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...
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