Context and Compassion in Mister Pip
The conflict between Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army between 1988 and 1998 has been described as the largest conflict in Oceania since the end of World War II. The novel Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones examines the impacts of war on the island of Bougainville in the early 1990’s. Through the eyes of an innocent teenager, Matilda, Jones explores the subject of war and provides personal connections to both the destructive and heroic acts in the conflict. Through the use of language features such as juxtaposition, first person narrative and symbolism, Jones portrays the important idea that though war brings destruction and devastation, it also proves selfless acts of humanity during dire and desperate times.
Jones uses juxtaposition throughout the text to emphasize that war divides society. For example, when Matilda describes a white man in contrast to herself, she uses the words “and white as the whites of your eyes only sicker”. The word “sicker” emphasizes Matilda’s perspective on the white population as ill and diseased and paints a distinct picture that Matilda views the white population to be dissimilar to herself and the native population. She sees herself and the native population as ‘normal’ whereas she is particularly wary of the white population and does now know what to expect from them. Matilda’s description of the white population in comparison to herself highlights the division of society caused by the war at the time. Matilda is particularly wary of the white-based redskins who invade later and continue to convince Matilda to depict the white population to be evil, unkind and cruel. Jones uses juxtaposition earlier in the chapter again through Matilda who says “For the younger kids the sight consisted only of a white man towing a black woman” but the older kids “sensed a bigger story”. The use of the word ‘only’ suggests that the younger children are innocent and have no depiction of the white population, whereas t older kids have undergone a loss of innocence and have been faced with negative interaction with the redskins throughout the war and as a result are cautious and wary of white people. This further highlights the corrupt society that was brought as a result of the war. However, even in such harsh and corrupt circumstances, the Bougainville civilians proved acts of selflessness and sacrifice of white Jones explores further as the novel progresses. The audience understands the important message that even in the most dire circumstances, humanity can prove capable of healing.
First-person narrative is used throughout the novel to describe acts taken by island civilians to benefit others in the desperate war torn town of Bougainville. Matilda’s first person narrative in the novel commentates and personalizes the effects of the war on Bougainville island and civilians. Through such an innocent and young eyes, the audience is given a grim image of the brutality at the time of the war and in turn, the acts of selflessness and sacrifice brought by humanity at such a desperate time. When the redskins interrogate the people of Matilda’s village on who Pip is, students are lost for words to describe that Pip is a fictional character of the novel being read to them. In a desperate attempt of an explanation, Daniel reveals that “Pip belongs to Mr Dickens.” Ass outrage and anger is raised between the redskins through the confusion and unclear answers, Mr Watts say that he is Mr Dickens. Through Matilda’s first person narrative, she describes “He had taken that identity to protect Daniel.” The audience understands that Mr Watts had taken the false identity to ensure the safety of Daniel. Mr Watts was willing to risk his own safety to save that of his student. As a result, Mr Watts is seen to be a kind and courageous character, proving an act of heroism in the face of his war-torn community. Later, a similar act of heroism is described through Matilda when she describes her thoughts on a situation she is faced with – “Would my rape have been such a high price to pay to save the life of my mum? I do not think so. I would have survived it.” Mathilda’s thoughts bring into focus the brutality of the war and the inner strength needed to survive such violent experiences. The audience understands that Delores, Matilda’s mother, had sacrificed her life in order to prevent the rape of her daughter. Not only does this highlight Delores as a courageous character but it proves to show an act of sacrifice and selflessness in a time of need. The audience further understands that even in desperate times. There are ways for humanity to make the best of a situation.
Symbolism is used throughout the novel to show Bougainville residents keeping spirits high in a demanding and brutal time during the war. For example, the 19th century novel by Charles Dickens “Great Expectations” is a symbol of escape for the village children – brought to them by Mr Watts. Through reading the novel during the war-torn reality, Mr Watts provided the children with the opportunity to reinvent themselves using their imagination. The novel acted as a guide to life as different students took to its main character Pip for reassurance, guidance and support. Through introducing the students to an alternate world to their own, the audience understands that Mr Watts is a kind and well-natures being, willing to help others even in the most grim on times. Earlier in the novel, Matilda describes Mr Watts to be wearing a clown’s nose when she says “Some days he wore a clown’s nose””. In the novel, the red clowns nose worn by Mr Watts symbolizes his desire to make sad people happier. The clowns nose represents the irony of the sadness of the clown, because clowns bring joy and laughter to people’s lives. The simple act of wearing the red clowns nose, of which brought joy to village children, further highlights Mr Watts to be selfless and kind, even in the harsh war-torn environment that he too is faced with. This further highlights the important idea that even in the most dire and desperate of times, humanity can show acts of kindness and selflessness to improve a situation.
In Mister Pip, the subjects of conflict and war are explored through a young girl’s eyes proclaims the impacts of war on the island of Bougainville in the early 1990’s. Lloyd Jones uses effective language features such as juxtaposition, first person narrative and symbolism to highlight the important idea that even in the most fire and desperate of circumstances, humans can make the best of a situation. In the middle of a war torn community, characters such as Mr Watts and Delores were willing to take risks in order to benefit the lives of overs. The novel Mister Pip reminds the audience to make something good of a bad situation. Even in the face of challenges, do not resort to unfair and unkind actions; rather, take the time and effort to look out for those around you who may be struggling and put them first.
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