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  • Written by Lloyd Jones
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  • Written by Lloyd Jones
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Written by Lloyd JonesAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Lloyd Jones

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On Sale: July 31, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-440-33716-4
Published by : The Dial Press Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In a novel that is at once intense, beautiful, and fablelike, Lloyd Jones weaves a transcendent story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform our lives.

On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe.” Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One


EVERYONE CALLED HIM POP EYE. EVEN IN those days, when I was a skinny thirteen-year-old, I thought he probably knew about his nickname but didn't care. His eyes were too interested in what lay up ahead to notice us barefoot kids.

He looked like someone who had seen or known great suffering and hadn't been able to forget it. His large eyes in his large head stuck out further than anyone else's--like they wanted to leave the surface of his face. They made you think of someone who can't get out of the house quickly enough.

Pop Eye wore the same white linen suit every day. His trousers snagged on his bony knees in the sloppy heat. Some days he wore a clown's nose. His nose was already big. He didn't need that red lightbulb. But for reasons we couldn't think of he wore the red nose on certain days--which may have meant something to him. We never saw him smile. And on those days he wore the clown's nose you found yourself looking away because you never saw such sadness.

He pulled a piece of rope attached to a trolley on which Mrs. Pop Eye stood. She looked like an ice queen. Nearly every woman on our island had crinkled hair, but Grace had straightened hers. She wore it piled up, and in the absence of a crown her hair did the trick. She looked so proud, as if she had no idea of her own bare feet. You saw her huge bum and worried about the toilet seat. You thought of her mother and birth and that stuff.

At two-thirty in the afternoon the parrots sat in the shade of the trees and looked down at a human shadow one-third longer than any seen before. There were only the two of them, Mr. and Mrs. Pop Eye, yet it felt like a procession.

The younger kids saw an opportunity and so fell in behind. Our parents looked away. They would rather stare at a colony of ants moving over a rotting pawpaw. Some stood by with their idle machetes, waiting for the spectacle to pass. For the younger kids the sight consisted only of a white man towing a black woman. They saw what the parrots saw, and what the dogs saw while sitting on their scrawny arses snapping their jaws at a passing mosquito. Us older kids sensed a bigger story. Sometimes we caught a snatch of conversation. Mrs. Watts was as mad as a goose. Mr. Watts was doing penance for an old crime. Or maybe it was the result of a bet. The sight represented a bit of uncertainty in our world, which in every other way knew only sameness.

Mrs. Pop Eye held a blue parasol to shade herself from the sun. It was the only parasol in the whole of the island, so we heard. We didn't ask after all the black umbrellas we saw, let alone the question: what was the difference between these black umbrellas and the parasol? And not because we cared if we looked dumb, but because if you went too far with a question like that one, it could turn a rare thing into a commonplace thing. We loved that word--parasol--and we weren't about to lose it just because of some dumb-arse question. Also, we knew, whoever asked that question would get a hiding, and serve them bloody right too.

They didn't have any kids. Or if they did they were grown up and living somewhere else, maybe in America, or Australia or Great Britain. They had names. She was Grace and black like us. He was Tom Christian Watts and white as the whites of your eyes, only sicker.

There are some English names on the headstones in the church graveyard. The doctor on the other side of the island had a full Anglo-Saxon name even though he was black like the rest of us. So, although we knew him as Pop Eye we used to say "Mr. Watts" because it was the only name like it left in our district.

They lived alone in the minister's old house. You couldn't see it from the road. It used to be surrounded by grass, according to my mum. But after the minister died the authorities forgot about the mission and the lawnmower rusted. Soon the bush grew up around the house, and by the time I was born Mr. and Mrs. Pop Eye had sunk out of view of the world. The only times we saw them was when Pop Eye, looking like a tired old nag circling the well, pulled his wife along in the trolley. The trolley had bamboo rails. Mrs. Pop Eye rested her hands on these.

o be a show-off you need an audience. But Mrs. Pop Eye didn't pay us any attention. We weren't worthy of that. It was as if we didn't exist. Not that we cared. Mr. Watts interested us more.

