In Matilda’s Voice: Narrative and Character in Mister Pip
‘The art of the storyteller is to hold the attention of the reader.’
One of the ways in which author Lloyd Jones holds our attention in the novel Mister Pip is through the use of Matilda’s innocent narrative voice. Matilda’s traumatising experiences in the beauty of her remote village on the island of Bougainville, shape her character and decisions as she grows. Her telling of her story captures and holds the attention of the reader throughout the novel. Matilda is a narrator who is inside the text. She is a character in the novel and speaks to the reader directly. Matilda’s honesty displayed throughout her narration creates trust and reliability in her character, drawing further attention to her plight. Despite Matilda’s naivety we believe her assessment of the situations around her. Matilda’s tone emphasises the effect of war on both herself and her community which maintains the attention of the reader.
Matilda is a young girl who narrates her experiences which speak and connect directly with the reader. The first person narrative is the sincere voice of Matilda, who is an eyewitness to horrific events. Events that she witnesses are captured in the simplicity of her sentences and descriptions. This use of syntax is influenced by Matilda’s age of thirteen years. In her description of Pop Eye, she uses short, simple sentences to accurately capture what she sees. “Some days he wore a clown’s nose. His nose was already big.” (p. 1) “His large eyes in his large head stuck out further than anyone else’s… “ (p. 1). Matilda’s character is central to the text and therefore every detail that she is witnessing, we witness also. This sense of being with Matilda constantly maintains the attention of the reader. Lloyd Jones employs this technique of writing from Matilda’s direct view point to captivate us.
When Matilda speaks of the blockade caused by the war, her child like sentences express her optimism. “We had fish. We had our chickens. We had our fruits. We had what we always had…. We had our pride” (p. 8). Her emotions are what connects the reader and hold our attention. This simple style of short sentences also creates tension in the novel. When the soldiers enter the village by helicopter, short sentences are used to show that there is fear throughout the village. “No one spoke. We waited and waited. We sat still. Our faces dripped sweat.” (p.34). When Matilda stares at the dead dog, her style becomes more in depth and reflective. “To stare at that black dog was to see your sister or brother or mum and dad in that same state.” This change of direction in Matilda’s narrative voice keeps the audience engaged with the novel and encourages them to read on to see what happens next.
Lloyd Jones uses the element of syntax to gain empathy from the reader and prove that Matilda is a reliable narrator. Thus, making Matilda an honest storyteller. From this early point in the novel, we trust in her descriptions of other characters and assessment of the situations around her. Despite Matilda’s youth, she can see the damage done to the island by the mines and the subsequent war which are expressed through Matilda’s thoughts in the novel. “We knew about the river pollution, and the terrible effect of the copper tailings after heavy rain. “ (p.43) “The redskins’ visit affected us in different ways. Some of us were seen hiding food in the jungle. Others made escape plans.” (p.41).
The author intends Matilda’s innocent tone of voice to emphasise the effect of war has on her and the community of Bougainville. Throughout the novel, readers witness Matilda’s experience and her effort to make sense of what is happening around her. Matilda appears emotionless when she witnesses the body of Mr Watts being “chopped up” and fed to the pigs. “They chopped Mr Watts up and threw him in pieces to the pigs.” (p. 174). Matilda also appears this way when her mother is murdered, flat, blunt and emotionless. She uses the same description as she does with Mr Watts. “…there they chopped her up and threw her to the pigs.” (p. 180) Matilda’s emotionless tone is representing the effect of the war on her. This expresses to the reader the horrors that Matilda is facing and the fact that she has to disassociate herself from her thoughts. Matilda appears as though she has no feelings in regards to her situation, when in reality, she is unable to comprehend and process the violence taking place before her “I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories like these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on.” (p. 180).
Matilda’s narrates her experiences in the novel draws and retains the attention of the readers. Her sincerity and honest nature gains the trust of the reader and builds and the relationship between the book and us. Lloyd Jones uses Matilda’s tone to emphasise the effects of the war on Matilda. She is driven to cut out all of her emotions as a result of not knowing how to deal with the memories that she possesses.
Jones, Lloyd. Mister Pip. New York: Dial Press, 2007. Print.
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