Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Saint Jack centers on the efforts of Jack Flowers, a middle-aged American expatriate in Singapore, to achieve a success that he believes is almost within his grasp. Jack is an eternal optimist who considers being poor “the promise of success.” Jack is ostensibly employed as a water clerk for Hing, a ship chandler, but he uses the contacts he makes through his work for Hing, who pays him little, to conduct his real business: He is a pimp who obtains customers for his “girls” from among sailors, tourists, and the lonely inhabitants of his “tedious little island.”
The first section of the novel focuses on Jack’s having to escort William Leigh, a British accountant from Hong Kong, who has come to Singapore to work on Hing’s books. Leigh is a stuffy dullard who ignores Jack’s suggestions about how he could be spending his time. When Leigh realizes that he is a hustler and smugly asks, “How do you stand it?” Jack is upset. He sees pimping as a means to an end, realizes that it is degrading, but tries to carry it out as much as possible within a code of conduct. The ambiguous nature of morality is central to all the actions and themes of Saint Jack. The unease which Leigh causes Jack is increased when the accountant suddenly dies of a heart attack, awakening Jack to a sense of his own mortality.
The novel returns, by means of a flashback, to Jack’s arrival in Singapore fourteen years earlier, when he...
(The entire section is 590 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Coale, Samuel. Paul Theroux. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A comprehensive examination of Theroux’s work, which includes in-depth analyses of his novels. Ideal for general or scholarly study, this volume includes a helpful bibliography and index.
Wheeler, Edward T. “What the Imagination Knows: Paul Theroux’s Search for the Second Self.” Commonweal 121 (May 20, 1994): 18-22. Regarded as one of the most prolific contemporary Catholic authors, Theroux stresses the importance of imagination in the human search for meaning. Wheeler explores these “pilgrimages of imagination” in several of Theroux’s novels, including Saint Jack. He declares that the novel is a “wry and unsentimental look at fifties Catholic boyhood” and praises the book for its evocative images of a time now past.