Changes can be found throughout ‘Empire of the Sun’. The focus, war can be regarded as the most significant change, which has traumatized many characters. War is a circumstance that twists people’s lives, plunging them from stability to instability. When war ends, changes take place again as people are removed from instability to stability. War is evil as it deviates people’s attitude in dealing with changes, which contrasts to what they normally would do. In the following, I will examine how Jim, Basie, Mrs. Victor and Dr. Rawlins face the war.
From them, we can see a range of different ways people handle changes. As Jim is the dominant character, through him, we can have an insight into how war has created a drastic change to him and turned his world into a topsy-turvy. As quoted from the novel, ‘a peculiar space opened around him, which separated him from the secure world he had known before the war’. Before the war, he led a protected and comfortable life with parties, children magazines, amahs and love form parents. After the war broke out, his life was ruined.
He was left alone and not being taken care of, and soon, food also became a problem. When war pushed him into a corner, like a mouse, Jim searched ways to survive in this adverse environment. Here, we can see that he makes adaptation. For instance, he became pragmatic and left his house to the streets to try his luck. Also, Jim went up to the Japanese and hoped through his ‘surrender’, he would be able to obtain some food. ‘A new name for a new life’ perhaps reveals how he adjusted to life in the Detention Centre and Lunghua Camp.
In these places, Jim shows great resourcefulness, courage and determination to survive. Under Basie’s tutelage, he threw off feelings of guilt and learned to be a survivor. For instance, Jim understood knew that daily rations were not enough to keep people alive. Therefore, he stole a mess-tin from a dead man in order to get more food. Jim also knew clearly that following Basie would ensure himself a safe survival. When Basie abandoned him for the Lunghua Camp, Jim found that it would be useless to nag Basie.
To handle this potential change, he quickly persuaded the driver that he knew the way to Soochow with the evidence that his parents were country club members. In the Lunghua Camp, audience is given an impression that Jim is positively dealing with war changes as he was full of energy. He was always busy running around using cigarettes to exchange for food, giving away cabbages and playing marbles with other children. We also see him being fully occupied with obeying Basie’s orders and helping out in hospitals.
However, this vitality has a hidden side. We can interpret such an engagement as an evasion to Jim’s longing of his parents. In the rooftop scene when planes dashed in the sky, Jim’s repressed emotion suddenly burst out. As the dream to fly and his parents are important, when he saw the beauty of the planes and the runway, he associated them to his parents. Therefore, Jim suddenly broke down and cried because he could not recall the image of his mother. Besides, Jim also spontaneously murmured some Latin about being loved and loving other people.
From this, we can see that Jim showed his true feeling of being separated from his parents and the worry he was facing. To handle war, this severe change in Jim’s life, he used his dream of flight to sustain him through hardship. Jim tried to make himself settled in the camp by relating to the Japanese planes. He even invested his hopes in a young Japanese Kamikaze pilot, in that they would one day fly away together, leaving the camp. We can see that Jim displaced his wish to leave war when he showed sympathy for the pilot who could not fly to the sky.
This imaginary twin he had invented is evident towards the end of the film when Jim tried to ‘bring’ the dead Japanese pilot back to life, as there was a sudden emergence of the face of the young Jim. When war finally ends and Jim could return to stability, he seemed to be confused and did not know how to react. His concern was no longer of leaving war, but his attention was directed to food. Trauma can be defined as an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to neurosis.