High-Rise Essay - Critical Essays

J. G. Ballard


J. G. Ballard is known as a leading author of catastrophic science fiction, and he is one of Britain’s most highly esteemed science-fiction writers. His creative talents focus on the physical and psychological deterioration of people who are caught in extreme circumstances.

Empire of the Sun (1984) is Ballard’s most acclaimed book. It is a somewhat autobiographical account, with elements similar to his experience as a child interned in a Civilian Assembly Center in China during World War II. To have witnessed the death, violence, disease, and human perversion there surely affected his writing.

In High-Rise, the building is a microcosm of the violent atrocities of which people are capable when left to their own devices. None of the residents move out of the building, even as the violence escalates toward and beyond absurd proportions. Many of the residents die, illustrating the books theme of survival of the fittest.

Ballard exposes technology as something that can destroy humanity. He writes, “the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly free psychopathology.” He indicates that the process of technology and subsequent civilization of people does great harm, in that natural instincts are repressed in order for the civilizing process to occur. As natural instincts are repressed, the inevitable outcome is violent and psychotic behavior. Ballard shows readers a world in which people can do absolutely anything they want and it makes no difference; they are not subjected to laws or punishment. Those who survive in High-Rise do so through personal fortitude and the ability to kill if necessary.