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.)
Jim, the protagonist, a British schoolboy entering adolescence. An intelligent, curious, self-reliant, and somewhat rebellious eleven-year-old from a privileged background, Jim is obsessed with aviation, in particular, warplanes. When Japan enters the war against the Allies, he is separated from his parents. He wanders through the disorder of war-torn Shanghai, learning to survive by using his wits. After meeting Basie on the waterfront, he and the American sailor are taken to a prison camp, where he learns much more about survival in the “university of life.” He adapts to conditions in the camp with a readiness not found among the European adults. By the end of the war, he has witnessed many scenes of social upheaval and apocalypse, including the flash of the atom bomb exploding at Nagasaki.
Basie, an American merchant seaman and profiteer. A man in his thirties with an easy manner, a bland, unlined face, and soft hands that he keeps powdered, he is articulate, observant, opportunistic, manipulative, and devious. Basie needs to have people working for him at all times and tries to exploit every event for his own benefit. In the prison camp, he uses Jim as a coolie, but he does teach Jim the necessity of satisfying one’s own needs and provides the boy with information about the outside world.
Dr. Ransome, a British doctor in the prison camp. A sandy-haired,...
(The entire section is 410 words.)