Mister Pip

by billyev

Bill Everitt – Review #4 – Mister Pip

Aurelea Mahood – World Lit 213

 

Mister Pip is a novel by Lloyd Jones in which one question, among others, is raised: is imagination dangerous? Or is it ignorance which makes things like imagination dangerous? When the white settlers had flee the copper-rich island of Bougainville in the South Pacific because of war, the only person left capable of educating the children is an estranged white man who lives with his black wife.  Beset by miscommunications and confusion over the dividing line between fiction and reality “Pop Eye” against great odds teaches the children of this tropical island several lessons, all from a single copy of Great Expectations.

Stepping in to instruct the children in place of the teachers who had fled, Mr. Watts had with him only one text he would use as a guidebook: a ratty copy of Dickens’s Great Expectations.  Unlike the empirical knowledge related in texts  of math and language that the children were used to in Bougainville, Great Expectations opened a new world of learning to the children, that of imagination.  At first unsure of Mr. Watts and his teaching methods, the entire village is soon drawn into the vivid story that is Great Expectations. Amongst the villagers the character Pip became almost like a real person; an issue that develops into a much more literal issue by the end of the story.

Outside of this world that Mr. Watts introduces to the villagers, there is an all-too-real threat terrorizing the island: a group called the Redskins, who drive the villagers and their animals into the jungle to escape notice.  It is within this setting of terror and war that Mr. Watts constructs a vivid and meaningful imaginative world for his students, a world which proves to not be so easily shattered by machete and violence.

Lloyd Jones uses Matilda’s voice to narrate Mister Pip so he can demonstrate how the children use their time in the schoolhouse to escape from their day-to-day lives. Mister Pip has a clearly linear structure which makes it seem as though one is reading Matilda’s diary over the years. Her voice is very mature and unemotional throughout the entire narrative, elucidating her belief that embellishment is for real life, not literature. In contrast to Matilda and Mr. Watts’ characters, Jones presents readers with Matilda’s mother, who thinks an overactive imagination will only get you into trouble. A strong theme in the book is that “stories have a job to do… they have to teach you something” (pg 86), a theme that can be extended to literature in general. Matilda’s mother Dolores struggles with the teachings of Mr. Watts as she finds it adverse to her belief in the reality of Christianity. This is where ignorance and imagination mix to become something very dangerous indeed. History has already shown us that a rudimentary knowledge of religion and a distorted feeling of righteousness do not go hand in hand, and Dolores in her efforts to banish the little white boy Pip from Matilda’s life, goes to great lengths to remove Great Expectations from the ad hoc curriculum.

By creating scenes with thematic resonance, in which readers have to infer for themselves whether imagination or ignorance was the cause of the problem, Lloyd Jones accomplishes the feat of making the story timeless and placeless.   He makes the story of Mister Pip seem like it could occur anywhere in the world, and to anyone.  Telling the story from Matilda’s perspective allowed Jones to be much blunter in his descriptions of people and occurrences, thus giving his readers an objective image of people and places that stuck in their minds.

 Jones’s ability to depict setting and feeling through description of temperatures, hues and smells all build deeply involved scenes.  This literary skill makes readers feel a strong empathic connection to the humans within the story, an effective method of writing which allows people to relate to each character.  It is this connection to the characters which helps make Mister Pip such an enjoyable book to read and makes it meaningful to people across demographics and continents.

Overall Mister Pip is a novel which outlines the transition from colonialism to post-colonialism within a single country.  Lloyd Jones’ use of description, narrator and the construct of his characters give the story a feeling of reality and connection.  An easy book to read which incorporates deep thematic issues make Mister Pip a novel everyone can and should interact with, even if only for one read.

 

               

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