What should a study guide include for Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones?

Quick answer:

A study guide on Mister Pip would summarize the plot, look at the key characters, and analyze any themes or symbols.

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Lloyd Jones’s novel Mister Pip is loosely based on his real-life experience of trying to cover the early 1990s civil war in Bougainville, an island of Papua New Guinea. A brief study guide is below.

Summary

The plot of Mister Pip centers on a young Papuan teen named Matilda and a white man named Mr. Watts. As all of the other teachers have left Bougainville due to the violence, Mr. Watts takes it upon himself to educate the children on the island. He does this by reading them Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Matilda forms an intense bond with the novel’s protagonist, Pip, which creates terrible trouble for her and the island.

Themes

One theme to think about is colonization. Consider how Mr. Watts reinforces the supremacy of Western culture by using Dickens, a white Englishman, as his main teaching tool.

Conversely, another theme is universality. Instead of thinking about Dickens as an instrument of colonial power, think about him as a transcendent force that can impact all people regardless of their age or skin color.

A third theme is the power of storytelling. As Jones shows, stories can enlighten, but they can also cause violence and death.

Characters

Matilda, as mentioned, is the main character. She’s also the narrator. While her infatuation with Pip suggests that she has internalized the ideals of her colonizers, her refusal to expose her mother to the soldiers indicates that her character is much more complex.

Dolores is Matilda’s mother. She loves her daughter but is suspicious of Mr. Watts and Charles Dickens. Dolores could represent a clear rejection of colonization and Western culture. In the end, however, Dolores risks her life affirming the goodness of Mr. Watts.

As for Mr. Watts, he could be, as Dolores attests, a good person who only wants to help educate and enlighten the children on the island. Conversely, it’s possible to see Mr. Watts as a white savior, which is problematic.

Symbols

There are many possible symbols, including the trolley, Mr. Watts’s clothes, and Great Expectations (both the physical, material book and the story it contains).

It might also be worthwhile to think about what the names symbolize. Remember, Mr. Watts carries the nickname "Pop Eye." Perhaps Mr. Watts’s nickname symbolizes his ties to Western culture and its various military and naval endeavors. After all, Popeye is a white, Western cartoon sailor.

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