Creating Connections.

by martazem

It is unfortunately commonplace to speak of classic novels with a kind of removed admiration, as we relinquish their significance to leather bindings and desert them somewhere high on our bookcases as nothing more than symbols of the ideals of another era. Yet in a rare and refreshing protest, Lloyd Jones proves to readers that the seemingly outdated messages of bygone authors such as Charles Dickens still hold the power to arouse, cultivate and destroy ideas and relationships between individuals and communities.

Jones introduces readers to Bougainville, where the locals divide the terror infused into their community between redskin soldiers, “leached up out of the red earth” and the uncompromising rebels whom the merciless redskins “were going to choke…into submission.” It is this remote village on the island of Papua New Guinea which Jones chooses as the setting for his revival of Great Expectations. He is aided in this endeavour by Mr. Watts, a white man who “was invisible for most of the time,” and whose “tribe had forgotten him.” Yet his presence becomes stronger after the last of the teachers and white “company men” leave the conflicted community, and Mr. Watts quite literally assumes the role of schoolteacher. Despite his lack of experience, Mr. Watts uses Great Expectations as the sole instrument with which to create “a new sound in the world” of his mesmerized students, especially Matilda. The young girl quickly connects to the character of Pip, and though she can “only follow him through some strange country that contained marshes and pork pies and people who spoke long and confusing sentences,” she begins to draw parallels between their two distant worlds. As Matilda gets to know the character, chapter by chapter, the thought that “things could change because they had for Pip” becomes increasingly appealing.

Unlike in Pip’s world however, the changes in Matilda’s life do not result in a “metropolis” of exciting new opportunities brought about by anonymous strangers. Jones’ superior ability to craft intricate relationships between characters propels the conflict to heights so extreme, that their world steadily loses “any sense of order.” Matilda’s mother, Dolores, holds Mr. Watts “personally responsible” for “this white boy Pip and his place in [Matilda’s] life.” Having “grown up believing white to be the color of all the important things, like ice cream and aspirin,” the community is also puzzled about Mr. Watts’ wife, Grace. Why would anyone pass on such opportunities as she was presented in the “white world?”

Jones’ mastery of allusion invites even the most unfamiliar of readers to create long- lasting relationships with both his work, and that of Mr. Dickens. The manner in which the novel parallels ideas and situations from post-colonial Bougainville with the established connotations of a classic narrative, gives readers the extreme privilege of observing the growing attraction of a young, secluded reader to a world where she is “instructed to dream freely.” Jones cultivates themes of escape and hope which circulate through his narrative, and prove the connectedness and interdependence not only of literary texts, but also individuals divided by skin color, ideals and even literary timelines.

 

 

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