Jasper Jones

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Themes and Colors
Fear Theme Icon
Racism and Scapegoating Theme Icon
Understanding, Innocence, and Sympathy Theme Icon
Appearances and Secrets Theme Icon
Escape, Guilt, and Writing Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Jasper Jones, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Appearances and Secrets Theme Icon

Corrigan, the small town in which Jasper Jones is set, is obsessed with appearances. The white townspeople judge non-white people like Jasper Jones and Jeffrey Lu based entirely on their appearances, and their racist preconceptions about how Asian or “half-caste” people should behave. More generally, the townspeople talk constantly about people’s appearances. Any hint of impropriety or oddness is immediately the subject of gossip.

Because Corrigan places so much stock in gossip and appearances, all the townspeople “protect” themselves by keeping secrets in order to hide any evidence that might make them seem different or expose them to the ridicule or condemnation from the larger community. In the Bucktin family alone, Wesley Bucktin secretly writes a novel, while Charlie conceals his own literary projects from his father and others. Much more seriously, Charlie’s mother Ruth Bucktin is also involved in a secret affair with another man.

At the beginning of the novel, Charlie despises secrets and Corrigan’s emphasis on appearances. Though he loves his father, he wishes his father would tell him about the novel he’s writing. Working with his friend Jasper Jones, Charlie wants to find whoever killed Laura and bring them to justice. In this way, Charlie will expose the secret of Laura’s disappearance, and exonerate Jasper of all guilt—for as Jasper has previously pointed out, unless they can find the real killer, everyone will blame Jasper for the crime, again judging him on his appearance of untrustworthiness. Charlie hates that he has to keep his knowledge of Laura’s disappearance a secret. Dozens of times, he wishes he could tell Eliza or Wesley what he knows. Because he can’t share his secret, he feels a tremendous sense of anxiety.

When Jasper and Charlie learn more about Laura and her death, it becomes clearer and clearer that the truth will not automatically clear Jasper from all culpability. Because Laura hanged herself after looking for Jasper and failing to find him, the townspeople will blame Jasper for Laura’s death. It is for this reason that Eliza, Charlie, and Jasper decide to keep the circumstances of Laura’s death—including the rape and abuse she endured from her father—a secret.

The ultimate tragedy of Jasper Jones is that the truth doesn’t always triumph. Because the world is a complicated, imperfect place, secrets need to be kept and information needs to be withheld to give the appearance of normality. This “compromise” on truth can have dire results. Although Eliza agrees to keep her knowledge of her father to herself, she cannot stand to let him get away with raping his own daughter. Thus, she burns down her house with her father inside.

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Appearances and Secrets ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Appearances and Secrets appears in each chapter of Jasper Jones. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Appearances and Secrets Quotes in Jasper Jones

Below you will find the important quotes in Jasper Jones related to the theme of Appearances and Secrets.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Bloody hell. Listen, Charlie, we can’t tell anyone. No way. Specially the police. Because they are gonna say it was me. Straight up. Understand?”

Related Characters: Jasper Jones (speaker), Charlie Bucktin
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Jasper and Charlie find a dead body, belonging to Laura Wishart, Jasper's former girlfriend. Jasper immediately tells Charlie that their only option is to lie--they can't report the death to the police for fear that Jasper will be arrested for the crime.

Jasper lives with the assumption that any problem will be pinned on him, and so he's apparently terrified that he'll be automatically arrested for this murder. And there is, of course, a legitimate possibility that the police will blame Jasper, simply because he's a known troublemaker--and a person of color, too. As Charlie has already verified, the people of the community despise Jasper, primarily because he's seen as "other" because of his Aboriginal mother.

At the same time, Charlie can't dismiss the possibility that Jasper really is guilty. A part of him wants to believe the racist townspeople--he wants to think that Jasper is dangerous and untrustworthy (and just because racists hate Jasper doesn't necessarily mean he's not a murderer). At this early point in the novel, Charlie doesn't know what to do--he just knows that he's overwhelmed and afraid.


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Chapter 7 Quotes

I also have a suspicion that Eliza might be less concerned with what’s right, less concerned about uncovering the truth, than she is about ensuring that she and Jasper Jones, and maybe her father, too, are meted out the penance that she feels they each deserve. I think she wants to do something with all this blame and hurt. I think she just wants to tie rocks to all their feet.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jasper Jones, Eliza Wishart, Pete Wishart
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

Jasper and Charlie find out the truth about Laura Wishart's death--she hanged herself after being raped by her own father--by talking to Eliza, Laura's sister. Eliza explains that she witnessed Laura's suicide; instead of intervening, she just watched. Eliza insists that the only "right" thing to do is tell the police about her father's actions, ensuring that he'll be arrested for rape and child molestation. Jasper angrily points out that going to the police will implicate him in Laura's death, since he moved Laura's body. But Charlie realizes that Eliza wants to punish herself and punish Jasper for their roles in Laura's death.

The passage reiterates Charlie's abilities to understand people's reasons for doing strange things, while also making an important point: sometimes, people do the right thing for the wrong reasons. While Eliza's decision to go to the police might seem like the only moral action, it's also clearly motivated by a desire for revenge.

Chapter 9 Quotes

And for some reason I’m reminded of Eric Cooke, haggard and angry, at the moment they finally asked him the question. I just wanted to hurt somebody, he replied. But that was never the whole story, was it? Only he could have known that, and he held his secrets tight in his fist, in his chest. And there’s always more to know. Always. The mystery just gets covered in history. Or is it the other way around. It gets wrested and wrapped in some other riddle. And I think of Jenny Likens, who also watched her sister die, who said nothing until the end, who got brave too late.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jenny Likens, Eric Edgar Cooke
Page Number: 308-309
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Charlie rushes to the Wishart house to find that Eliza has set it on fire, horribly burning her father. Charlie realizes that Eliza, frustrated that she's unable to alert the police to her father's crimes, has taken matters into her own hands with an act of fiery revenge.

As always, Charlie tries to understand things from Eliza's point of view: he tries to understand how someone could commit a crime that, on the outside, might seem barbaric. Charlie has researched many such crimes--for instance, the murders committed by Eric Cooke, a shy, harelipped man. Previously, Charlie wondered if he could sympathize with Cooke's desire to hurt people. But now he realizes that even Cooke's stated motive for murder wasn't the truth--Cooke's motive must have been more complicated, just as Eliza's reasons for burning down her own house are more complicated than any police officer would be able to determine.

Charlie isn't excusing Eliza or Eric Cookie for their actions; rather, he's trying to understand them. While Charlie admits that his understanding will never be perfect, he has one important insight about Eliza. Eliza blames herself for her sister's suicide: by standing back and watching, Eliza allowed her sister to hang herself. Now, Eliza seems to want to be punished for her actions. Watching her sister hang herself, Eliza acted to late--now, she's overcompensating for her passivity, lashing out at the world with a big, horrific crime.