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James Sunderland: A 'Silent Hill' Character Analysis

Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.

"A dead person can't write a letter. Mary died of that damn disease three years ago, so then why am I looking for her?"

"A dead person can't write a letter. Mary died of that damn disease three years ago, so then why am I looking for her?"

Origin Story

Prior to the events of Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland was a grocery store clerk for a small company. Most importantly, he also had a wife named Mary, whom he had met at a house party held by a mutual friend. The two quickly fell madly in love and their relationship started out with a blazing passion and, over time, became peaceful and stable.

A Vacation to Silent Hill

Sometime before Silent Hill 2, James and Mary took a vacation in Silent Hill after reading a brochure about the city. They stayed at the Lakeview Hotel, where James also recorded a videotape. On the videotape, Mary states that the city used to be a "sacred place" and that she loved the town and that she would love to return to Silent Hill one day. She asks James to promise her to take her back, but the videotape ends before James can reply. James proceeds to then forget about the tape, leaving it in the hotel, as the couple then returns home.

Three years before the events of Silent Hill 2, Mary is diagnosed with an unknown, terminal disease and she eventually deteriorated both physically and mentally, constantly having violent mood swings. Doctors claimed she would have less than three years left to live and that there was no treatment for her condition. James, stricken with anger and disbelief, spends much of his time searching through medical books trying to find an answer for himself but fails. More time passes and James has begun visiting Mary less and less, mainly due to her being emotionally volatile.

At this point, James is feeling lonely and generally sad. He begins drinking to help cope. He has also become sexually frustrated, but felt prevented from pursuing his urges due to his marriage to the now dying Mary; we see that sexual frustration later expressed by the character Maria, as well as a number of monsters. Mary was now a burden on James and he began to resent her, yet, at the same time, he felt devastated as he watched his wife slowly die before him. He was in a constant sense of mourning.

Spoiler: Mary and James

James eventually snapped, walking to Mary's bed, kissing her on the forehead, and suffocating her with a pillow.

Sometime after all of this, it has been confirmed that James transports her body to his car and drives to Silent Hill, at which point he is stricken with amnesia and has found himself trying to track down the source of a letter from his deceased wife, summoning him to their "special place" Silent Hill.

"You've given me so much and I haven't been able to return a single thing. That's why I want you to live for yourself now. Do what's best for you, James. James... You made me happy."

"You've given me so much and I haven't been able to return a single thing. That's why I want you to live for yourself now. Do what's best for you, James. James... You made me happy."

James' Personality

James has two sides to his personality.

With the first, we have his surface personality, the side of James that the world sees. Maria describes James as kind, while Mary describes him as surly, but at the same time, he is sweet underneath his enigmatic appearance. In my analysis, I would say he is polite and mild-tempered, but also a bit crazy. He tries to comfort Angela Orosco when she is in emotional distress and when he first encounters Eddie Dombrowski, he seems genuinely concerned for Eddie's well being. Most notably, James expresses concern for Laura as he tries to follow her through Silent Hill and protect her from the creatures.

He seems to be a kind-hearted man just looking for his wife.

James Snaps

James Snaps

James' Shattered Psyche

Now James's darker side is more internal and abundant. To the rest of the world, as I mentioned earlier, he is mild-tempered and polite. However, he struggles with grief and guilt from his relationship with his wife and her death. He is also either in denial or truly afflicted with amnesia as he attributes his wife's death to her disease. Something I would also like to point out is his cowardice, often times running away from his feelings and blame. This really shows when he is confronted about either the truth or something uncomfortable, James avoids eye contact with the person speaking. James is also socially awkward, often times failing to console those in distress, more notably Eddie or Angela.

James is also suicidal, but he tries his best to deny these feelings. We see this when he jumps into deep, dark holes that appear bottomless without any second thought. With the In Water ending, James succeeds in doing so by driving his car into Lake Toluca, ending his life.

James's mental state is also not up-to-par. Throughout the game, he does a number of questionable things like, famously, dipping his hand into a dirty toilet to retrieve something without washing his hand. He also shows his damaged mental state when speaking with Angela a second time, she reminds him "aren't you looking for someone?" to which James replies, "Oh right."

His determination to uncover his wife's fate mixed with his suicidal tendencies explains why he is so reckless.

James Sunderland is a damaged man seeking the truth and punishment for his crime. He battles with his despair as much as he battles with the twisted symbols of his guilt.


Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on November 11, 2018:

I loved this game when I was a kid. I’d watch my uncle play it for hours on end and managed to finish it myself when I was a teen, though since it was so terrifying I’d often have to pause it since it freaked me out so much.

It’s an awesome game, with so many hidden meanings that manifest into the most disturbing and grotesque way. Konami was so twisted back in the day, which makes for a truly memorable experience. James seems a bit ditzy sometimes but otherwise, as you said, he just seems like a calm, well-mannered, and seemingly normal bloke looking for his wife. The truth you dig up throughout the game is chilling. It’s not a video game people can easily forget, and it’s still to date one of the most terrifying I’ve ever played.