Suggested Answers to Discussion Questions for
Learning Guide to JAMES' JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
1. [Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film]. [No suggested Answers.]
2. How does the position of the workers in the dormitory differ, if at all, from slavery? How is it like slavery? Suggested Response: It's much too close to slavery for comfort but it isn't full slavery. Shimi's "business model" differs from slavery because the workers are not bound for life, they receive wages for their work, and they can send money home. In addition, their activities during off hours are not regulated by the boss and they can save their wages. It is like slavery in that their continued employment is compelled until they leave Israel and they can't work for anyone else while they are in Israel. What is really going on here is that Shimi is taking advantage of them by paying them too little and preventing them from working for anyone else.
3. Change the circumstances somewhat. At church, James meets a girl and falls in love. She was born in Israel to parents of African descent. Her whole life has been spent in Israel and she doesn't want to leave. James decides to stay with her in Israel. He saves up enough money to repay his village for the plane ticket and writes them a letter saying that he won't be coming back. He expands his cleaning business, pays off Shimi, gets married and stays in Israel. If this had happened in the U.S., what would it have been called? Suggested Response: The American Dream. We have also heard it called the Israeli Dream (by the writer/director of this movie) and we believe that it was the dream for any country of immigrants: Canada, Australia, Argentina etc.
4. James says "When I tell my village about this place, they'll be angry with me." What is he referring to?
Suggested Response: People have a tendency to be angry with those who challenge their myths and also to those who bring bad tidings. The latter reaction is called "shoot the messenger."
5. This story can be seen as the tale of the quest of a hero. How is it like and unlike other hero myths that you know about? (Examples are Odysseus, Jason, Hercules, and Luke Skywalker.) Suggested Response: See Helpful Background Section: THE MYTH OF THE HERO AND JAMES' JOURNEY.
6. James completes his journey, though not his pilgrimage. Please explain this. Suggested Response: James' real journey was his internal journey which led him to reject materialism and the exploitation of others. His pilgrimage was to the city of Jerusalem.
7. Describe some of the ill effects of the materialism and under-regulated capitalism shown in the society portrayed in this movie. Then decide whether this also applies to the society in which you live. Explain your reasoning. Suggested Response: In the society shown in the movie, the desire to avoid being a "frayer" and to acquire money and material possessions interferes with people's relationships with each other and what will really make them happy in life. There is no one correct response to the second part of the question.
8. Before James throws away the money at the party, he has begun to resemble one of the other characters in the film. Who is it? Explain why. Suggested Response: James has begun to resemble Shimi: greedy, using others for his own benefit, and distrustful. All of James' usual happiness and magnetism are gone.
9. Who is the person who is most alone in this film? Suggested Response: It is Salah, who is alienated from his son by his own teachings. He repeatedly told Shimi not to be a "frayer." His wife has died and he cheats his friends, preferring money to their friendship. He fears that if agrees to sell the land, he will never see his son again. He does establish a friendship with James, but also uses James relentlessly.
10. Where did Shimi learn that at all costs he should avoid being a "frayer"? Suggested Response: His father, Salah, repeated it to him constantly.
11. The film is not completely clear about how Shimi conducts his business, except that he pays low wages, keeps the passports of his workers, makes them repay their bail money (probably charging an exorbitant rate of interest), and that workers are trapped in his system, sometimes for years. It does appear that the wages that he pays are a lot of money when compared with what the workers could earn at home. Assuming that Shimi could negotiate the legalities of getting permission from the government for the illegal immigrants to work in Israel, how could Shimi have conducted his business ethically? Suggested Response: He would have to pay a fair wage, based on a combination of what he received and what was a prevailing wage at the time. While the workers' wages would have increased dramatically, there would still have been plenty of room for profit. After the workers had repaid the bail money with interest, they would have been able to work for anyone. He would not have taken their wages when they ran afoul of his policies (e.g., what he did to Feda). If they were interested in bettering themselves, he would have helped them get schooling, learn a trade etc.
12. What is the strongest interpersonal relationship shown in this film and who puts it down, saying that one person is another person's "frayer"? Suggested Response: The one relationship that is not shown to be undermined by the materialism of the characters is Shimi's marriage. But his father derides it and says that Shimi is his wife's "frayer". The fact that this is the only relationship not shown to be destroyed by materialism and that it is derided as not measuring up to the materialist ethic of getting more from a relationship than you give, shows how poor human relationships are in this society. It is especially ironic in that Salah venerated his dead wife, Miriam.
13. What did it mean when Shimi said that James had become part of the family? Suggested Response: Shimi was beginning to trust James as he had not trusted anyone shown in the film (except his wife). James betrayed this trust by becoming more like Shimi.
