A week after Laura’s death, Jasper Jones returns to Charlie’s window. It is a week, Charlie notes, that feels as long as his entire life.
Charlie’s perception of time changes dramatically in response to his experiences with Jasper. It’s as if Laura’s death is “slowing down” Charlie’s development, making time pass more slowly.
In the remainder of the week leading up to Jasper’s return, little happens. Jeffrey doesn’t make the Country Week cricket team, which surprises no one, Charlie’s mother is irritable, his father is calm, and Charlie himself finishes Pudd’nhead Wilson and moves on to Innocents Abroad. The search party continues, with no success, and various men from the town are drafted to fight in Vietnam.
Life goes on in Corrigan, despite Laura’s disappearance. The usual themes of the town, such as racism, stoic acceptance of one’s lot, or childish dissatisfaction, persist. This shows how Silvey has established the “rhythm” of the town in only four chapters.
The night that Jasper returns to Charlie’s window, there is a town meeting at the Miners’ Hall. The town chaplain and a few town council members take questions from the townspeople. For the most part, they say that they have no information or evidence about Laura’s whereabouts. The most likely possibility, they suggest, is that Laura hitchhiked out of town.
As little progress as Jasper and Charlie have made with solving the mystery of Laura’s death, the police have done no better.
In the vestibule of the Miners’ Hall, Charlie notices Jeffrey with his parents. Charlie greets Jeffrey, and they agree that the police know nothing. In the middle of their conversation, there is a cry. Mrs. Lu has poured hot water into her teacup from an urn left for the townspeople to drink from. A woman named Sue Findlay sees her doing so, and angrily slaps the teacup from her hand, throwing scalding water onto Mrs. Lu’s skin. Sue then yells profanities at Mrs. Lu, who is completely quiet and still. As she’s about to grab Mrs. Lu’s hair, some townspeople lead Sue away, leaving Jeffrey to lead his mother out of the building. He waves goodbye to Charlie, so casually that Charlie doesn’t know how to respond. After Jeffrey and his mother leave, Charlie’s parents talk to each other without mentioning what just happened to Mrs. Lu.
This confrontation shows the extent of the racism underlying the daily life of the town—a prejudiced status quo that here bubbles over into violence. This isn’t only a conflict between angry schoolboys and Jeffrey—it extends to fully-grown adults who ought to know much better. Charlie’s take on the scene seems much more sensible and mature than either of his parents’ reactions. Where Wesley and Charlie’s mother want to forget about what happened, Charlie refuses to do so. This shows the extent of his compassion for his friend and his friend’s family, as well as his commitment to truth and justice.
As Charlie thinks about Mrs. Lu, he realizes what might happen to Jasper. If he’s linked to the place where Laura was found hanging, then the townspeople, eager for any excuse, could lynch him. He imagines living with Eliza in New York, or living with Jasper in Brooklyn. At this moment, either option sounds wonderful to him.
Charlie’s experiences with racism in the town make him better realize the urgency of his project to clear Jasper’s name. At the same time, he survives his anxiety by retreating into fantasy, imagining his time in New York with Eliza.
On their drive home, Charlie’s parents explain to him why Sue Findlay yelled at Mrs. Lu. Her husband, Ray, was killed in Vietnam, and her son was drafted to fight in the war. As Wesley explains all this, Charlie becomes angry—he says that it wasn’t right that Sue accosted Mrs. Lu, or that no one helped Mrs. Lu afterwards. Wesley doesn’t reply to this.
Wesley’s silence is agonizing. Charlie wants him to speak out about Vietnam, to defend the innocent and attack the guilty. It’s not clear exactly why Wesley remains silent, but based on what we’ve already seen, it seems likely that his wife has something to do with it.
That night, Charlie hears a tapping at his window. He opens the window and sees Jasper Jones, who has a black eye and a cut lip. He tells Charlie to follow him—although his parents haven’t gone to bed yet, Charlie agrees, and climbs out the window.
Charlie seems more willing than usual to help Jasper here. In the past, he was highly reluctant to leave his home, but now he’s ready to slip out, even when his parents are still awake.
