Mister Pip written by Lloyd Jones is a novel recounted by the protagonist Matilda. Set in 1990’s Bougainville, we see Matilda begin to question her Mother’s traditional idea’s about life as a civil war rages between the rebels and the Redskins in her homeland. Mr. Watts or “Pop eye” is given the role teaching the village children, being the only educated, and consequentially, white man left on the island. He begins reading Great Expectations to the children and Matilda finds herself becoming entranced in white civilisation.
She gets immersed in the story of the white boy “Pip” living in London in the 1800’s, very much aware his story is in great contrast to her own. Matilda’s Mother has never been out of Bougainville, she knows little to nothing about the outside world and believes in traditional ideas, holding her ancestry and God dear to her. Through the course of the story we see contrast grow between Matilda and her Mother as their values and interests begin to change and set them apart from each other.
We see these differences overcome however when the time comes to stand up for the other, the bond of unconditional love conquering all, the author communicating to us how powerful it can be. In the beginning of the novel we get the impression Matilda has never challenged her Mother’s values – her roots, her culture and the Bible. Matilda knows no other world apart from her own, never having been fully exposed to other cultures and ideas – “What I am about to tell results, I think, from our ignorance of the outside world”.
Matilda becomes familiar with white civilisation when Mr. Watts begins reading the children Great Expectations, learning about the way of life in a culture that greatly differs from her own – “Mr. Watts had given us kids another piece of the world”. She becomes intrigued by Mr. Watts and immersed in the book, entranced by a white boy in the setting of 1840’s London “By the time Mr. Watts reached the end of chapter one, I felt like I had spoken to this boy Pip.
This boy I couldn’t see to touch but knew by ear. I had found a new friend. ” In contrast, Matilda’s Mother Dolores had never had such a positive introduction to white civilisation. The white world took her husband away from her – “The white men took my Father and her husband away” the white world brought war to her homeland by bringing in the Redskins “The white men were to blame for the blockade ”, the white world took Mr. Watt’s wife, Grace away and gave her back in a state of madness.
Dolores cannot see past the bad experiences she had with the white world to see that it could provide Matilda with a better future. The white world to Dolores is a damaging place she doesn’t want her beloved daughter to be part of. She doesn’t let Matilda’s obvious interest in it, as Dolores in contrast never had, stop her from protecting Matilda against it with all she has. She wants Matilda to be safe in the world she knows rather than lose her to a world she is ignorant of – “She didn’t want me to go deeper into that other world.
She didn’t want to lose her Matilda to Victorian England”. Firstly Dolores tries to distract Matilda from the story of Great Expectations and Mr. Watts by trying to get her to learn the names of her ancestors by making Matilda write them out in the sand – “my mum’s response was to reach for our family history and pass on to me all that she knew. ” Her ancestors are a very important part of Dolores’s life.
It soon becomes clear they are not important to Matilda whereas Pip, an imaginary, yet very real boy in Matilda’s mind is – “I felt closer to him [Pip] than the names of those strangers she made me write in the sand” When Matilda writes Pip’s name alongside her ancestors Dolores becomes angry at what Matilda values – “She gave me a look of pure hate”, the plan to pull Matilda back actually pushes her further away, deepening the contrast between them. Dolores does not give up in a quest to do what is for Matilda’s own good.
She continues to try and “save” her daughter, the power of unconditional love overcoming their even more obviously marked differences. Dolores then tries to impose her faith on Matilda in hope she will begin to value God over Great Expectations to lead her away from the white world. Dolores comes unannounced to Matilda’s class and tries to educate the children on the only thing she knows well: the importance of faith “she didn’t know anything outside what she knew from the bible” but as Mr. Watts ets further through the novel Pip becomes yet even more important to Matilda. Dolores never stops in trying to steer Matilda away from the white world. The world she knows barely anything about, the world she thinks is evil. Despite their ever-increasing differences Dolores will always continue to protect Matilda from what she believes is bad. We see the power of unconditional love shown again through Matilda and Dolores’s contrast when Matilda discovers Great Expectations to have been stolen by her Mother. When Dolores hides Great Expectations much strife is caused.
