The novel Mister Pip was written by Lloyd Jones in 2006. The story revolves around a young girl named Matilda living in Bougainville during the time of the rebel rise against the Papuan government, that owned and operated a copper mine on the island. It follows this girl as she loses the world she knows, caught up in many conflicts, and how she escapes into the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. What I find most intriguing about this book is this novel plays with the idea of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ blurring the lines past the point where we can expect the traditional ‘good vs evil’ story to unfold. How it portrays both sides of the war unfolding of the island. The native rebels are fighting to regain control of their land, and against the poor conditions of the mine, owned the the Papuan government. The story is portrayed in a way that does not make it clear which side is ‘right’ in a sense. While most stories make it clear which side is ‘right’ and which is ‘wrong’, giving the reader a clear path to follow when reading the novel, and telling them what they should think about certain characters and places in the novel. In this book the lines of these ideas are very blurred, making it unclear which side we want to win, and which side our heroin should trust.
The notion of good vs evil began in fairy tales, and it was in these that we hoped to instil morals in young and elder people alike, by showing them what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ and what retribution each side receives. In the old tales, the hero and/or heroine win. Moreover, the evil characters receive retribution for their crimes. The lines between the good and evil characters were obvious, and followed certain criteria. Traditional stories show heroic princesses, valiant knights, and kind fairy godmothers fighting wicked witches, gruesome ogres, and evil sorcerers. While today’s stories for young adults, and adults alike do not involve such fantastical creatures, the basic idea of good versus evil has remained pretty much the same. Presenting us with a clear protagonist and antagonist, each being presented in an almost biased way, that leads us to rout for the protagonist. However, recent literature has challenged these standards, showing “human” heroes, replete with flaws, pitting themselves against antagonists who may be misunderstood simply because they look different. While overtly a parody, the ogres of Shrek suggest that traditionally wicked characters of folk literature have been largely misunderstood and persecuted. This theme has continued farther with anti-heros, a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality. These characters are usually considered conspicuously contrary to an archetypal hero. These characteristics, I believe, resemble the character of Matilda. She makes some decisions through the book some would argue are not morally right, lending her to be more of an anti-hero.
The lines of good and evil are most noticeably blurred in the main war between the rebels and the Papuan military. The military is the first to visit the village, and when they arrive, the quite forcibly rounded up the inhabitants, and took down all their names. They seem suspicious of the village people, for possible aid of the rebels, which is a punishable offence. However, up until this point, the military have been cast in a mildly heroic light. Fending off the wild and violent rebels. They are also associated with the government, which bought pre packaged food, medicine, and electricity to their island before the blockade. However, they act very hostile towards the inhabitants when they do not comply with their demands. Burning their possessions. Although, this is all due to a misunderstanding, so the military might not be to blame, although they acted rashly, and without mercy. Casting them in more of an antagonist than a protagonist light. However, the the rebels arrive, Matilda alienates them, saying “they have become animals” living in the jungle for so long. They even show some hostility towards the villagers, especially Mr. Watts. Threatening to rape him. Many of the village people treat the rebels with caution, and seem unnerved by their presence. This, despite the fact that they are from the same island. Some even from their village. The sense of comradery they should feel towards these people is almost non existent. Leading us to believe that these people are not the protagonists either.
Throughout all the tragedy she experiences in the book, Matilda escapes into the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Especially the main protagonist Pip. Within the stretches of her mind she connects to Pip, and makes friends with him. She often escapes into that friendship whenever something goes wrong in her life. However, there comes a part in the book Great Expectations when Pip moves to the city to become a Gentleman. During this time Pip actively cuts off contact and association with his sister’s husband, and his best friend. Matilda is confused as to why he does this, and worries that Pip might be changing. She confides in Mr. Watts, who tells her “It’s hard to be a perfect human Matilda” again showing a flawed protagonist, almost more of an anti-hero, much like Matilda. It is rare that we see a character escape into another, flawed character. Often times the main protagonist will be flawed, and escape into a perfect character, with strong morals, who encourages them to do the right thing. This is the first time that I have seen a character escape into a character, only to find that that character is also flawed, and struggle to find the reasoning behind their actions. In this way Matilda learns what is is to be human, and how to cope with her current situation, not as a perfect protagonist, but as a flawed anti-hero. Which almost makes it easier for Matilda to escape into Pip, because in some ways they are much the same.
One of the challenges Matilda faces is an internal struggle over the ethics behind her mother’s actions. Throughout the book her mother is in a cold war with Mr. Watts over the morals of educating their children. Matilda’s mother being a devout Christian, with a great respect for her ancestors and the a great belief in their ways of life and their knowledge of the land. She constantly struggles with her beliefs against the atheist Mr. Watts, who was raised in England and believes in the benefits of a high class education, and of reading fictional books. This angers Matilda’s mum, as she believes such belief in fictional characters is a waste of time, and distracting from what actually matters. She is driven by this anger to steal the book Great Expectations. An action which leads to a misunderstanding, and results in all of their possessions being burned. After this event Matilda finds the book her mother had hidden, and is then faced with a moral dilemma. She can come forward with the book, but then her mother will be shunned for her actions. On the other hand, if she says nothing, the Military has promised to come back, and this time they might not be so lenient. She also struggles with understanding the reasoning behind her mother’s decisions, and why she did not come forward before. Unsure whether or not to condemn her mother for her actions, or to sympathise with her.
In conclusion, Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones, is a modern adaptation on the traditional protagonist vs antagonist ideals. It follows a young girl named Matilda,who lives in bougainville and how she escapes into the character Pip, in the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. She uses her connection with this character to overcome challenges she faces in her life as her island rebels against the Papuan inhabitants that own and run the mine there. Matilda escapes into this character through conflicts in here her life that have no clear right or wrong side, and a less than satisfactory resolution, which closer resembles conflicts we encounter in real life, and really questions our beliefs and our morals, and how we apply them to a situation, and what other factors can influence our opinion, and the outcome of a conflict.