Because Pop Eye was the only white for miles around, little kids stared at him until their ice blocks melted over their black hands. Older kids sucked in their breath and knocked on his door to ask to do their "school project" on him. When the door opened some just froze and stared. I knew an older girl who was invited in; not everyone was. She said there were books everywhere. She asked him to talk about his life. She sat in a chair next to a glass of water he had poured for her, pencil in hand, notebook open. He said: "My dear, there has been a great deal of it. I expect more of the same." She wrote this down. She showed her teacher, who praised her initiative. She even brought it over to our house to show me and my mum, which is how I know about it.

It wasn't just for the fact he was the last white man that made Pop Eye what he was to us--a source of mystery mainly, but also confirmation of something else we held to be true.

We had grown up believing white to be the color of all the important things, like ice cream, aspirin, ribbon, the moon, the stars. White stars and a full moon were more important when my grandfather grew up than they are now that we have generators.

When our ancestors saw the first white they thought they were looking at ghosts or maybe some people who had just fallen into bad luck. Dogs sat on their tails and opened their jaws to await the spectacle. The dogs thought they were in for a treat. Maybe these white people could jump backwards or somersault over trees. Maybe they had some spare food. Dogs always hope for that.

The first white my grandfather saw was a shipwrecked yachtsman who asked him for a compass. My grandfather didn't know what a compass was, so he knew he didn't have one. I picture him clasping his hands at his back and smiling. He wouldn't want to appear dumb. The white man asked for a map. My grandfather didn't know what he was asking for, and so pointed down at the man's cut feet. My grandfather wondered how the sharks had missed that bait. The white man asked where he had washed up. At last my grandfather could help. He said it was an island. The white man asked if the island had a name. My grandfather replied with the word that means "island." When the man asked directions to the nearest shop my grandfather burst out laughing. He pointed up at a coconut tree and back over the white's shoulder whence he had come, meaning the bloody great ocean stocked with fish. I have always liked that story.

Other than Pop Eye or Mr. Watts, and some Australian mine workers, I'd seen few other living whites. The ones I had seen were in an old film. At school we were shown the visit by the duke of something or other many years before in nineteen-hundred-and-something. The camera kept staring at the duke and saying nothing. We watched the duke eat. The duke and the other whites wore mustaches and white trousers. They even wore buttoned-up jackets. They weren't any good at sitting on the ground either. They kept rolling over onto their elbows. We all laughed--us kids--at the whites trying to sit on the ground as they would in a chair. They were handed pig trotters in banana leaves. One man in a helmet could be seen asking for something. We didn't know what until he was brought a piece of white cloth, which he used to wipe his mouth. We roared our heads off laughing.

Mostly, though, I was watching out for my grandfather. He was one of the skinny kids marching by in bare feet and white singlets. My grandfather was the second to top kid kneeling in a human pyramid in front of the white men in helmets eating pig trotters. Our class was asked to write an essay on what we had seen, but I had no idea what it was about. I didn't understand the meaning of it so I wrote about my grandfather and the story he told of the shipwrecked white man he had found washed up like a starfish on the beach of his village, which in those days had no electricity or running water and didn't know Moscow from rum.

Chapter Two


WHAT I AM ABOUT TO TELL RESULTS, I think, from our ignorance of the outside world. My mum knew only what the last minister had told her in sermons and conversations. She knew her times tables and the names of some distant capitals. She had heard that man had been to the moon but was inclined not to believe such stories. She did not like boastfulness. She liked even less the thought that she might have been caught out, or made a fool of. She had never left Bougainville. On my eighth birthday I remember thinking to ask her how old she was. She quickly turned her face away from me, and for the first time in my life I realized I had embarrassed her.

Her comeback was a question of her own. "How old do you think I am?"

When I was eleven, my father flew off on a mining plane. Before that, though, he was invited to sit in a classroom and watch films about the country he was going to. There were films on pouring tea: the milk went in the cup first--though when you prepared your bowl of cornflakes the milk went in after. My mum says she and my father argued like roosters over that last one.

Sometimes when I saw her sad I knew she would be thinking back to that argument. She would look up from whatever she was doing to say, "Perhaps I should have shut up. I was too strong. What do you think, girl?" This was one of the few times she was seriously interested in my opinion and, like the question concerning her age, I always knew what to say to cheer her up.

