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Mister Pip

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Mister Pip
By: Lloyd Jones

WE'VE all had our own childhood heroes. Back then, we often idolized popular icons like Superman, Batman, Britney Spears, or “My Dad,” admiring them for their good looks, fame, and talent. Mr. Watts has none of that. Yet for the children of Bougainville, he is the greatest hero of all. Welcome to the extraordinary world of Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip, where a single book changes an entire village.

When Bougainville is blockaded by redskin soldiers during the 1991 separatist war, the tiny village is thrust into a grim, helpless state of fear and turmoil. Many men – fathers, doctors, and teachers – have fled the island, leaving wives, children, and friends behind.

Only one white man remains – the mysterious and fascinating Mr. Watts, also known as Pop Eye – who agrees to teach the schoolchildren. But he is not like any other teacher they've had. Armed with just one book, Great Expectations, and his own steadfast determination, he introduces the class to Pip, rimy mornings, and England, transporting them to a new world of fantasy, hope, and wonder, “a world that was whole and made sense, unlike ours.”

Told through the eyes of 13-year-old Mathilda, Mister Pip clearly captures the vivid clarity and striking innocence of a child caught admist the carnage and destruction of war. With blunt honesty and seemingly calm indifference, she matter-of-factly describes the babies' deaths from malaria, departure of the last ship, and establishment of the blockade, which had seemed unbelievable at the time. After all, “how could you seal off a country? What would you tie it up in or wrap around it?”

The plot thickens as the battle between redskins and rambos rages, and so does another – just as fierce and imperative – between Mr. Watts and Dolores intensifies. Unwilling “to lose Mathilda to Victorian England,” and more importantly, to Mr. Watts, Dolores struggles to win her daughter's faith, love, and acceptance. Jones portrays this unspoken yet powerful mother-daughter relationship with moving poigancy, showing Dolores' strained efforts to connect with Mathilda, despite her illiteracy and lack of formal education. She yearns to eliminate “the space [that] had come to exist between her and Mr. Watts [because] Mathilda would have to choose between the two,” and Dolores is afraid she would not be chosen, which is her greatest fear.

This battle eventually escalates to extreme heights at the cost of material goods, crucial resources, and even Great Expectations. At the peak of the climax, Jones delivers the final, unforgettable, heartwrenching twist, as Mr. Watts and Dolores – left with “nothing but [their] lives –” give up everything and perform the ultimate sacrifice for Mathilda.


Yet Mister Pip does not stop here. Even after the climax, it continues to deliver moving moments, gradually bringing the journey to a memorable and satisfying end. In the novel's final pages, Mathilda, now a grown woman in London, discovers the stunning truth about Mr. Watts. She finally remembers the power of story and voice, the extraordinary power that had transformed “old, tired, bony, and big red nosed” Mr. Watts into Pip, an enigma of hope and change. At last, Mathilda understands that “Pip was her story, and [she] would try where Pip had failed.” It is these striking realizations that truly complete Mister Pip.





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