Jasper leads Charlie down the street, careful to stay out of view of any cars. A car passes by, and they hide by the side of a house. To their dismay, the car parks at the house, and a man gets out. Luckily, the man is visibly drunk—he urinates in his garden, and staggers inside without seeing them. Charlie and Jasper walk away from the streets, toward the river. They don’t say anything to each other.
This scene is lifted almost exactly from To Kill a Mockingbird. In Lee’s novel, there’s a moment where the main characters sneak out after dark and see a drunk man urinating in his front lawn. Silvey freely admits the extent to which he “borrows” from other authors, and from Lee more than any other.
Charlie and Jasper reach the glade where they found Laura. Charlie feels apprehensive as he remembers the sight of Laura hanging from the tree. Jasper tells Charlie that something is wrong—he senses that someone else has been to the glade recently. He insists that the police can’t have found the glade yet, but Charlie notes that it sounds as if Jasper is trying to convince himself. Charlie asks Jasper if he has any whiskey, and Jasper hands him a small bottle, from which Charlie drinks. The whiskey tastes disgusting, but Charlie finds that it “works”—it makes him feel lighter and more relaxed.
Charlie’s ability to drink the whiskey without retching—much—shows that he’s made something like “progress.” It’s not clear what, exactly, this progress means, but it does suggest that he’s acquiring the trappings of masculinity and maturity, if not their substance.
Charlie notices that Jasper has a black eye, and asks him if it was his father who gave it to him. Jasper shakes his head and tells Charlie that his father hasn’t been in town since last Friday. Charlie suggests that Jasper’s father might have killed Laura, but Jasper immediately disagrees—his father doesn’t have it in him, he says. When Charlie presses him, Jasper explains that it was the local “Sarge” who hit him—the head of the local constabulary (police division). The police called Jasper in for questioning, assuming that Jasper had something to do with Laura’s death, and then kept him locked up for the weekend. The police wanted Jasper to confess to Laura’s crime, but Jasper kept silent, enduring pain in his ribs and back. Fortunately, Jasper explains to Charlie, Jasper now knows everything the police know about Laura’s disappearance: nothing. While the police say that Laura may have hitchhiked out of the town, Jasper points out that this is highly unlikely, since Laura didn’t take any clothes or other possessions. It’s likely, he guesses, that the police are trying to pass on Laura’s case to another town, making up for the fact that they’ve found no evidence. Jasper also tells Charlie that Laura’s father, the president of the shire (the rough equivalent of a country in the United States), was present for his beating, and even kicked Jasper himself.
Based on what we’ve seen earlier in this chapter, it’s entirely plausible that the police in Corrigan would arrest Jasper without sufficient evidence and then violently interrogate him. Charlie’s growing awareness of the cruelty and racism of his fellow townspeople is, unfortunately, a vital part of his coming of age in the novel. He must first realize what he doesn’t want to grow up to be—a racist—before he can decide, realistically, what to make of his life. It’s also in this section that Jasper introduces us to a new suspect in Laura’s death—Laura’s own father. Clearly, he’s capable of cruelty to the young, meaning that he’s as much of a suspect as any of the other racist adults Charlie has noticed in his community. The fact that Laura’s father is the president of the shire indicates that racism is not only tolerated but boldly celebrated throughout Australia at the time.
As they take swigs of whiskey, Jasper tells Charlie about Laura and their relationship. He’s confident that Laura would never have left the town without Jasper—the two of them were planning to leave together. As Charlie takes a drink of whiskey, choking slightly, he thinks about Jasper, and how he’s lost Laura, who was his love and possibly his best friend. Charlie realizes that Jasper pretends “he doesn’t give a shit” to disguise his true sadness and loneliness. Charlie wonders if Jasper needs Charlie’s help at all, or if he only wants someone to talk to.
We begin to get a better sense of Laura’s relationship to Jasper, and thus a better understanding of Laura herself. Like Charlie, she saw something attractive in Jasper’s rugged, ambitious personality. At the same time, Charlie begins to sense that this persona is an illusion, and underneath, Jasper is terrified and lonely. This is why he enlists Charlie’s help in the first place.
