A Story about a Story

by haleywilliams

Mister Pip, a prize winning novel by Lloyd Jones, uses meta-fiction to show how a village on a remote tropical island, cut off from the rest of the world due to a civil war in the early 1990’s, becomes enraptured by a story and endangered by those who cannot or will not separate fact from fiction. Set on the Papua New Guinean island of Bougainville during its conflict with the main island, the novel presents the reader with a bleak situation with no hope for escape. With the island abandoned by all those who could leave, including the protagonist’s father who leaves Matilda and her mother Dolores, the islanders must make do with what they have and to survive by their own devices. Armed with only his copy of Dickens’ Great Expectations, the only white man left on the island (married to a local) steps up to become the new school teacher.

Thirteen year old Matilda becomes enraptured with the story of Mister Pip and the issues that he faces in 19th England. This becomes a point of contention between Matilda and her strong willed mother who believes that the children should be learning more important things at school, for example the teachings of the Bible. Dolores neither approves of the book nor the teacher and this leads to conflicts that affect the village in disastrous ways.

This novel brings to light the importance of telling of stories and how it can affect the people around us. Through his teaching, Mr. Watts introduces the children to their capacity to think in new ways and their ability to remain hopeful in dire situations; “[we] have all lost our possessions and many of us our homes, but these losses, severe though they may seem, remind us of what no person can take, and that is our minds and our imaginations (123).” The story becomes a chance for escape from the harsh reality of life and this knowledge is something that Matilda takes with her throughout the rest of her life. “Mister Pip” is a thought provoking novel that is innovative in its approach to combine well-known literature of the past and situations of the present into a new work of art.

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