My father was shown other films. He saw cars, trucks, planes. He saw motorways and became excited. But then there was a demonstration of a pedestrian crossing. You had to wait for a boy in a white coat to raise his sign with "sticks up!"

My father got scratchy. There were too many roads with hard edges and these kids in white coats had the power to control traffic with their stop signs. Now they argued again. My mum said it was no different here. You couldn't just walk where you liked. There was a clip over the ear if you strayed. 'Cause, she said, it was as the Good Book says. You might know about heaven but it didn't mean you had entry as of right.

For a while we treasured a postcard my father sent from Townsville. This is what he had to say: Up to the moment the plane entered the clouds he looked down and saw where we lived for the very first time. From out at sea the view is of a series of mountain peaks. From the air he was amazed to see our island look no bigger than a cow pat. But my mum didn't care about that stuff. All my mum wanted to know was if where he had gone to there were pay packets.

A month later there was a second postcard. He said pay packets hung off factory rafters like breadfruit. And that settled it. We were going to join him--that's what we were going to do, when Francis Ona and his rebels declared war on the copper mine and the company, which, in some way that I didn't understand at the time, brought the redskin soldiers from Port Moresby to our island. According to Port Moresby we are one country. According to us we are black as the night. The soldiers looked like people leached up out of the red earth. That's why they were known as redskins.

News of war arrives as bits of maybe and hearsay. Rumor is its mistress. Rumor, which you can choose to believe or ignore. We heard that no one could get in or out. We didn't know what to make of that, because how could you seal off a country? What would you tie it up in or wrap around it? We didn't know what to believe, then the redskin soldiers arrived, and we learned about the blockade.

We were surrounded by sea, and while the redskins' gunboats patrolled the coastline their helicopters flew overhead. There was no newspaper or radio to guide our thoughts. We relied on word of mouth. The redskins were going to choke the island and the rebels into submission. That's what we heard. "Good luck to them," said my mum. That's how much we cared. We had fish. We had our chickens. We had our fruits. We had what we had always had. In addition to that, a rebel supporter could add, "We had our pride."

Then, one night, the lights went out for good. There was no more fuel for the generators. We heard the rebels had broken into the hospital in Arawa, further down the coast, and taken all the medical supplies. That news really worried our mums, and soon the littlest kids came down with malaria and there was nothing that could be done to help them. We buried them and dragged their weeping mothers away from their tiny graves.

Us kids hung around with our mums. We helped in the gardens. We stalked each other beneath trees that rise several hundred feet in the air. We played in the streams that tumble and spill down steep hillsides. We found new pools in which to look for our floating faces of mischief. We played in the sea and our black skins got blacker under the sun.


From the Hardcover edition.
Lloyd Jones

About Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones - Mister Pip

Photo © Bruce Foster/Airplane

Lloyd Jones was born in New Zealand in 1955. His previous novels and collections of stories include the award-winning The Book of Fame, Biografi, a New York Times Notable Book, Choo Woo, Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance and Paint Your Wife. Lloyd Jones lives in Wellington.
Praise | Awards

Praise

"One of the best books of the year! Poetic, heartbreaking, surprising. Matilda is a young girl in Bougainville, a tropical island where the horror of civil war lurks. Mr. Watts, the only white person, is the self appointed teacher of the tiny school where the only textbook is the Dickens novel Great Expectations. Storytelling, imagination, courage, beauty, memories and sudden violence are the main elements of this extraordinary book."—Isabel Allende

"Genuinely affecting.... A book with worthwhile thoughts to impart."—The New York Times

Mister Pip is sheer magic, a story about stories and their power to transcend the limits of imagination and reside in the deep heart's core. Lloyd Jones is a brave and fierce writer, and he has given us Dickens brand new again.”—Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child

"Jones's prose is fautless.... With a mixture of thrill and unease, Matilda discovers independent thought, and Jones captures the intricate, emotionally loaded evolution of the mother-daughter relationship."—Publishers Weekly

