King Rat Characters
Clavell's characters dramatize his theme. The King is an American who through illicit trading with the enemy has managed to remain well-dressed and well-fed while his less enterprising fellow prisoners are ragged, starved and diseased. Many soldiers believe he is evil for taking advantage of his talent for business. He insists he is only disobeying the law of his captors; he does not steal. He makes a friend of Peter Marlowe, a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, whose family have been military officers since the early eighteenth century and who disdains "trade." Marlowe shares Clavell's background and is generally his spokesman in the novel. Since Marlowe speaks Malay, he becomes the translator and general aide to the King, worrying all the time that his behavior is dishonorable, but knowing he must take advantage of this relationship in order for his friends to survive. Their adversary, besides the Japanese, is Grey, the Provost-Marshall of the camp. He hates the King, because the King has become prosperous by disobeying the laws of the camp which Grey is in charge of enforcing. He also hates Peter, because Peter is a gentleman and will always, Grey believes, look down on Grey's lower-class origins.
The minor characters are memorable too: Max and Dino, the King's fellow Americans, who serve him for the food he can provide but despise themselves for it, the Japanese village chief who wants safety for his village, and his beautiful daughter who is attracted to Marlowe. Clavell also introduces the reader to Sean and Stephen, the homosexuals despised by almost everyone but who, one as an entertainer and the other as a nurse, do much to ameliorate the lot of their fellow prisoners. There are a great many characters in this novel; they are not stereotypes, although some critics feel they could have been more fully developed. They are examples of the variety of the thousands of men at Changi.