The Chinese Statue by Jeffrey Archer
In The Chinese Statue by Jeffrey Archer we have the theme of tradition, selfishness, pride, greed, sacrifice and appearance. Taken from his A Quiver Full of Arrows collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Archer may be exploring the theme of tradition. Sir Heathcote on purchasing the stature and its base makes a point of ensuring that on his passing the statute and base should go directly to his first born male and subsequently their first born male. This is a tradition that is carried on till Alex receives the statue and for him it holds no value apart from the value he can get from selling it to pay off some of his gambling debts. It is also interesting that some critics might suggest that Alex is the least deserving of the Heathcotes to inherit the statue. He is a selfish young man who likes to live a life filled with gambling. Of all the Heathcote’s he makes no contribution to society and only thinks of himself. There is also no doubting that Sir Heathcote takes great pride in the statue as do those who come after him with the exception of Alex. It is though all four generations of men before Alex know of the beauty of the statue and are not necessarily concerned with the price that the statue might reach should it be auctioned.
It is also possible that Archer is exploring the theme of greed. Alex throughout the story is primarily focused on making money in a manner that he sees as being the easiest (gambling). There is nothing stopping Alex from getting a job to repay his gambling debts. Instead he takes the easy way out and the only heirloom that his family has is to be sacrificed. Which may further suggest to the reader that Alex is acting selfishly. There is also no stability is Alex’s life. Archer never mentions a wife or children and it is possible that Alex feels as though he is responsible to nobody but himself. When the reality is very different. The family honour is not at stake as Alex suggests. Instead his greed has over powered him in his belief that he can make some easy money. Something that he fails to do throughout the story till the base of the statue is sold. Although the reader is left wondering as to what Alex is to do with his new found wealth. With gambling being the obvious choice.
The elderly Chinese man who gave the statue and base to Sir Alexander should not be considers to be complicit in what has happened. Out of goodwill he has given Sir Alexander the statue and base. His main purpose was not for financial gain though the interpreter does advise Sir Alexander that he must repay the Chinese man in some way within a year. Something that Sir Alexander does do by way of building the Chinese man a new house. If anyone was fooled in the story it is both the Chinese man and Sir Alexander. The fact that the base is worth more than the statue itself may be important as most people when they look at a statue do not look at the base the statue sits on. It is possible that Archer is suggesting that appearances can be deceiving. The base itself may look like any other base however it was made in the fifteenth century. Making it nearly invaluable. Much to the delight of Alex who has shown no real interest in the statue (or the base).
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader gets an insight into just how desperate Alex is. He knows that he may get only seven hundred or eight hundred pounds for the statue but he still nonetheless is prepared to take the money. He and the narrator are in total shock when the base of the statue raises thirty-two thousand guineas. More than enough for Alex to start life afresh. Though as mentioned the reader does not feel as though this will be Alex’s intentions. He is to return to the casinos and play roulette believing that he has the ability to beat the house. Even though he has never managed to do so. What was important to the three generations before Alex is of no importance to Alex. He is driven by money and not beauty. However the statue (and base) has served one purpose other than being admired for its beauty. The sale of both has managed to clear Alex’s debts but so much more may be lost. The tradition within the family of passing the statue to the first male will be no longer. A tradition started by Sir Alexander has been lost.