“The novel is a paean to the transformative power of literature, particularly its ability to occlude an unpleasant reality with a fictional alternative and to expand an individual's sense of possibility.”—New York Sun

“Not just a delightful read, Mister Pip shows the cut and thrust of true multiculturalism.”—Atlantic Monthly


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER 2007 Commonwealth Writer's Prize in the UK
WINNER 2007 American Library Association Literary Awards
WINNER 2007 ALA Notable Book
WINNER 2008 Alex Award - YALSA
WINNER 2008 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2008 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

About the Book

Celebrating the timeless power of storytelling, Mister Pip unites the stirring tale of a young girl’s quest for hope with a marvelous tribute to a Charles Dickens classic. Thirteen-year-old Matilda is coming of age on a Pacific island that has been torn apart by war. Almost everyone, including her father, has left to find work or escape the danger. Among those few who remain is the eccentric and mysterious Mr. Watts, the island’s sole remaining white man, who takes on the role of teacher and begins to read Great Expectations aloud to students. For Matilda and her classmates, the story offers an escape from their brutal reality, while instilling in them the strength to endure in a place where nothing is certain, not even their survival. Mister Pip celebrates individual strength, the ability of humanity to transform itself through narrative, and powerful friendships that cross cultural lines. In this gripping and imaginative novel, Lloyd Jones gives us a unique way to explore issues of faith, family, loyalty, identity, and, ultimately, the transcendence of literature.

Discussion Guides

1. Is it important that Mr. Watts is the last white man on the island? Why?

2. Why does Matilda write Pip’s name in the sand alongside the names of her relatives? Why does this upset her mother? How does this contribute to Dolores’s feelings about Mr. Watts’s instruction of her daughter? Are these feelings understandable?

3. Why do you think Mr. Watts pulled his wife in the cart? Why did he wear the red clown nose? What meaning did that have for them?

4. What is the message Matilda’s mother is trying to express to the children with the story of her mother’s braids? How is this related to the issue of Mr. Watts’s faith in God?

5. What did you think of the lessons that the mothers of the children bring to the classroom? If you were the parent of a child in Matilda’s class, what lesson would you teach the children? What might your mother have taught the class?

6. Who is Dolores warning the children about when she tells them the story about the devil lady and the church money? How does this story justify her actions regarding the book and the redskins? Do you agree with Dolores’s refusal to bring forth the book? With Matilda’s?

7. Where do you think Gilbert’s father takes Sam? How do you know? In your opinion, was it necessary that he do so?

8. Why does the corned beef in Mr. Watts’s house “represent a broad hope” for Matilda? Discuss Mr. Watts’s reaction to Matilda’s fragment. Do you believe that Grace was alive when Matilda arrived?

9. Discuss how the characters in this story struggle to reconcile the concepts of race and identity. Does it seem to dictate their interaction with each other? How does it influence their concepts of self? What moments, especially, helped reveal this to you?

10. What is the meaning of the story of the Queen of Sheba? Why does Mr. Watts bring it up? Why is it significant that Dolores is familiar with that story?

11. Why does Dolores step forward to declare herself “God’s witness” to the murder of Mr. Watts? Were you surprised that she did? Why does she insist that Matilda remain silent?

12. Do you think Matilda was able to return home? How would that outcome affect your reading of both novels?

13. Discuss your memorable experiences of being read to as a child. What book made the greatest impact on your life? Did any book come to you at precisely the right time, the way Great Expectations was brought to Matilda?

14. On Great Expectations and Mister Pip. Are both Mister Pip and Great Expectations universal coming-of-age tales? How did you react to the blending of these two distinctly different settings and time periods?

15. The initial lines of Great Expectations are reflected several times in this novel. Compare them to the opening lines of Mister Pip. What connections do these first sentences draw between the themes of both novels?

16. In what way are the narrative voices of Mister Pip and Great Expectations the same? How are they different? What shifts do you notice in the storytelling after Matilda leaves the island? How did this impact your reading?

17. How is Dolores’s treatment of Matilda similar to Estella’s treatment of Pip in Great Expectations? How does this relationship help Matilda understand Pip’s attachment to Estella? Is it necessary that this attachment be severed before Pip/Matilda can grow individually?

