The Constraints and Conflict of Category

by angelakm

Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip presents to the world a perspective on colonialism that most post-colonial literature rarely explores. This story of violence and civil war is played out on the beautiful and serene South Pacific island of Bougainville. In contrast to what most might expect from the actual horrible events that occurred in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the novel breezes over specific violent events. Jones prefers to delve into the struggling lives of those left on the island who have found themselves as pawns between the island rebels and ‘red skins.’ Jone’s two primary characters he focuses on are that of Mr. Watts and the young Matilda who presents the story through her eyes.

Mr. Watts is an odd character that is symbolic of Umberto Eco’s quote that Jones uses in his opening pages “characters migrate”. As the rest of the white foreign people working on the island are evacuated off the island Mr. Watts chooses to stay with the rest of the villagers who find themselves cut off from the rest of the world. He becomes this moldable character that is shaped to fit into whatever position is needed.  As all the primary educators are evacuated and schools shut Mr. Watts steps in to fill the role as teacher. He acknowledges the fact that he is not by any means the most qualified but he provides them with an invitation to grasp the power of their imaginations and escape to find hope of life continuing on beyond such uncertain times.

Most post-colonial literature it seems the white man is seen as the cause of all evil.  In contrast to that through Matilda’s perspective we can come to see the inherently good nature of his character that unfortunately only the children can see. On the other hand, though it is not voiced directly to him by the villagers he is representative of the white men. The white men that “were to blame for the mine and the blockade” (p.49). Matilda’s mother Dolores is extremely hard to convince. Only until the last moments of her life she believes that “she had Mr. Watts all summed up. She could not see what us kids had come to see: a kind man. She only saw a white man” (p. 49).  Sadly it takes the deepest kind of kindness, self-sacrifice, for them to realize his good nature.

This novel differentiates itself from other post-colonial pieces of literature by not showing the direct fight between the colonizer and the colonized but by the ethnic tensions between a country’s own people brought on by colonialism and of those caught in between. He not only touches on aspects of assimilation and exile but he also sheds light on the hard position of being stuck in the same category as colonizer and the significant impacts that has.

 

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