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A Tale of Growth for The Protagonist in Novel "Jasper Jones"

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Whilst most authors base their literature around current contextual events some ‘go against the grain’ and construct their own writing on past contextual events. Craig Silvey in his 2009 novel “Jasper Jones”, set in 1965 presents a tale of growth for the protagonist Charlie Bucktin, as he gradually loses his adolescent innocence. He constructs this tale of growth through the characterisation of Jasper Jones to act as a catalyst for Charlie’s bildungsroman. In addition, Silvey presents symbolism to highlight to Charlie the injustice of the world throughout the novel and cleverly portrays the characterisation of Ruth Bucktin as an allegory for the protagonist’s shattering naïve perception of the world. Ultimately Silvey presents how the ongoing allusion of Charlie’s literature and past contextual references affect how he deals with his bildungsroman in the novel.

Throughout our lives, we have relationships that can influence our behaviours and beliefs. Silvey constructs the characterisation of Jasper Jones to act as a catalyst for Charlie’s bildungsroman, as the relationship that Charlie has with Jasper causes his behaviour to change alongside losing his innocence. At the start of the novel, Jasper lures Charlie out of his room, which is described as “my fall from the window is a little like a foal being born” even though Charlie longs “to sit safely in the womb of my room”. Silvey has cleverly constructed this first interaction with Jasper to highlight how uncomfortable Charlie is with breaking the rules and how this action of sneaking out of his room is foreign to him. Furthermore demonstrated through the use of zoomorphism, “like a foal”, which connotes how this action of breaking the rules symbolises Charlie’s rebirth into an adult world by this first act of losing his innocence. The imagery of a “foal” also portrays Charlie as evolving into this weak creature that is being led astray and also reflects how this weakness is his inability to understand the new perception of the world that Jasper acts as a catalyst for him discovering. The setting of the “womb” is also used to reinforce Charlie’s metaphorical birth from having a naïve perception of the world to more of an acute understanding of its injustice. When Charlie leaves the “womb” it symbolises that he is now without its prior protection; leading to the acts of him losing his innocence and growing into the ‘man’ that he wishes to become. 

Silvey portrays Jasper as this ‘man’ that Charlie wants to become by constructing a positive semantic field of adjectives like “strong”, “tall” and “defined” to juxtapose how the town of “Corrigan” views this boy as a “truant”, “thief” and “thug”. This juxtaposition of description highlights how Charlie is different to the rest of the town as he sees the truth just like Jasper does and by Jasper coming to his window and leading him down this path of discovery makes him see Jasper as his personal goal. The second act of Jasper leading Charlie to lose his adolescent innocence is when he takes him to see Laura Wishart’s dead body as it leads to “a bubble” to “burst”, “and everything changes” for Charlie. The metaphor of the ‘bubble’ bursting symbolises how he is again leaving this fragile naïve perception that he had of the world and is evolving into having this stable perception of the world that he is shocked to know exists. In addition, the metaphor of the “bubble” also mirrors how he is leaving behind his childhood as blowing bubbles is for children and can also foreshadow how he will not enjoy the world he is discovering. Through this association with Jasper and with this desire to become like him, Charlie is influenced by his actions and begins to change the way he behaves. From being this precocious and literacy minded boy, who doesn’t put a foot wrong and never stands up to others, to being someone that asks Jasper if they have “got any whiskey?” and by standing up to “Warwick Trent”, the school bully, when he proves his bravery by stealing “more than four of” Mad Jack Lionels “peaches”. Silvey has constructed this change in Charlie to convey how the impact of Jasper during the novel has led to Charlie evolving into this strong-minded boy that is no longer afraid, reinforcing the idea that Jasper Jones acted as a catalyst for Charlie’s growth.

In Jasper Jones, Silvey constructs events to symbolise how the deceit and injustice of the world result in the growth of the protagonist. When An Lu’s garden is destroyed Charlie’s “brick sinks” and he starts “shaking” and being “afraid”, this reaction conveys how the protagonist is scared due to the level of violence that has been used against his best friends family, whom he knows has done nothing to deserve this treatment. The injustice of the attack against the Vietnamese family symbolises to Charlie how cold and unforgiving the world is; as they are being attacked for searching for a better life after leaving Vietnam during the Vietnam War and also because An Lu is good at his job. The fact that they are being attacked for no real reason and that “something beautiful” was “destroyed” conveys how the World makes no sense as terrible things can happen to people who don’t deserve it by people that are just “sharks in the dark”. The imagery that “something beautiful” was “destroyed” also connotes how the attackers are “uprooting” the stable foundations that Charlie’s perception of the world is built on, equality and fairness, leading to them destroying everything that is beautiful within Australia. 

