“Everyone called him Pop Eye.” However, this character named Mr. Watts, who would also come to call himself Mr. Pip, was far more than the young children in a small Bougainville village could even begin to imagine. Mister Pip is a brilliant novel that portrays a crucial growing period of a young girl named Matilda in a small island village, and shows how her life was so profoundly changed and influenced by an old white man who had volunteered to teach in times of conflict.
Situated on the war-torn island of Bougainville in the South Pacific, Lloyd Jones’ novel “Mister Pip” finds the reader experiencing life through the eyes of thirteen year old Matilda. Due to the tumultuous political climate, all teachers and foreign dignitaries have fled from the island, save one, the mysterious white man commonly referred to by the villagers as Pop Eye, aka, Mr. Watts. Being one of the few remaining people with an education, by default, Mr. Watts takes on the task of being the village school teacher. It is through Mr. Watts that Matilda comes to meet a certain Mr. Dickens, more commonly known as seventeenth century author, Charles Dickens. Every class, Mr. Watts reads a chapter from the novel Great Expectations out loud to the class, transporting Matilda away from the horrible realities of her real life to Victorian England, where she immerses herself in the adventures of her new found friend, Mr. Pip (to whom the title of the novel not-so-subtly alludes).
by Jennie MacPhee
Lloyd Jones’ acclaimed novel Mister Pip is a captivating story full of emotion set in a quiet and nearly abandoned island in the South Pacific. Written as a first-person narrative, a young girl named Matilda leads the reader through her life on the island that has been shattered by war and the dangerous consequences of childhood imagination.
Matilda is one of the few citizens to remain at her home while all of the school teachers and most of the families have fled. One man who chooses to stay behind is the mysterious and eccentric Mr. Watts, who happens to be the only white person on the island. He opens up the schoolhouse and volunteers to teach the children, and the only lesson he has to offer is reading his copy of Great Expectations by Mr. Dickens. As the children, quickly followed by the entire village, become enthralled by a young character named Pip, the novel begins to delve into the human conditions of imagination and obsession. As we explore these conditions through the island people, we see that Jones is also presenting several difficult moral situations for us to consider. Their imaginations grow wild as they dream of a bigger, more fulfilling world outside their own. But during a time and place where daily survival is the only objective and there is little time for fun and games, we are reminded that sometimes imagination, even for children, can come with very dangerous consequences.
Although the life of a teenage girl is being told by a 50-something year old male, Lloyd Jones writes in a style that is believable and compelling. The way in which Jones describes how Western culture has and continues to affect indigenous cultures makes Mister Pip a very convincing story. It is sometimes easy to forget that this is a novel and not a personal memoir. However, the simplicity of how he describes the atrocities that take place, including the murders of Mr. Watts and Matilda’s mother is more than an understatement.