Given his position as head of the import-export firm of Blackett and Webb, Walter, as a character, provides access to a wide social range, which in addition to being the basis of the novel’s panoramic exposition of Singapore, enables the reader to think of him as the embodiment of the British Imperial adventure in the colony. Such a view is facilitated by the fact that Walter seems to have a comprehensively secure grip on the colony’s main raison d’Etre, which is trade. True, he may not have been as opportunistic as he should have been in cornering the increasingly important palm-oil trade. Nevertheless, he personifies the self-satisfied middleman, who merely by positioning himself advantageously can reap the benefits of the world’s natural wealth.
His very success, however, blinds him to the possibility of decline. One of his main objections to the Japanese threat is that it will force the postponement of the parade planned to mark the centenary of Blackett and Webb. When Walter recognizes that the writing is indelibly on the wall, he even considers collaborating with the Japanese, so unwilling is he to forgo the round of greed, exploitation, and petty tyranny which his presence unwittingly but inescapably creates.
Joan, deprived by her sex rather than by her ability from taking advantage of the characteristics of her father, expresses them instead in a more fragile and intimate context than that of the marketplace, namely in personal relations. Her unquestioning belief in her own superiority and desirability leads her to manipulate and exploit those who respond to her allure. Her behavior, which evidently intends to place men in her clutches as tightly as her father grips Singapore, provides a deftly ironic commentary...
(The entire section is 716 words.)