14. James goes to the party, expecting to be able to talk to people and have a good time. What happens and why? Suggested Response: He is isolated and alone because the Israelis at the party (except for Shimi and his wife) do not welcome him. To make it clear what his place is, Shimi's wife asks him to run an errand. The white people at the party act from a combination of racism and class bias.
15. Describe the character of Shimi in the film and explain the complexity of this character. Suggested Response: Shimi is definitely the bad guy, a man who exploits illegal immigrants and focuses his life on materialism and not being a "frayer." But he is not a cardboard villain. The pay that he gives his workers, while small by Israeli standards, is "a fortune" back in their own countries. It allows them to do what they came to Israel to do, i.e., work for more money than they could earn at home. While Shimi sometimes cheats his workers by not paying them what he owes them (e.g., what he did to Feda), he gives bonuses for good work. When James proves himself a hard worker, Shimi gives him an extra day off so that James can go to Jerusalem. Shimi loves his wife. While he wants his father to sell the family home, he negotiates a provision in the contract giving Salah an apartment in the new building for life. Shimi begins to trust James and invites him to the party (to keep the old man company). He is disappointed when he learns that James has been making money on the side by undercutting Shimi's prices.
16. Describe the character of Salah in the film and explain the complexity of this character. Suggested Response: Salah is the prophet of materialism, schooling his son and James not to be "frayers." He uses James' uncanny knack with dice to cheat his friends. Yet he misses his wife and is desperately afraid that Shimi will no longer come to see him if he sells the family homestead. He is the catalyst for helping James realize that James has abandoned his journey.
1. Who does James form a real friendship with? Suggested Response: Salah (the father) and Skombozi, although he loses his friendship with Skombozi when he becomes a boss.
2. Why is real friendship so difficult in a society which is so cutthroat and materialistic as the society shown in this film? Give an example. Suggested Response: Everyone is trying to out scheme everyone else. Money and material possessions are more important than personal relationships. The best examples are Salah and Shimi. Salah sacrifices his friendships to cheat at backgammon. Shimi exploits his workers and forces his father out of his home.
3. Was Shimi right in putting pressure on his father to sell the land for the million dollars which would buy economic security for Shimi? Suggested Response: This is an age-old conflict when parents grow elderly and control assets that they do not use to the greatest advantage. The children, due to inherit the assets when the parents pass on, think that they need the money immediately and resent having to wait. In this movie the situation is brought to a crisis point when a developer makes an offer to buy the land at a very good price. Shimi's resolution is to sell the land but he has a provision written into the contract that his father will get an apartment in the new building close to his old neighborhood and his friends. This is not entirely unreasonable. It takes advantage of the chance to make big money on the land and keeps the father in his new neighborhood. However, the father will have to leave the old home that he had lived in with his beloved wife. Moreover, his hold on his son, the son's desire for him to sell the land, will be lost. (Salah says that if he sells the land, "I'll never see my son again.").
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)
1. Did James always honor this Pillar of Character in his dealings with Shimi?Suggested Response: No. He lied for his friend Skombozi. James was also untrustworthy in undercutting Shimi's prices and taking his customers. However, this obligation was lessened by the fact that Shimi was grossly underpaying him and would not allow him to work for anyone else.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
2. This movie deals with racism. Give two examples. Suggested Response: Here are three examples: (1) When the African workers in the dormitory call Feda, the Roumanian in charge of the dorm an "ape";(2) the reaction of the guests at Shimi's party to James; and (3) the frequent reference to blacks as "blackie".
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
3. What were the reasons that Shimi liked James so much? Suggested Response: First, James had a gift for getting along with people. Second, James was reliable. Third, James was a hard worker.
4. Which character in the movie betrays James' trust? (Hint: It wasn't Shimi. He never asked James to trust him.)Suggested Response: The minister, a man who should have been acting in James' best interests, used James to get better uniforms for the choir and jobs for his parishioners. His actions hindered James' pilgrimage and are another element showing how thoroughly materialism had penetrated into the heart of the society shown in the film. It could also be said that Skombozi betrayed James' trust by crashing the party and making a scene.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)
5. Did Shimi act fairly toward his workers? Suggested Response: No. He was taking advantage of them and compelling them to work for him because he had their passports. They could not work anywhere else in Israel. Their only alternative was to return home. However, the money that the immigrants were making from Shimi was much more than they would be paid in their own country. But then again, it wasn't nearly as much as they were worth in Israel, and his mark-up on their labor was too high. In a capitalist system it is not unfair to mark up an employee's wages but the mark-up should be reasonable.
6. When James started his own business, did he act fairly toward his workers? Suggested Response: It depended upon how much he was paying them. If he was paying them a reasonable rate compared to what he was paid for their work, he would have been. Apparently, he marked them up as much as Shimi did.
Last updated December 22, 2007.
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