18. Why do you think Mr. Watts omitted the characters of Orlick and Compeyson from his telling of Great Expectations? What additional meaning might the children have gleaned from the story if these characters and their storylines, such as Compeyson’s jilting of Miss Havisham, had been included?

19. What is signified by the changing of one’s name, both in Great Expectations and Mister Pip? Why does Matilda not change her name?

20. In what ways does Great Expectations help Matilda cope with her reality and prepare her for the future? How does it help Mr. Watts deal with his past? What makes Great Expectations the ideal Dickens choice for this purpose?

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

Acclaimed writer Lloyd Jones compellingly unites history and literature in this heartbreaking, thought-provoking novel. Mister Pip’s young protagonist, Matilda, first encounters the wonders of literature against a tumultuous backdrop of social unrest. Examining the complicated political situation on the island on which Matilda lives through the personalities and experiences of its inhabitants, Jones deftly interweaves Matilda’s attempts to understand and master a classic English novel, Great Expectations, with her struggles to understand the chaotic world around her. As the story unfolds, her inner life is transformed by this new knowledge just as surely as her everyday life is disrupted by tragedy. In Mister Pip, abstract questions about literary interpretation and critical thinking are placed in direct and meaningful dialogue with issues of ethics and personal identity: this is a novel that will challenge students to think about themselves and the texts they read in new ways.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

The heroine of Mister Pip, Matilda, is a bright and curious thirteen-year-old when the story opens on the South Pacific island of Bougainville, where she lives with her mother. The island has been blockaded, and the fabric of the villagers’ lives is gradually shredding under the pressure of economic deprivation, isolation and violence, as local rebels fight against the blockaders for control of the island and its valuable copper mine. A new sort of order enters Matilda’s bewildering days when Mr. Watts, the mysterious and eccentric neighbor who is now the only white man on her island, takes over the village’s abandoned school and begins to read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations to the children day by day.

Entranced by the strangeness of the story and its new vocabulary, Matilda’s imaginative life becomes deeply entwined with that of the characters. As the island is engulfed in catastrophes of increasingly terrible magnitude, Matilda, Mr. Watts, and the rest of the community turn again and again to Dickens’ words not just to escape the reality of their everyday lives but to remember, change and share their own life stories. Ultimately, Mr. Watts and the memorable characters he brings to life shape Matilda’s own destiny as she struggles to find her place in the world after leaving her island home.

Mister Pip contains occasional profanity and a scene of violence near the end of the novel; these events, seen and narrated from Matilda’s perspective, serve to heighten the realism of her experience of war and emphasize the resiliency and strength of character which enable her near-miraculous escape from the island and her eventual maturation into an insightful and self-reliant adult.

TEACHING IDEAS

Mister Pip’s exploration of the transformative powers of literature amidst personal and political crisis provides teaching opportunities on a wide variety of topics. The novelty of Dickens—and of English literature itself—to Matilda and the other Bougainville students forces readers to explore and re-examine assumptions about reading and storytelling that are often taken for granted. The novel offers, therefore, numerous opportunities for classroom discussion about the importance and function of literature, the relationship between reader and text, the cultural or social expectations that may accompany certain types of reading and writing, and the ways in which literature can be reinterpreted—or misinterpreted. Mister Pip is a natural fit for literature courses of all kinds; its concern with historical conflict, racial issues and human rights, however, will also render it a valuable addition to Social Studies or History courses.

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

1. What do you learn about Mr. and Mrs. Pop Eye in the first few pages of the novel? What do you learn about the narrator?

2. Why do you think the narrator says that anyone who asked about the difference between a parasol and an umbrella would “get a hiding”? (3)

3. What does this sentence mean? “White stars and a full moon were more important when my grandfather grew up than they are now that we have generators.” (4) Does it suggest or imply anything about the story to come?

4. At the end of the first chapter, the narrator remarks, “Our class was asked to write an essay on what we had seen, but I had no idea what it was about.” (6) What have they seen? Do you know what it was about? Why don’t you think the narrator knows?