Jasper tells Charlie that he’s sure Mad Jack Lionel killed Laura. Mad Jack saw Jasper with Laura many times, and he’s killed before. Jasper has passed by Mad Jack’s house many times, and every time, Mad Jack yells at him. Jasper acknowledges that he doesn’t know for sure if Mad Jack is talking to Jasper or not—he can’t understand what he’s saying. Jasper says that he’s planning to sneak into Mad Jack’s house to find evidence proving his guilt. Charlie protests that he’s unlikely to find any evidence at all, and adds that it’s possible that Mad Jack had nothing to do with the crime, anyway. Jasper admits that he doesn’t know much about Mad Jack. His father told him that he killed a woman years ago, but Jasper doesn’t know who this woman was, or why Mad Jack killed her.
Mad Jack seems like a possible suspect in this case, but he’s almost too obvious a culprit. The fact that Jasper doesn’t exactly understand what Jack is yelling to him suggests that there’s much more to Jack than meets the eye, which in turn this suggests that Jack isn’t the guilty party he seems to be. It also doesn’t help that Jasper’s only information about Jack being a murderer comes from a highly unreliable source—Jasper’s own alcoholic father.
Jasper tells Charlie about what he and Laura had been doing in the days leading up to her death. Jasper hadn’t seen Laura in a few days, because he’d been selling fruit to make money so that he and Laura could leave Corrigan. Perhaps Laura walked by Mad Jack’s house by herself on the way to the glade, and that was when Mad Jack killed her. Jasper blames himself for Laura death—if he hadn’t been selling fruit, he could have protected Laura. Charlie asks Jasper what he means by “protect,” but Jasper doesn’t respond. Charlie senses that Jasper is concealing something from him, but he can’t guess what this might be. He tries to reason his way through the facts, as Atticus Finch would do. It’s a simple explanation that Mad Jack, the town recluse, killed Laura—but perhaps it’s too simple and too convenient.
Here, Silvey complicates our understanding of innocence and guilt. It seems likely that Jasper’s absence is “responsible” for leading to Laura’s death, but this doesn’t exactly mean that Jasper is guilty, Nevertheless, it does help to explain why Jasper is feeling so guilty about Laura’s hanging—he knows that he should have been there for her. It’s also notable that Charlie rejects Mad Jack’s guilt as “too convenient”—even when he’s investigating a murder, Charlie approaches things with a literary instinct, and he looks for the best story.
Jasper tells Charlie something Laura once told him. There have been more than 100 billion human beings in the history of the planet—thus, for any one human being to think that he owns a part of the Earth, or is better than other humans, is absurd. He adds that it’s absurd to “draw lines” and invent complicated rules to live by, as religious people do. Charlie isn’t sure how to reply, but he tells Jasper that in India, people used to believe that the Earth was suspended on the back of a turtle. Jasper smiles and laughs at this. He tells Charlie that there is no such thing as God, just as there’s no such thing as Zeus or Apollo. What’s important, he explains, is to trust oneself and “have faith” in one’s abilities. Jasper senses that if anything, God is “inside him.” He longs for the future, when humans will be able to explore the moon and other planets.
Jasper’s long speech about religion is complicated, but it includes a number of points that Silvey has already alluded to. To begin with, he mentions the futility of “boundaries” of any kind. This corresponds to the boundaries that the town of Corrigan imposes: the petty ways of classifying races and people. Jasper’s conclusions about religion are personal as he rejects organized ideology of any kind. This worldview is rather“existentialist”: one must determine one’s own thoughts and beliefs instead of submitting to other people’s dogma. In a way, this scene is the height of Jasper’s charisma, where he is truly the kind of ambitious, adventurous character Charlie has read about in books. Jasper’s ambition is virtually boundless—he even wants to explore the moon.
Charlie asks Jasper about his mother, who was an Aboriginal. Jasper tells Charlie that he barely knew his mother, since she died in a car accident when he was young. Thus, he doesn’t know anything about Aboriginal religion. Jasper mentions that his father used to be an excellent football (soccer) player, but he preferred to drink and be miserable than pursue a career as an athlete.
Jasper’s explanation of his parents’ lives is short, and though it contains plenty of information, it does little to better Charlie’s understanding of either one of them. This shows that information has its limits—one can “know” a great deal about a family without fully “understanding” it.
