|Choose a novel which explores in an effective way a theme which is important to you.
Explain how the novelist introduces the theme and show to what extent she or he has effectively engaged your interest in it.
Isolation – how?
isolation from parents+home (house detaching itself from him/he no longer fits. Familiar = now threatening.)
loss of childhood
isolation from reality (detached initially to cope/survive. Later longs for death shows brutality of living during war.)
isolation from self – no longer recognises who war has forced him to become
Showing loss of c.hood through brutality of war
Shows consequences of war (detachment/longing for death)
J.G.Ballard’s evocative novel ‘Empire of the Sun’ cleverly illustrates the destructive power of war and the effects of isolation on the protagonist, Jim. Through symbolism and vivid imagery, Ballard creates a harsh, cruel environment which Jim struggles through alone and defenceless to help portray the conflicts he experiences both mentally and physically. The emotions the reader is subjected to along Jim’s journey help convey the brutality of war and how it destroys relationships.
Ballard’s purpose in writing this novel is to poignantly capture the pain and sadness which war inevitably brings and he does this powerfully through the emotional and mental anguish it inflicts on his protagonist Jim. He wants his readers to be aware of the devastating consequences prejudice and intolerance towards others can create so as to remind us to accept people for who they are so we can hopefully avoid more suffering in the future.
Skilfully, the writer establishes a clear image of Jim’s innocence and uses this to convey his loss of childhood as “the games in the garden had lost their magic.” The “games” symbolise Jim’s childhood and his innocence and the fact that they’ve now “lost their magic” suggests that he has had to grow up. Sadly, he has to mature because he won’t survive otherwise. War is profoundly powerful and corrupts his childhood as in order to survive, the child Jim is forced into an adult world of pain, isolation and death. He must move away from the vestiges of childhood and its time of protection and safety to a world now overwhelmed with danger and chaos. Thus, he can no longer be naïve and dependent on others; he must find his own way to survive. Ballard focuses on this idea of the loss of childhood as he himself feels as if he lost his during the war. Childhood isn’t something you can get back and he makes this point very clear. The reader feels sympathy for both the writer and the character at this point as Jim, and mutually the reader, is beginning to realise the true nature of war.
Not only is Jim being forced to grow up in a short space of time and lose the sense of being a child, but he also becomes isolated from everything that was once familiar to him. Through Ballard’s use of personification and vivid imagery, he clearly demonstrates Jim’s alienation and how lost he has become in a world he once knew:
“Even the house seemed sombre as if it was withdrawing from him in a series of small and unfriendly acts.”
Personifying the house exemplifies the reality of the situation and also the extent of Jim’s loneliness and terror. Amongst all the confusion and disorder the war brings, Jim retreats to his home believing it will offer him comfort and protection. Upon realising that even this once familiar setting no longer can keep him safe and offer him security, he feels vulnerable and terrified as even his home now seem threatening as if it too has turned against him. Ballard uses Jim’s imagination to express how he is really feeling through animating the inanimate and in doing so, we see the nightmarish world he is now immersed in. Through a child’s point of view, Ballard evokes sympathy from the reader as we see how desperate Jim is and how much he needs someone to look out for him.
Symbolically, the house represents Jim’s old life: when he was free; where he felt safe. This once familiar surrounding has now become alien to him as he no longer feels whole or complete due to the fragmentary nature of war; it has ripped apart his family and destroyed his feelings of security and contentment. Jim is now completely on his own and the place where he used to be safe is now being portrayed as a hostile place to be. The writer uses the image of the house as the reader can relate to Jim’s emotions here: nobody wants to feel rejected. This is a major turning point for Jim as he is beginning to lose touch with reality as he immerses himself in a fantasy world to cope.
Conveying the true brutality of war, Ballard reveals how profoundly damaged and emotionally disturbed Jim becomes. He “scarcely recognised his long hair and grey cheeks, the strange face in a strange mirror;” he is no longer the young little boy he used to be. Now war has completely taken over Jim’s life: he has forgotten his past; forgotten who he is and completely lost everything he once had just to survive. His loss of lifestyle and loss of family leads him to losing parts of himself. The reader feels great remorse when he doesn’t recognise himself as it’s disturbing to think how much war has an impact on everything. The repetition of “strange” is to make the reader understand how un-familiar his own life has become to him and to make us realise how lost he is in the world. It also demonstrates the radical change he has undergone due to the brutality of war. He has been irrevocably altered both mentally and physically. Poignantly, nothing feels real to him anymore as he is no longer attached with reality and it is almost as if he viewing what is happening around him in “a strange mirror”. Thus, reality has now become distorted and he is detached from the truth which is a protective measure to view the continuous and never-ending pain and suffering as if it is to someone else. In addition to this the reader also gets the sense that Jim sees himself as decaying which further emphasises him isolating himself from the living.
Ballard also illustrates how Jim has aged through the lexical choice of “grey cheeks” as the reader associates “grey” with old age. The writer does this to convey that Jim’s burgeoning and enforced mental and emotional maturity has affected his physical appearance resulting in him losing even more of himself as he becomes increasingly fragmented, emphasising the effect of all the conflict and fighting he has endured. Ballard skilfully evokes Jim’s emotional state as his detachment from reality worsens and he truly believes he has died:
“Jim’s soul had already left his body and no longer needed his thin bones and open sores in order to endure. He was dead…….Everyone in Lunghua was dead.”
Cleverly, this metaphor of Jim being “dead” evocatively reveals how isolated from reality Jim is becoming. It indicates to the reader that he is emotionally dead and Ballard does this to demonstrate Jim’s lowest point during the war. The cruel brutality of the conflict has led him to wanting to be with the dead. Jim truly believes there is no point to life anymore and subsequently, he has given up all hope on living and on reality. He feels so isolated from the living that as well as saying “he is dead,” we can understand how liberating this belief is to him as he finally feels free from the world of torment he is forced to exist in. Thus, to survive the conflict of war Jim has had to leave his old self behind, his childhood, his immaturity and his naivety. This is clearly portrayed through “his soul has already left his body,” depicting vividly how vulnerable he is as well as his detachment from his own life. Nevertheless, Jim takes himself out of the situation as a coping mechanism, in order to survive. By detaching himself he doesn’t have to worry about anyone else, not even his own being. This truly shows the extent to which the war has impacted his life.
When the war is over and Jim is reunited with his parents he no longer feels as if he should be dead. He managed to survive the war, but in doing so Ballard reflects on the isolation and trauma Jim went through in order to stay alive. Even though all the conflict has resolved and he found his parents, there is still an element of detachment which Ballard emotively describes to make the reader understand that the war will never be forgotten and even though it’s over, the survivors will live with it forever. In comparing coffins in the Yangtze being swept back and forth in the tide to the memories of war, the writer conveys to the reader how pain cannot simply be washed away; it too ebbs and flows like the tide. In a sense, Ballard believes that Jim will be isolated, emotionally, to some extent for the rest of his life as “only part of his mind would leave Shanghai. The rest would remain there forever.”
As a result of the extensive use of imagery throughout the novel Ballard ultimately creates a dramatic account of the devastating effects of war, and how it drives people apart, isolating them sadly from themselves and those they love forever.
Clear and focussed on the question. You have explained the key themes of the brutality of war and the isolation/pain it creates for the protagonist. 17/25