5. Why aren’t the islanders overly concerned about the blockade at first? What makes them change their minds? (9-10)

6. On his first day teaching at the school, Mr. Watts tells the students that he doesn’t mind being called “Pop Eye.” Why does this prevent the narrator from calling him that name again? (17)

7. What do the children’s parents want them to ask Mr. Dickens on the second day of school? Why do they think he can help? Why can’t he? (19-20)

8. How long does Mr. Watts say it will take for the students to get to know Mr. Dickens? Why do you think he says that only “some” of them will know him by the end of that time? (22)

9. How does the narrator feel about Mr. Dickens’ story after hearing the first chapter? What parts does she like most? Which are difficult for her to understand, and why? (23-24)

10. How does Matilda’s mother react when she learns that the class is reading Great Expectations? Why do you think she responds as she does? (26-27)

11. What reasons do you think Mr. Watts has for inviting the children’s parents in to speak in the classroom?

12. Why is the phrase “a rimy morning” difficult for Matilda and the others to understand? What effect does the phrase have on Matilda’s mother? (33-35)

13. When the helicopters fly over the village on page 36, who is there? What does Matilda mean when she says that the “dogs and chickens that had names” evacuated along with the people?

14. What happens in the village when the helicopters land? (39-40)

15. Why does Matilda’s mother look angry when she’s thinking? What does Matilda imagine she’s thinking about? What else might she be thinking of? (42)

16. Why do you think Matilda says that she will have to choose between Mr. Watts and her mother? (47)

17. What does Matilda’s mother mean when she says that Mr. Watts “is the offspring of a shining cuckoo”? Why does she call him “Pop Eye” instead of “Mr. Watts,” as the children do? (48)

18. Why do you think Mr. Watts gets “testy” when the students ask whether a poor person can be a gentleman? (53)

19. Why does Matilda decide that her mother has more in common with Miss Havisham than with Pip’s sister? (56-57)

20. When Matilda and Mr. Watts discuss his injured toenail on the beach, why does Matilda think that this is her “opportunity to ask if he missed the white world”? (69)

21. What aspects of Pip’s new life bother Matilda in pages 70-71? How does Mr. Watts explain Pip’s actions?

22. What do you think Mr. Watts means when he says that he hoped his wife “might eventually grow into her name”? (73)

23. According to Matilda’s mother, what are braids good for? How do the children respond to her story? (79-80)

24. Why is Matilda afraid to have her friend’s wounded brother Sam in the village? What do you think happens to Sam at the end of the chapter? (82)

25. Why does Matilda’s mother tell the kids the story about the devil? Why does she look at Mr. Watts after she finishes? (86-89)

26. Why does Daniel look in Matilda’s direction when he asks Mr. Watts what it’s like to be white? (93) How does Daniel say it feels to be black? (94)

27. Why does the officer think that the villagers are hiding someone named Pip? Why is this an important question? (96)

28. Why does Mr. Watts tell the soldier that he is Mr. Dickens? What does Matilda mean when she says that his lie showed how much trust he placed in the children? (99).

29. Why is Daniel’s mistake so disastrous for the villagers? Why do they blame Mr. Watts?

30. Where does Matilda find the missing copy of Great Expectations? What is the significance of her discovery? (108-09)

31. What does Matilda believe Mr. Watts means when he compares himself to a mammoth? (112)

32. Do any buildings remain after the second fire in the village? Which ones? Why? (121-22)

33. What does Matilda first remember about Great Expectations? What does Celia remember? (127-28)

34.How do the villagers respond to Mrs. Watts’ death? Did hearing about her past change your perceptions of her? (140-45)

35. How does the character of Mr. Jaggers affect Matilda’s memories of her father? (150-51)

36. Why are the villagers afraid of the rambos, even though they are “our boys”? (157)

37. The villagers and the rambos listen to Mr. Watts tell his life story for many different reasons. What are they?

38. Why do you think Mr. Watts doesn’t want Matilda to tell her mother about the boat that could take them away from the island? (176)

39. Why is Mr. Watts’ phrase “spare room” so difficult for Matilda to translate for the other villagers? (179)

40. What is the significance of the lists that Mr. Watts and Grace write on their walls? Where do the ideas in the lists come from? (184-92)