As Jasper speaks, Charlie feels his vision blurring and his body numbing. He vomits up the whiskey he’s drunk. As Charlie crouches on the ground, he notices a carving on the tree from which Laura was hung. At first, he thinks the whiskey is making him see things that aren’t there. But then he walks to the tree and realizes that there is indeed a carving. He calls Jasper over, and they look at the word together: “Sorry.” Charlie can see from Jasper’s face that he didn’t carve the word.
Charlie’s vomiting seems to confirm his lack of machismo, but in actuality, it’s the same action we’ve already seen from Jasper. More to the point, it provides a useful piece of information—the word “sorry,” scrawled on the tree. Though we’re only halfway through the novel, it seems as if the mystery is becoming more, not less, complicated. There seems to be someone else who knows about Laura’s death, someone who’s still living in the town.
Jasper and Charlie walk back to Corrigan, thinking about the carved tree. Charlie doesn’t know how to interpret the “Sorry”—it is an apology for Laura, for Laura’s family, or for Jasper? Charlie realizes that whoever carved the word is still in Corrigan, and knows about Jasper’s glade. As Charlie thinks about this, he and Jasper pass by Mad Jack’s house, and Charlie feels a sense of dread.
In spite of his skepticism of Mad Jack’s guilt, Charlie continues to be afraid of him. This shows that rational thought can only go so far, as Charlie‘s fears and anxieties that influence his reasoning. It’s impossible for him to be as cool and impartial as his hero, Atticus Finch.
Charlie and Jasper walk back through the center of town, staying off the main streets to avoid the cars of the search party. At several points, they’re forced to crouch in drainage ditches to hide from police cars. Just as Charlie turns the corner toward his house, he and Jasper see that there is a search party on his lawn, and both his mother and father are there. Jasper whispers to Charlie to make something up, and not to mention Jasper. With this, he slips away, leaving Charlie to deal with his parents.
Jasper abandons Charlie to deal with his parents. While this is clearly the sensible thing to do—it’ll be worse for both of them if Charlie’s parents see that he’s involved with Jasper—the act feels like a kind of betrayal. Charlie was attracted to Jasper because he considered himself Jasper’s friend and partner. Here, it becomes clear that Charlie is on his own.
Charlie walks toward his house, slowly, knowing that he’s a “dead man walking.” As he approaches, his mother runs toward him, weeping, and embraces him. As his mother hugs him, Charlie realizes for the first time that it’s terrifying not knowing where one’s family is. He thinks of Eliza not knowing where Laura is, and feels deep sympathy for his mother. Still holding his mother, Charlie begins to cry.
Even though he dislikes some of the things his mother does, Charlie still loves her and can empathize with her. In part, this is a testament to his own innate potential for sympathy. At the same time, it also proves that Wesley’s advice that Charlie should be diplomatic has paid off—he’s learned to be gentler and kinder with his mother.
As he hugs his mother, Charlie looks around and sees that Wesley and a large crowd have gathered. Keith Tostling, a sheep shearer, grabs Charlie and inspects his eyes as if he’s a doctor—Charlie finds this ridiculous, and shakes loose. Wesley ruffles Charlie’s cowlick and says, “Whoa, easy, sport.” Charlie has never loved his father more than right now.
Even in the midst of this poignant moment, Silvey gives us traces of humor. The fact that a sheep shearer thinks he’s qualified to treat eye problems reminds us that it’s not all mystery and tragedy. Charlie’s love for his father also helps to redeem the sad, uncertain note of this chapter.
The “Sarge” tells Wesley that he’d like to speak with Charlie, and Wesley nods. Charlie, Wesley, and Charlie’s mother walk to their home, followed by the Sarge. Charlie notices that An Lu is returning to his house, looking very grave. Charlie thinks that An Lu—and everyone in town—is judging him very poorly, and he feels ashamed. With this in mind, he resolves to leave Corrigan as soon as the “mess” with Laura is over.
It comes as a surprise that in the instant that Charlie expresses such great emotion for his mother and father, he also resolves to leave Corrigan. This suggests that his desire is partly based in momentary embarrassment, as well as a longing to escape and start over new somewhere else.