets in the surgery are “ravenous mouths” (p. 80).He teams up with American street hustler Basie and his sidekick, Frank. As Jim runs errands for Basie, he learns the politics of their Japanese captors and the nearly animalistic way of surviving the harsh conditions and he merges these “skills” with his intellect and natural survival instincts.These survival skills are needed when Jim and the two Americans are captured by the Japanese and taken to a Shanghai detention centre with other Westerners – many of whom are dying of starvation. Basie teachesJim the tricks of staying alive and by the time they move to Soochow Creek prison camp. Jim has learned to look out for himself.Jim takes advantage of the support he receives from adults in the prison camp over a three-year period. He runs errands for Basie, continues his education with lessons from a doctor and tries to keep up the fading spirits of Mrs. Victor. At the same time, Jim feels superior to these adults – after all, he is the only one who really understands the courage of the Japanese kamikaze pilots.When Jim realises his parents are not at Lunghua prison camp where he thought they would be, it doesn’t stop him from continuing to be a survivor and he soon gets in with the camp commanders and cooks; anyone who is necessary to his survival.Jim is the boy who makes the war a part of his daily life. He relishes the sight of the fighter jets flying over the camp. He takes pleasure in sorting out the Nakajimas from the Mustangs that take off and fly over the Hungjao airfield next to the prison camp. The sight of a dead and decaying pilot does nothing to deter his childhood ambition of becoming a pilot.His sole aim is to find his parents whom he believes are in the Soochow prison camp and when the war is over, he assumes that they will resume life in their mansion on Amherst avenue like before.Four years pass and he is still in the Lunghua prison camp, fighting for his life with the people he chose to attach himself to for survival. He occupies his days in the camp running odd errands for everyone and learning Latin and mathematics from Dr. Ransome and the other camp occupants.The years in the prison camp teach Jim the very basics of survival. After many false alarms signalling the end of the war, he is finally evacuated from the Lunghua prison camp to be taken to Nantao.This story reveals the ways in which war dehumanises individuals. At the end of the book, Jim’s character is tested during a death march and at a stadium when he witnesses the flash of light from the Nagasaki atomic bomb.While in prison camp, Jim has followed Basie’s advice and constantly learned new words as a pleasant pastime. But there are no words to adequately describe what he sees at the stadium – the dawn of the nuclear age. Jim’s brief vision, he senses and we know, changed war and the world forever.He decides to return back to the Lunghua prison camp which had been his home for the last so many years. The camp is occupied by British and American POW’s and civilians who are hoarding the rations dropped by the American relief planes. His tale of his experience at the Olympic stadium, arouses their greed and they take him back there to loot the fine furniture he had seen there. By some misfortune, they are shot down by nationalist and rebel groups and Jim again goes back to the camp where he finds the camp taken over by the American and Dr. Ransome is there to take care of him before he goes over the edge into the realm of madness.Finally, the war ends, and he is reunited with his parents under the shadow of growing Chinese communism. We do not witness the reunion and it is only mentioned in passing.Young Jim has grown up the hard way. One finds this boy rather uncanny. He is typically British, stiff upper lip and long-suffering in this war. Even the prison inmates find his character unnerving and decidedly odd. The sight of rows and rows of dead bodies decaying with a million flies in them provokes no emotion in the boy. He does not cry nor does he exclaim in horror or alarm.The only events that arouse any emotion in him are the flying machines of war and the prospect of the end of the war. There are many accounts and incidents in the book that sicken you to the stomach and make your head spin. And when you look at it from the perspective of a very young boy like Jim, you shudder to think of the repercussions it will have on him. That is an element missing in this book. The passionless and detached narrative makes one wonder how much the author has suffered himself.The details of the horrors of the camp and the inhumane conditions suffered by the inmates is horrific. The account of this war brings to life the reality of the horror of what a war can do and how it is able to affect the lives of everyone.

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