41. Why does Matilda call the “Mayfly Story” Mr. Watts’ gift to her mother? (192)

42. Did Mr. Watts’ story and Matilda’s mother’s explanation affect your understanding of Mrs. Watts’ name change? (196-97)

43. Why does Matilda’s mother tell the redskins that she witnessed Mr. Watts’ death? (205)

44. What makes Matilda decide that she wants to survive after the terrible tragedies? Why does she call the log she clings to in the flood “Mr. Jaggers”? (215-16)

45. When Matilda reads Great Expectations in her new school library, what does she discover? Why do you think Mr. Watts made the changes to the book he did? (224-26)

46. What role does Great Expectations play in Matilda’s adult life?

47. At the end of the novel, why do you think Matilda wants to find out about Mr. Watts’ former life? What does she discover? Do her findings change how she feels about Mr. Watts? Do they change your own feelings about him?

Writing Prompts

1. When Mr. Watts tells the students they are going to be introduced to someone called Mr. Dickens, they all assume they will be meeting a real person. How is reading an author’s book different from meeting the author himself? How are the two kinds of meetings similar? In a short essay, explain your thoughts on this topic; if you wish, you may use examples from a book you have read recently to illustrate your point.

2. On page 24, the writer says, “That happened years earlier when the mine was still open and there were white people crawling over Panguna like ants over a corpse.” What is the name of the rhetorical device used in this sentence? What is its effect? Why do you think the narrator chooses this particular phrase to describe the state of the island at that time? Find another such comparison in this chapter and explain its function. Be sure to consider the tone, meaning and significance of your chosen sentence.

3. When Gilbert Masoi’s mother visits the classroom, he is embarrassed by the things she says to the class. Why? Have you ever been embarrassed by someone in your family? Write a brief essay describing a real or imaginary example of such an encounter in your past. How was your own discomfort like Gilbert’s? How was it different? How do you think your family member felt about the event? How does Gilbert’s mother feel?

4. When Matilda’s mother visits the class at the beach, she says: “Stories have a job to do. They can’t just lie around like lazybone dogs. They have to teach you something” (86). Do you agree with this statement? Explain your point of view in a persuasive essay, using examples from books or stories you’ve read.

5. When Mr. Watts finishes reading Great Expectations to the class, they’re so glum that he decides they’ll read it again, this time with the students taking turns reading. But Matilda doesn’t find this a satisfying solution, because, she thinks, “nothing would change for our reading it a second time. […] Reading it a second or third or fourth time, as we did, would not change those events” (77). Have you ever read a book more than once? Was the experience of a subsequent reading different than the first? Write an essay in which you agree or disagree with Matilda’s assessment of re-reading. Can a reader’s response to a story change even if the story itself does not?

6. When Matilda finds Mr. Watts’ missing copy of Great Expectations, she doesn’t return it to him. Why not? Discuss her moral dilemma in terms of her loyalty to Mr. Watts and to her mother. Is her choice correct, in your opinion? What factors must she consider in making her decision?

7. After the redskins burn the villagers’ belongings, Matilda realizes that: “My mum’s silence meant that while Mr. Watts’ copy of Great Expectations was saved, her beloved pidgin Bible went on the bonfire” (111). If you could only own one book or item, which would you choose, and why?

8. Matilda frequently compares characters or scenes from Great Expectations with scenes from her own life. Choose one example of such a comparison and explain how the novel sheds light on her real-life experiences, or vice versa. Questions you may wish to consider include: Are Matilda’s comparisons accurate? How do they show understanding (or misunderstanding) of a particular situation? Did her comparison change your own understanding of the person or situation she described?

9. When Matilda reads Great Expectations herself for the first time, she realizes: “Mr. Watts had read a different version to us kids. A simpler version. He’d stuck to the bare bones of Great Expectations, and he’d straightened out sentences, ad-libbed in fact, to help us arrive at a more definite place in our heads” (225). Do you think Mr. Watts’ changes were justified? Should he have told the children that the story they were hearing differed from the original? Discuss his actions, considering both Matilda’s original attachment to the novel and her reaction to this discovery.

