King Rat

King Rat
Written by: James Clavell
Type of Text: Novel
Date of Publication: 1962
Source: Book collection

The novel opens in early 1945, in Changi Prison, a Japanese POW camp from WWII. The camp was known for its especially terrible conditions and poor regard for the basic necessities of life. Peter Marlowe, a young British Flight Lieutenant who is based on Clavell’s younger self, during his time in that exact prison, has been a POW since 1942. Marlowe comes to the attention of the "King", an American corporal who has become the most successful trader and black marketer in Changi, when the King sees him conversing in the native language, which he needs to succeed in a deal. Marlowe's language skill, intelligence, honesty, and winning personality cause the King to befriend him and attempt to involve him in black market deals.
This novel is a great example of the concept of belonging. It details how people can be brought together, can belong when thrown together by adversity, despite strong cultural and class differences. “Between them there was the deeper hate, the inbred hate of class. Peter Marlowe knew Grey despised him for his birth and accent, what Grey wanted beyond all things and could never have.” It also shows how a man can not belong in these extreme conditions, and still survive, as well as the hate of one man can bring a group together.
A technique that Clavell uses to emphasise the concept of belonging and not belonging is that of extreme contrast, especially in regards to the comparison between the King and the rest of the camp. “The whole of Changi hated the King. They hated him for his muscular body, the clear glow in his blue eyes. In this twilight world of the half alive there were no fat or well-built or round or smooth or fair-built or thick-built men. There were only faces dominated by eyes and set on bodies that were skin over sinews over bones. No difference between them but age and face and height. In all this world, only the King...