Jasper Jones: Chapter One

Jasper Jones is a 2009 novel which explores, among other things, race relations and assumptions in front of the backdrop Corrigan, Western Australia. Jasper Jones, a half-Aboriginal, half-white teenager, is (falsely) accused of the murder of his white girlfriend, the mayor’s daughter. The chapter opens with Jasper leading Charlie, a bookish peer of his, to the hanging body of the daughter and enlisting his help. As much as the chapter involves discoveries, just as important is the attitude and process of discovery that precedes them.

The Text’s Structure

One thing to note immediately is the first-person narrative voice of Charlie. This is important for our understanding of discovery as it directs our focus away from external notions of discovery and encourages us to think about internal ones: the thought processes involved, the attitude and feelings. Despite being one short chapter, we still see Charlie overcome his timidity and fearfulness that allows discussion for any number of discoveries. These include overcoming stereotypes and prejudices, leaving your comfort zone and growing as an individual. The first person narration is an important device that hints to us that the author wants to emphasise the role of a person’s decisions and dispositions in making discoveries.

Another quick point to make about the structure of the novel is the parallelism and allusion to the Southern writers Silvey inserts. If you’re familiar with American stereotypes, one of the enduring stereotypes of the deep South is their history of slavery and the consequent racism that has endured since. The Southern writers drew heavily on this in their books. The allusion to Pudd’nhead Wilson isn’t accidental, and the Mark Twain novel explores murder, a somewhat outcast white protagonist and black-white race relations – all elements within Jasper Jones. Similarly, Charlie later tells us his favourite book is “the Harper Lee book” – a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, an iconic American classic about a white lawyer who defends a black man (falsely) accused of raping a white girl.[1] Silvey’s literary allusions aren’t very subtle but they do indicate that he clearly plans for his book to fit into a history of novels that challenge assumptions and stereotypes about race in particular.

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