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Clavell's major theme concerns the conflict between honor and survival. While one's own death may be preferable to dishonor, the novel questions whether the death of a friend is preferable to one's own dishonor. The novel contrasts the moral code of the British officer with the need to survive, in particular the behavior of those who will trade with the enemy in order to survive and those who will not. The novel demonstrates that extreme circumstances test the moral code as well as the individual person.

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