This destruction of Charlie’s foundation of beliefs leads to him to develop and to grow even though he loses his innocence. The metaphor of the “brick” symbolises how this event has burdened Charlie and how it makes his heart and soul heavy by witnessing this attack; as Charlie cannot understand why someone could have “destroyed something beautiful”. Charlie then later questions his father on “Why did that just happen? Why would anyone do that to An?”, the repetitive questions symbolise Charlie’s confusion on why things happen and how he doesn’t “understand a thing about this world”. The questions also make the reader question why the world works in this way too. His questions are left unanswered by his father, further deepening Charlie’s state of confusion and disbelief but it also means that the protagonist is left with the knowledge that things happen for no reason at all a message that he takes and grows upon. Another message that Charlie takes from this event is how he shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, as this in itself is an injustice. The protagonist has always seen his father as weak but during this attack against An Lu, he discovers that he was wrong as his father stands up for An Lu. He is described as “so tall. He’s so goddamned tall”, which through the use of anaphora portrays Charlie as shocked about how brave and strong his dad is, connoting that he was doing his dad an injustice by judging him. 

This development in his education about people that Silvey is taking Charlie and the reader on means that he grows into a more independent individual, that doesn’t just refer to stereotypes as his judgement for people. Furthermore, the moral of not judging a book by its cover is explored when Silvey presents the sergeant beating Jasper shortly after the disappearance of Laura Wishart. The beating leads to Jasper having a “left eye like a cricket ball” and even though Charlie trusts Jasper he says himself that “If I hadn’t of seen the cuts and bruises … for myself, I wouldn’t have suspected this man to be the monster he was”. This initially uncertainty from Charlie has been constructed by Silvey to connote how this new idea of the world is shocking to the protagonist as he further loses his innocence. In addition, Charlie’s growing awareness of the cruelty, deceit and racism in Corrigan is a vital part of him growing up as it makes him realise the what type of person he doesn’t want to be a racist. When he realises this his morality shifts as he goes from associating the “Sarge” with help and justice to being a “monster”. By creating the people in authority to take advantage of innocent children, Silvey is challenging the reader to consider the amount of injustice in the world today as even though the novel was set in 1965, it is still a current issue. As modern-day readers, we can still relate to this situation as in America there are still racist attacks happening by the police constantly. Therefore Silvey is encouraging the readers to stand up and fight against injustice as it could save many lives and many lost childhoods.

Silvey cleverly constructs the characterisation of Ruth Bucktin as an allegory for Charlie’s growth in the novel by shattering his naïve, innocent perception of the world as the further he matures the more strained their relationship becomes until it reaches breaking point- the discovery of her affair. Ruth is a “curt and impatient” mother that always has a harsh “sarcastic” tone with Charlie, which is perceived to be because of her resentment towards her husband and child for trapping her in Corrigan, a small town. This harsh tone symbolises the lack of love and respect that she has for each member of the family and challenges stereotypes that mothers are the source of care and affection in their children’s lives. Furthermore shattering Charlie’s picture-perfect perception of the world as it’s not as it should be, as Silvey has constructed Ruth to convey how in the mid-1960s in Australia women started to behave in more of a liberated, feminist manner. As the protagonist loses some of his innocence through sneaking out of the house and observing the injustice in the world, his behaviour to this tone changes from not responding, “I don’t argue”, to arguing back. An example of this behaviour change is in chapter 3 when Charlie has to dig a hole in the garden and when told to fill it in, he says ”No” “I’m not filling it in!”, this initial change in their relationship conveys that as Charlie is growing up he is becoming more independent, something that his mother doesn’t know how to deal with resulting in more arguments and them having a distant relationship. This distance between them increases when Charlie discovers that she is having an affair when he catches her “grappling and gripping” another man. Instantly, this betrayal leads to Ruth losing her moral high ground as she falls from grace causing the power that she had to shift from her to Charlie. This power shift dynamic between them means that Charlie is now in charge and this is shown when he states “I don’t have to do what you say anymore”. He feels that he has the right to say this as the perfect image that he had of his parents is shattered so he no longer wants to please her as he is broken by her betrayal. This disbelief and hurt by her betrayal is presented through the metaphor “The brick drops further than it’s ever been” and the simile “I hate her like poison”, these negative descriptions convey how painful this betrayal is to the protagonist as it connotes that his heart is hurt more than it ever has been before. In addition to this, when Charlie catches them engaging in a sexual act it’s another loss of childhood innocence as it causes him to grow up and also makes him cease being a child.

