Empire of the Sun

by J. G. Ballard

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What are some of the symbols of normality and change in Chapter 7 of Empire of the Sun?

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Chapter 7 begins as Jim remains at his parents' house after the Japanese invasion, waiting for their return. The chapter is full of a strange mixture of signs and symbols that point both towards change but also a strange kind of stasis. Note the following examples:

Large numbers of aircraft flew overhead, and Jim passed the hours plane-spotting. Below him was the undisturbed lawn, a little darker each day now that the gardener no longer trimmed the hedges and cut the grass.

The sight of aircraft flying overhead is a clear symbol of change, as it points towards the incontrovertible fact of the Japanese invasion which has turned Jim's life upside-down. However, at the same time, the lawn is "undisturbed," even though it, too, bears the signs of change as it is no longer being tended. Change and normality seem to be in conflict as Jim desperately takes comfort in what normality he can see, even when that normality is itself threatened by the signs of change. Another good example comes from the description of his mother's bedroom where importantly Jim chooses to spend most of his time:

Her presence hung on the air like a scent, holding at bay the deformed figure in the fractured mirror.

The forces of normality are represented in the scent of his mother, and it is therefore highly symbolic that Jim chooses to spend most of his time in this room. However, even then the "fractured mirror" clearly points towards the painful change that has occurred that even the scent of his mother cannot entirely dispel.

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