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‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey Essay

The Novel Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey revolves around a young boy named Charlie Bucktin living in the small Australian town of Corrigan in the 1960’s. Charlie is exposed to the confronting issues of racial prejudice, injustice and moral duality. He is challenged to question right from wrong, has to come to the realization that law doesn’t always uphold justice and we as readers are positioned to understand that people are capable of holding two conflicting values and remain in confortable harmony. The ideas are portrayed through Silvey’s use of narrative conventions that are used to either challenge or reinforce our values, attitudes and beliefs on the issues explored.

Our morals and ethics is our understanding of what we believe is right or wrong. Reading this novel we come to realize that the people of Corrigan are hypocrites, cable of holding two conflicting values or beliefs. Jasper Jones does not deny that he is a “thief, a liar, a thug, a truant”, but despite this, he says “I never stole a thing I dint need… and all my life so far, sh*t’s bin taken off me, so I’m evening the ledger a bit” (page 34). My attitude towards stealing is that its wrong, but Jasper’s character has challenged this belief and suggests that stealing is okay and can be justified in this case because he did it to get the things he needs “because its never gonna get offered”.

When Jasper asked Charlie to help him hide the body of Laura Wishart, he was not only asking him to break the law but was making Charlie go against his morals and he had to reconsider what the “right thing” to do was. He knew that tampering with her body was illegal but he did it anyway to help Jasper stay out of trouble and find the truth of what had happened. Craig is trying to show us that we all hold conflicting views on things and that sometimes we can think one way and act in another. It has made me realize that I too may contradict my own values and positions me to reconsider what I believe to be right and wrong.

Corrigan is a town swamped with lies and injustice. Silvey is expressing this theme through the establishment of characters and plot. His message is that the Law and what seems morally right, doesn’t necessarily uphold justice. Jasper Jones has a bad reputation in Corrigan and after his discovery of Laura’s body, Charlie argues that they should go to the police but Jasper knows that the rule of law doesn’t apply to him. He is the town’s scapegoat when an incident occurs and says, “We can’t tell anyone. Especially the Police… they are gonna say it was me.” (page 13). When the disappearance of Laura becomes public, Jasper is locked up and bashed by her father the “Shire President”. Throughout the novel Pete Wishart is always referred to by this title. He is supposed to be a public figure and role model but instead he’s an abusive drunk that impregnated his daughter and manhandled a child.

This misconduct shows how power can be misused and the double standards that exist in society. The myth of ‘Mad Jack Lionel’ burdened the town of Corrigan. Rumours were spread concerning his involvement with the death of Rosie Jones and he was Jaspers first suspicion as to what had happened to Laura. “The lies and suppositions were just heaped upon the stack” (page 240). He had been wrongfully accused and blamed for things he did not do and his town turned its back on him. The unjust treatment of Jasper and Jack Lionel shows that people are so quick to judge and make assumptions about others without knowing a thing about them. It reinforces by belief that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and should get to know the truth about someone before you pass judgement.

Multiculturalism, which is familiar to contemporary Australians, was unheard of in the 1960’s and the concept of people from other countries and cultural backgrounds enriching in Australian life was a foreign concept. This novel explores the racism behind the discrimination towards those from non-European backgrounds such as Jeffery Lu and his family. Silvey’s selection of setting, the context of this novel and the surrounding circumstances such as the Vietnam War provides an understanding of the current attitudes that society may have had towards certain ideas. At the time of this novel, many Australians were resentful for having to go over and fight in the war. Charlie’s best friend Jeffery, who is of Vietnamese background, was subject to discrimination and copped a lot of bullying because of this. A woman whose son had died in the war attacked Jeffery’s mother, Mrs Lu. “She slapped her cup up, right into her chest… scalding her skin” (page 128).

This scene positioned me to feel sorry for Mrs Lu and reinforced by belief that everyone, no matter what race, should be treated with equality. Jeffery is often victimized by other kids, like Warwick Trent the teenage bully of the town, because of his race. He’s the boy “who’s always been two years bigger and broader than anyone his age” (page 57). He and the other boys that Jeffery often encounters at the local oval are intimidated by his intellect and his cricket skills. They try to establish their dominance over Jeffery by using his ethnicity against him and asserting racial comments such as “F*ck off, c*nt eyes” (page 58) and “F*ck off Cong” (page 59). The mistreatment of Lu family has shown me the significance of coequality and how damaging racism can be. The message Silvey is trying to convey is that anyone who is perceived to be different or ‘inferior’ is made to feel as outcasts and unwelcome in society. It has made me reconsider how I should treat others and has helped me develop a greater understanding of why everyone should be treated with respect and equality regardless of their race.

Jasper Jones deals with many issues that are prevalent in our modern society. The author uses narrative conventions such as plot, setting and characters to challenge or reinforce my attitudes and values. I come to understand that people can hold contradicting values and remain in comfortable harmony. I realize that the law doesn’t always uphold justice and am positioned to see the harm discrimination can cause. These are just a few of the ways that Craig Silvey has used narrative conventions to influence my point of view on the themes expressed in Jasper Jones.

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