Listen to Me

by deniseahking

What is it about tales from faraway, exotic lands that entice us so? Maybe it’s the thought of a different life, an escape from our own. Our mundane lives aren’t so bad, but we want to try something different. We want to get away, go somewhere, anywhere but here. Lloyd Jones flips the tables on us with Mr. Pip. Matilda is a young teenage girl living in 90’s Bougainville, an island now part of Papua New Guinea, trapped in the midst of civil war. She dreams of a faraway town called “London” in a story she hears. It’s a subtle piece of meta-fiction about a girl telling her story about the experience of a story told to her by Mr. Watts, the last white-man on the island and substitute teacher. The story Mr. Watts tells is something like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, in that it is that story but with some liberties taken with its interpretation as read to the children of the island. Great Expectations enraptures Matilda and as the events of Mister Pip unfold, the life lessons of Great Expectations and Mr. Watts weave together to blur the lines of reality and literature and teach not just the children, but the adult islanders that “our voice was special, and we should remember this whenever we used it, and remember that whatever else happened to us in our lives our voice could never be taken away from us” (256). If you have nothing else in this world, you still have your voice. In the quiet stillness of one’s mind, voice is all you need to make whatever of yourself and for yourself. A story and a character can become whatever you need it to be.
In a story, the writer’s voice can be heard in the story’s mood and tone. As a story is presented, it is unfolded and interpreted in the voice of its actors. And in the quiet stillness of a reader’s mind, the voice reading the written words has a curious interpretation of a story. Mr. Pip asks the reader to a read a story about a girl who writes her story on a story that impacted her life. It’s a story about storytelling. Will this story impact our lives the way it did her (fictional) life? Probably not, but it will do what it was intended for: give the importance of voice, in all its forms, its due respect.

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