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‘Jasper Jones has a terrible reputation in Corrigan. He’s a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant. He’s lazy and unreliable. He’s feral and an orphan, or as good as. His mother is dead, and his father is no good. He’s the rotten model that parents hold aloft as a warning’. This is a quote from the first chapter in the novel Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, describing a character whose presence lingers throughout the novel, even if he’s not physically there. This quote is from Charlie Bucktin, the protagonist, who is filled with the prejudices’ that his corrupted town has fed him. This novel is set in the 1960s Australia which explains this racist and stereotypical thought of Aboriginal people as well as being a gothic bildungsroman novel that looks at dark and taboo topics with an abundance of suspense and mystery. It follows Charlie, Jasper Jones, and Eliza Wishart on a mission to discover the reason Laura Wishart was found dead hung from a tree which turns into a never-ending spiral of learning truths and secrets from people they should and shouldn’t trust. This novel explores the relevance of the quote ‘Life is about working out who that bad guy is’ through the characterization of Pete Wishart, Ruth Bucktin, and ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel with their dialogue, actions, and intertwining in the plot.
The presence of Pete Wishart in the novel and his conflicting identities relates to the quote, ‘Life is about working out who the bad guy is.’ He’s the Shire President, therefore seen as a caring and a ‘can do no wrong’ person by the town when behind closed doors he’s an abusive alcoholic making him no better than the criminals he locks up. This is the reason why this antagonist works well with the quote ‘Life is about working out who that bad guy is’, because he’s supposed to be what the town views him as, a caring person who is doing right by the people but he’s not and repeatedly making offenses and exploiting his power. An example of this is when Jasper Jones comes back from the police station beaten and bruised, Charlie finds that the President ‘knew they the police were beating Jasper’ and Jasper counts back with ‘Knew? He dints just know, he was sticking the boot in most of all’. This indicates that Pete Wishart condones violence towards criminal suspects and Aboriginals and that he himself as the shire president participates in these actions that he’s supposed to be against. Another example of Pete condoning violence is when he commits this in his own home as well as sexual abuse. Eliza Wishart (his youngest child) tells Charlie about a suicide letter from Laura Wishart (his eldest child), it tells that their father would drunkenly physically, emotionally, and sexually abuse Laura and had done so since she was a child. This is a major revelation for other characters and readers as it destroys how Pete Wishart is portrayed to the town of Corrigan and fuels, even more, hate and anger from the readers. This antagonist doesn’t just abuse and tries not to associate with people of color but also with his own family. He is a fantastic example of the quote ‘Life is about figuring out who the bad guy is’ since he’s every opposite of what he is supposed to stand for, that people who look up to him are fooled and characters like Charlie Bucktin, a white character who starts out as innocent and naïve, have to figure this out.
The actions and dialogue of Ruth Bucktin in the novel and her breaking conventions relate to the quote, ‘Life is about working out who the bad guy is’. She’s the mother of Charlie Bucktin but is shown to be an angry and materialist person who doesn’t convey many traits that a mother or a parent in general usually holds. We see an antagonist who’s trying to raise a child and be a good wife but because of her negative attitudes, morals, and beliefs, it backfires on her. She is a selfish character who wants to control, protect, and to have what she thinks she deserves. An example of this is when Ruth Bucktin yells and screams at Charlie, slapping him and grabbing him by the collar demanding ‘Where have you been?’. After the argument, she yells at him to go to his room and Charlie tries to refuse to say how ‘but there are wasps in there’ but she yells back ‘I don’t care!’. Now Charlie did leave when he wasn’t supposed to but that does not justify Ruth’s actions that can be a part of physical and verbal abuse as well as completely disregarding and being insensitive to her son’s fears and anxieties. This suggests that when Ruth Bucktin is angrily added with worry, she doesn’t foresee what she’s doing, she only cares about the truth and the punishment. This is probably why Charlie has such a strong dislike for her since it’s shown in multiple chapters that his mother gets angry quite a bit. Throughout the novel, it’s hinted that Ruth Bucktin is cheating on her husband and in chapter 6 it’s confirmed that she is when Charlie finds her ‘grappling and gripping’ another man in a car. She sobs, telling Charlie that he ‘doesn’t understand’ and ‘your father doesn’t love me. He never has’. This points out that Ruth will do things for her own benefit because she thinks she deserves it even if it potentially hurts others and she doesn’t deserve it. Wesley presumably has loved Ruth but over time with her just yelling and criticizing him his feelings most defiantly faded, the only reason they’re still together is possible because of Charlie. Ruth Bucktin is a good example of a character breaking conventions and being turned into an antagonist, she shows that even parents can be harmful to their children and that one should look at their beliefs, attitudes, and morals before entering a relationship and having kids.
With ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel’s intertwining in the plot and his presence he relates to the quote, ‘Life is about working out who the bad guy is’. He is feared by the town with the thought that he killed a young woman when he’s just a sad lonely man that has be accused and shunned away. At the start of the novel, he is put out to be the antagonist but by the end, we see him as a full 3D character whose story has finally been told and not just a lingering name with negative connotations. Throughout the novel, the deed of proving your bravery for the children and teens in Corrigan is ‘stealing something from the property of ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel’. Since the town all have the thought that he killed a young woman it’s a thrill for kids to steal various things from his front yard, it makes them seem courageous and worthy of the ‘popular kids’ ‘ time, especially if they steal a peach from his tree; you’re basically royalty if you do. It demonstrates that these children have the same idea about ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel that their parents would, that he is a killer and should be feared but no one is trying to find out if he did kill the women. It’s just rumors going off rumors, since the town thinks Jack killed this young woman because he didn’t like her marrying his son when in fact over time, he warmed up the woman and saw her as a friend. ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel is an example of misrepresentation of a person, he’s good for a reference of the quote ‘Life is about working about the bad guy is’ since he’s seen as the bad guy at the start but by the end, it is figured out, he really isn’t.
The novel Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey explores power exploitation, abuse, and prejudices that all link to the quote ‘Life is about working out who the bad guy is” through the characters Pete Wishart, Ruth Bucktin, and ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel. The story brings up quite a few not talked about topics in the time it was written such as rape, suicide, and child abuse but how well do you think Craig Silvey approached these issues? Was it a correct how he portrayed it? Was it an incorrect approach to these issues like some belief for 13 Reasons Why? Was it too much? This can only be answered by the reader and how they see these types of swept under the rug issues.
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