“Mister Pip” Discussion Blog

by meaganjbrown

Mister Pip Discussion Blog

By Meagan Brown

In Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, several characters struggle to reconcile their cultural identity in a village in post colonial Bougainville. This island was infiltrated by white miners who scraped the land of resources and introduces the islands inhabitants to the luxuries of the “white” world. They left almost as fast as they came, leaving behind polluted land and conflicted peoples.

Matilda is a teenage girl who was originally educated by the colonizers and introduced to the wonders of lands beyond the shore of her isolated island. She is caught between two colliding cultures as she tries to please her traditional mother, while embracing the hope and prosperity her instructor, Mr. Watts, gives her. Her mother, Dolores, is strongly tied to her faith and cultural roots. She opposes Mr. Watts’ teaching of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but her resentment towards “white culture” is far deeper than that. On the other hand, Mr. Watts is not a man of faith, and is the only white man left in their village. He is accepting of their faith and traditional practices, as he invites the mature generations of the village into his classroom to present traditional wisdom.

Dolores’s husband left Bougainville, for a promising life in Australia. She is determined to protect Matilda from being brainwashed by the “white culture”. She lashes out against the teachings of Great Expectations and goes as far and stealing the novel. She refutes the fact that Mr. Watts teaches the children “how to reimagine the world, and to see the possibility of change, to welcome it into” their lives (245). The novel brings hope and inspires imagination, yet is the cause of such great devastation in their village. Dolores carries on challenging the teaching of Mr. Watts, and never admits to having hidden the one thing that could have prevented the villagers belongings and homes from being destroyed. It isn’t until Mr. Watts’ brutal death that Dolores admits “he was a good man. I am here as God`s witness” (205).


Questions to Consider:

1.      To what extend does the conflict over Great Expectations deepen Dolores’s “white” resentment? Or, is it merely a symbol of her established attitude towards “white” culture?

2.      Do you think Matilda`s choice to follow her mother’s lead in not to bring forth the book to the soldiers is justified?

3.      In the end, Dolores stood up for Mr. Watts, when she could have kept quiet like she did when the soldiers asked for Great Expectations. Why, after his death, does Dolores stand up for Mr. Watts despite all their disagreements? Does this surprise you?




6 Comments to ““Mister Pip” Discussion Blog”

  1. 1. To what extend does the conflict over Great Expectations deepen Dolores’s “white” resentment? Or, is it merely a symbol of her established attitude towards “white” culture?

    I think that the conflict over Great Expectations is a symbol about her attitude towards “white” culture. She is extremely against it, she feels it is what made her husband leave and become an alcoholic. So i think she is just trying to shelter Matilda as much as possible and Dolores is also very scared of “White” Culture, and uneducated. This move of stealing the book was not the best way to shelter her daughter but it was all she knew.

    2. Do you think Matilda`s choice to follow her mother’s lead in not to bring forth the book to the soldiers is justified?

    Yes, i think she should of confronted her mother on it. But her mother is the only family she has and it would of been selling her out. I think Matilda did not think the men would come back and burn down her village. So not bringing forth justified, but she should of brought it up with her Mother.

  2. In response to question 2, I believe at the time Matilda’s decision not to bring forth the book was very justified. Who could have know the ramifications of not producing it. We as readers are able to analyze her actions with the knowledge of all that has gone on and from all points of view. Had she produced the book, it would have meant extreme embarrassment for her mother at the time. With the advantage of hindsight, we can acknowledge now that a different choice on her part would probably have been best in the long run.

  3. 1) I think that Dolores’ resentment of Great Expectations is deeper than white vs. black. It symbolizes life and ideas outside of Bougainville; leaving custom and tradition behind. It asks the reader to dream bigger than their village. Dolores’ fears of what will happen if one should leave tradition are personified in Matilda’s father.

    2) Things to consider while judging Matilda’s actions are honour and loyalty. Dolores didn’t produce out of pride and self-respect (she was stubborn). Had she swallowed her pride and produced the book she would have been disgraced. Matilda didn’t produce the book for very different reasons. If she had, she’d disgrace her mother and disrespect her. Also, this would have proved her point of the book’s bad influence (Ie. P.27 when Pip steals food for the convict, and Dolores asks Matilda if she would steal from her)
    3) Dolores standing up for Mr. Watt’s is keeping with her nature of honour and morality. It does not surprise me, especially because his death could have been prevented by the presentation of the book.

  4. Dolores attitude towards the teaching of Mr. Watts and his only textbook, Great Expectations, is not only because they represent the “white culture” but also because Dickens’s novel is the gate to a new kind of thinking that Matilda had not been exposed to and Dolores did not understand. I believe Dolores’ reaction to this situation was quite natural: she was afraid to what could happen next. She saw white culture transforming her husband. She worried about the absence of God in Great Expectations and Mr. Watts. Dolores did not know what literature is or what it can gives you. Being a woman, a mother, and a religious person, Dolores did what she thought it was best for her daughter maybe forgetting that small bad actions too can bring the devil that she believed in.

  5. I don’t think that Dolores stealing the book in the first place is justified despite her anger towards the influence that “white” culture has on her daughter. She claims to be a Christian but this attitude reflects the opposite: she was not honest and risked the life of her community by her selfishness that put her personal interest first. This reflects how the mother herself is caught between colliding identities. However, I think it is justified that Matilda didn’t turn in the book because she didn’t want to betray her mother, her only relative in the island. But at the end this justification didn’t really matter since all the people she cared about were killed anyways.

    The fact that Dolores stood up for Mr. Watts kind of surprised me. If she wasn’t honest all along, then why now? Perhaps at this point she felt like being the good Christian she claimed to be and take responsibility for her actions.

  6. In regards to Question 1, I think that the conflict over Great Expectations is a very convenient scenario which comes together for Dolores in terms of her “white” resentment. This situation is not limited to a book and Dolores’ frustration about not being able to control something beyond her understanding (or at least willingness to understand). It also gives Matilda’s mother a tangible scapegoat on which to take out her frustrations. Not only is Mr. Watts white, he is also the man who (according to Dolores) robbed Grace of all her potential and the chance she had to bring some of the “white world” back to benefit Bougainville. She sees Mr. Watts’ current endeavour involving Great Expectations as yet another affirmation of how “white” culture has touched on and interrupted so many aspects of her life. For Dolores, the resentment is both public and personal.
    Matilda’s choice not to bring forward the book is justified, but I think that it goes deeper than just a loyal daughter protecting her mother. To Dolores, the book itself is an evil object. She doesn’t understand it, and rationalizes that this tangible thing is responsible for causing all the interruption and loss of power in her life (mainly, her hold on Matilda.) Dolores hides the book because she figures that if it can’t be seen or touched, its permeating presence will be stopped. For Matilda however, the main concern is not over the material object which is the book, but rather the ideas and possibilities which are contained in it. She knows that with or without the book itself, she is still able to locate and map her escape into another world. Mr. Watt’s exercise of recalling fragments and writing them down is probably even more influential to the kids (without an actual novel to read from) than his previous reading from the book’s pages. I think that Matilda’s decision not to bring forward the book is a confirmation of the story’s impact on her. She is confident and almost surprisingly calm throughout the scene…there is no panic mentioned about the book being burnt or lost or destroyed. She knows she can get by without it and still not lose its gift to her. This is not to say that she knowingly and willingly lets the houses be burnt down, but rather that her precious relationship with the book and with Pip overrides her concern about reality within that moment.

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