What we read can impact and influence our lives massively, knowing this Silvey presents how the ongoing allusion of Charlie’s literature and past contextual references affect how he deals with his bildungsroman in the novel. Charlie is a precocious, literacy-minded boy, who is beaten up by Warwick Trent for saying words that are “too clever”, that communicates his ideas and feelings in the novel by referencing literature that he has previously read like when he expresses how Mark Twain has inspired him. To Kill A Mockingbird is also referenced multiple times as Silvey invites us to explore the parallels between the two novels as Charlie surmises that Jasper perceives him as “Atticus Finch”, who is brave and uptight. He believes that Jasper “must-have presumed me to be genuine and fair. Like Atticus Finch: dignified and reasonable and wise.”, this comparison between the two characters hints at strong intertextuality between them and also connotes how Charlie wishes to be like this character when he grows up. This reference to his future portrays how he is communicating his future aspirations through literature as he is growing up and maturing throughout the text. The inclusion of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ highlights how Silvey was also inspired by the novel in his childhood and thinks that this was a pivotal moment in his own progression and has mirrored this onto Charlie. The parallelism between the two characters also connotes how Charlie is reflecting on Atticus Finch’s actions to be inspired and then mirrors these actions to make himself “like Atticus Finch”. The actions that he is inspired by are when Atticus states that he does his “best to love everybody” that justice can be “ugly” and that these are just “facts of life.”. These actions that Charlie has been inspired by can be seen in himself when he doesn’t understand “why would anyone do that to An?”, this connotes his idea of equality that he has observed in Atticus Finch’s character. This moral of equality is communicated by Charlie throughout the novel as he believes that there is inequality and racism in the town of Corrigan, a motif that has led to him losing his childhood innocence multiple times. The protagonist also comments on past crimes that have taken place including Eric Edgar Cooke, the first serial killer in Western Australia that committed a total of 22 violent crimes. Eric Edgar Cooke was a stand-alone serial killer that “shot a man between the eyes” and “stabbed a woman” between 1959 and 1963. As the first serial killer in Western Australia, it meant that the state lost its innocence, this is mirrored onto the town of Corrigan by the disappearance of Laura Wishart. As both Corrigan and WA lost their innocence, Charlie can relate to the tale of Eric Edgar Cooke so he knows what to expect next in the aftermath of Laura’s disappearance. Additionally, in the Eric Edgar Cooke saga, two men were wrongfully convicted of his crimes representing the injustice in Corrigan as Jasper Jones is also wrongfully suspected of being responsible for Laura’s disappearance. Through the repetition of these events, Charlie learns that, these events that seem so world-shattering are actually not and that he can survive them by using these past experiences to help him overcome his emotions regarding the situations that he is confronted within the novel. These allusions also act as an escape for Charlie, to get away from this cruel world that he is growing up in.

In conclusion, Silvey has constructed a tale of growth for the protagonist by creating the characterisation of Jasper Jones to act as a catalyst for Charlie growing up by luring him out of his bedroom, seeing the dead body and changing his behaviour to be more like Jasper-all of these events factor into Charlie losing his innocence and his bildungsroman throughout the novel. Furthermore, his bildungsroman continues due to certain events that lead to Charlie understanding that the world causes things to happen for no reason at all and also the relationship between the protagonist and his mother leads to him ceasing to be a child anymore due to the betrayal that he witnesses. Finally, through the use of literature Charlie realises that these events have taken place before and that he can use these events to help him overcome this confusion that he feels whilst growing up and that he can use to communicate his ideas and beliefs through. Throughout reading this text I have learnt how one event can start a spiral of events to take place and that they can affect someone’s life forever, by changing their values and behaviours.

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A Tale of Growth for the Protagonist in Novel “Jasper Jones”. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
“A Tale of Growth for the Protagonist in Novel “Jasper Jones”.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022,
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A Tale of Growth for the Protagonist in Novel “Jasper Jones” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2022 Jun 27]. Available from:
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