The Red Skins visit Matilda’s island, threatening to burn all of their possessions unless they give up “Pip” who is only a character from a book and cannot be given up. Because the book is not where it is supposed to be “Pip” cannot be explained. The redskins burn the whole villages’ possessions because Dolores fails to come forward and admit to what she had done in order to retrieve the book. Although Matilda’s Mother could not have expected such consequences to have arisen from what she had done, her aims in the first place were not respectable.
Dolores goes too far in trying to lead Matilda away from the white world and hides the book more out of her resentment for Mr. Watts and her hatred of Matilda being interested in things she isn’t herself. After Matilda finds out what her Mother does she feels extremely betrayed considering the act petty and selfish – “There are no words for the feelings of betrayal I had at that time” but chooses not to give her Mother up. Her unconditional love for her Mother wins out over all other emotions, no matter how strong they are.
The contrast between Matilda and Dolores ultimately results in a test of the unconditional love felt between them and the author uses Matilda’s decision to show us how very powerful it can be. As the book goes on and the war between the rebels and the Redskins continues to rage, Mr. Watts comes up with a plan for himself, Matilda and supposedly her Mother to leave the island and escape to the white world – “There is a boat coming on the night after the full moon”.
He tells Matilda he will tell her Mum just before they leave- “Make no mistake, I intend to speak to Dolores. For now though it is just our secret”. Matilda doesn’t doubt Mr. Watts’s word and she presumes her late notification about the trip is because her Mother might give something away with her insolence towards the white way of life, stopping them from going at all – “I understood- without any need for Mr Watts to spell it out for me – my mum was a risk with that information”. Matilda begins to get excited and impatient to leave, but angry with Mr.
Watt’s for leaving it so late to tell her Mum. She brings it up with him –““have you spoken to my Mum Mr Watts? ”… thats when I understood, or at least, I thought I did” when it is implied that Mr. Watts may have never been planning on telling Dolores Matilda immediately disregards her longing to go to the outside world, putting the love she has for her Mother first– “I will not go without my Mum”. She makes it clear that if her Mother wants to stay on the island or if she is not included in the plan, she will not go with Mr. Watts.
Despite the fact Matilda wants very different things from her Mother at this point in the novel Matilda expresses automatic unconditional love for her, knowing straight away that the love she has for her is greater than her desire to live in the white world and be different. Matilda again puts the contrast between them aside, and if she can’t be with her Mother while experiencing the white world, she won’t go at all. At the end of the book when the redskins come to their island again Matilda’s Mother pays the ultimate price when she stands up for the memory of Mr.
Watts after the redskins kill him. They ask if anyone witnessed his murder, as though daring anyone to say that it had happened. When Matilda’s Mother pays tribute to Mr. Watts and says “Sir, I saw your men chop up the white man. He is a good man. I am here as God’s witness”. It is a brave, selfless act that she knows will result in dire consequences. She is taken away, Matilda being made to follow soon after. She comes to find her Mother just having been raped – “When I came around the huts, my Mum was on the ground. A Redskin was on top of her”.
The soldiers threaten to do the same to Matilda and Dolores immediately protects her daughter from them pleading “Please. Have Mercy. See. She is just a girl. She is my only girl. Please. I beg you. Not my darling Matilda”. Regardless of the growing contrast and tension between them Dolores displays the ultimate act of unconditional love, sacrificing herself to stop Matilda getting raped – “My life. I will give you my life [In return for Matilda not to get raped]”. Dolores puts Matilda’s innocence above her own life, showing she loves her on top of all things no matter how different or interested in the white world she has become.
In conclusion we see many situations where the author has used contrast between Matilda and her Mother to communicate the idea of how powerful unconditional love can be. We see both characters put aside their differences to display unquestionable acts of love for the other. The fact that both are able to move on from the other’s contrast to themselves to put their wellbeing first shows that unconditional love between mother and daughter, when it calls for it, is no match for other emotions humans can get caught up with in life.
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