Empire of the Sun

by J. G. Ballard

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How is conflict explored in Empire of the Sun?

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The idea of conflict arises in multiple dimensions in Empire of the Sun. On one level, it is a war story that emphasizes the World War II experiences of people in China, including Chinese, British, and other nationalities. Because Jim is a child during the course of the novel, his understanding of war is limited, and he does not participate in battles. Thus, the armed conflicts that one usually associates with war are rare in the book.

However, the conflict type of human-against-human remains prevalent. This is the case partly because war is the topic, but even more because those trying to cope with the war are pitted against each other. Jim learns the full weight of his “privileged” English status when the Chinese people who had worked as servants in his family’s home reject him outright. When Jim is interned in the camp, he comes into conflict with the other prisoners; part of his coming-of-age is learning to fight for himself in order to survive. This feeds into the internal conflict, human being versus themselves, as Jim struggles to understand the meaning of war. He moves from wanting to side with the stronger, potential victor to understanding the likely consequences of war.

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Conflict is explored through the eyes of a young boy called Jim, who is from a well to do British family living in Shanghai, China. The story begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. Jim is an innocent boy who cannot really tell on which side of the war he is on. He is also not aware of the danger he is in at the hands of the Japanese, given they are fighting the allied forces, including the British. According to Jim, his support belongs to the strong group in the conflict. He initially is impressed by the Japanese Kamikaze pilots and even wants to be like them. His support and allegiance shifts to the Americans when they attack Japanese installations during and after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. At some point in the story Jim concludes that no one knows to which side they belong in a “real war”, believing that it is only survival tactics that keep people alive during armed conflicts.

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