10. When Matilda learns that Mr. Watts used to be an actor, she wonders whether the behaviors she saw in the classroom were really Mr. Watts “or an actor playing Mr. Watts the schoolteacher” (244). Is there a difference between these two options? Does it matter? Argue your point of view in an essay, using examples from the text.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

1. With your students, re-read pages 123 through 132, in which Mr. Watts and the children begin to reconstruct Great Expectations from memory. Divide the class into small groups, with one or two students as the assigned writers for each group. Choose a book or story that the class has read together earlier in the semester or school year, and ask each group to try to reconstruct the book by recording the fragments that the group members remember. After the students have worked for a set amount of time (perhaps 15-30 minutes; make sure that every student has had the chance to contribute at least one fragment to his/her group), have each group share their reconstructed story with the rest of the class. Ask the students: Are their reconstructions alike? Different? How do they differ from the original? Consider how the reconstructed stories would change if they worked on them for a longer period of time. Is time the only limiting factor? Can such a reconstruction ever be “better” than the original work? As good?

2. In Mister Pip, Mr. Watts invites the children’s parents into the classroom to share their knowledge with the students, though their lessons are very different from his own. Ask your students to consider what knowledge or experiences they have that other people may not, and have them design a brief lesson in which they will present their knowledge to their classmates. Possible topics might include a place they have visited, a book they have read, or a skill they have learned. Remind students that their lessons should be concise and informative: they may wish to use note cards or audiovisual aids, if appropriate, to help with their explanation. Allow time for questions and answers after each presentation. After all of the students have presented to the class, discuss the experience with the class. How were these “lessons” different from their usual lessons? Were the topics different? The presentation style? Did the exercise change their feelings about the parents’ lessons in the novel?

VOCABULARY

Constabulary, n. — the force of policemen and officers in a district.

Emigrant, n. — a person who emigrates, as from his or her native country or region.

Hiding, n. informal. — a beating, thrashing.

Pidgin, n. — an auxiliary language that has come into existence through the attempts by the speakers of two different languages to communicate and that is primarily a simplified form of one of the languages, with a reduced vocabulary and grammatical structure and considerable variation in pronunciation.

Rambo, n. — a fanatically militant or violently aggressive person.

Rimy, adj. — frosty; covered with frost or a coating of ice.

Serialized, adj. — written or published in short installments at regular intervals, as a novel appearing in successive issues of a magazine.

*Definitions above are taken or adapted from Dictionary.com, a compilation of online dictionaries.

BEYOND THE BOOK

1. Mister Pip is a story of lives which are profoundly affected by political and historical events, yet many of these events are often related only in bits and pieces, as part of the narrator’s memories. Ask your students to research the political and historical situation in Bougainville in the years around 1990, the time in which this novel is set. You may wish to assign individual dates or topics to different students, and then have each student share his/her findings with the class. Ask the class: How does your experience of the events from this novel differ from your experience of them during your research? Why might the writer have chosen to present the story in this way? How does this relate to his choice of narrator?

2. Names–real names, false names, changing names, mistaken names–are very important in Mister Pip. Have each of your students choose a subject who uses or has used more than one name. Possibilities include: family members or ancestors who have changed their name; celebrities who use a professional or stage name; authors who write under a pseudonym; acquaintances who go by a nickname or middle name; even book or movie characters. Students may wish to interview or research their subjects, in cases where this is possible. Each student should consider why his/her subject uses the name he/she does and what the possible effects of using a different name might be. Ask each student to sum up his or her findings visually in a poster format: a flow chart, family tree, or collage may be effective ways to convey the significance(s) of the name-change and of each name itself.

OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST

Great Expectations
Fahrenheit 451
Reading Lolita in Tehran


ABOUT THIS GUIDE

Hannah Doherty is a PhD student in English Literature at Stanford University, where she will spend the next few years taking many English classes, working as a graduate teaching assistant and teaching as an instructor in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. She is an avid reader and has worked with young people of all ages as a tutor and camp counselor.

Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide

  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • May 20, 2008
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction
  • Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • $15.00
  • 9780385341073

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