Jim is described by Ransome as a free spirit. He would be well suited as the hero of a boys’ adventure book. He makes the behavior of those who are much older than he appear immature and ill-advised. Yet the world of the book is far more dangerous than that which an adventure book could sustain: It is an adult world that is crazily and dangerously out of kilter.
Jim, however, has many of the characteristics of the best boys’ heroes. He is extraordinarily precocious; he is, for example, in the process of writing a guide to contract bridge in a school exercise book. He is tireless. In a typical day in captivity, he first smuggles extra rations from his room to eat them surreptitiously, then does Latin homework, runs errands for Basie and one of his Japanese captors, watches an air raid, and plays chess all evening with imprisoned American soldiers. He is also brave. In one incident, he and other prisoners are dying of thirst, but he alone dares to ask a group of Japanese soldiers for something to drink. Given a half-bottle of water, he drinks it all, rewarding himself for his bravery. The soldiers in turn reward his gumption with a full bottle for the others.
Jim is more complex, however, than the typical boy hero. Paradoxically, he is both selfish and selfless. He nurses Basie back to health after the seaman is beaten during capture. Yet he is as calculatedly self-interested as any of the prisoners: Every death translates, he notes, into...
(The entire section is 576 words.)