Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard

Essay by binky890High School, 11th grade February 2004

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"War violates every right of a child -- the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, the right to development of personality and the right to be nurtured and protected." - Graça Machel, Expert to the Secretary General of the United Nations

Empire of the Sun is a novel based on the events that JG Ballard witnessed during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in WWII. The story depicts an eleven year old boy's psychological transformations during his imprisonment within the Lunghua internment camp. As an innocent, upper-middle class boy before the war, the harsh realities of war has changed Jim to a pragmatic, emotionally detached young man with the memories of war haunting him forever. This novel basically shows how human beings adapt to their surroundings in extreme conditions. When basic survival becomes an immediate concern, people are only too willing to throw away their morals and values for a single piece of potato.

In this novel, we can investigate the impacts of war and the changes of a person's identity due to the amount of violence, long-time imprisonment and deprivation of food in the internments camps.

As the only son of a wealthy British businessman, Jim grew up in the pampered environments of the British expatriate community in Shanghai. Jim never needed to worry about survival - food, housing, clothing, and other basic necessities. He had a governess, servants, a driver, a room full of toys, and the freedom to roam around the city on his bike. Although Jim observes poverty and adversity everyday, such as the beggar at the gates of his house, rickshaw coolies, and "the thousands of Chinese refugees dying of cholera in the sealed stockades at Pootung" (p.3), he always felt as if they were in a...