One of the first pieces of information we learn about Charlie Bucktin is that he loves reading and writing. At many points throughout the novel, he uses literature as a form of fantasy, through which he can momentarily escape from his feelings of guilt and anxiety.
After Charlie’s discovery of Laura’s body, he is profoundly traumatized, and it’s only by fantasizing about the day when he can move to New York and be a great writer that Charlie copes with his trauma. Other characters in the novel have their own fantasies of escape, too: Jasper longs to leave Corrigan and go north; Ruth wants to return to her wealthy lifestyle in the city; and Eliza dreams of living like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Although Silvey acknowledges that fantasy and escapism are important tools by which humans cope with sadness, literal escape is never an ideal option for the characters in his book. Jasper “escapes” Corrigan at the end of the novel, but only because he’s suspected of murder and arson, so there’s nothing celebratory about the circumstances of his exit. The only character who leaves Corrigan willingly is Ruth Bucktin, who returns to her family after Charlie discovers that his mother is having an affair. Silvey portrays Ruth as childish and spoiled. Her escape to the city, then, is an admission of weakness and cowardice, proof that she can’t deal with her problems in Corrigan in a mature manner.
It is precisely because escape itself is always less than ideal that fantasies of escape are so important to the characters in the novel. The most important form that fantasy takes is fiction writing. For Charlie, fiction is a way to ease the pain and sorrow he experiences in his life. After he learns that Laura’s father raped her, for instance, he uses writing as a form of therapy, explaining that he needs to “get it out” as quickly as possible. It’s possible to read all of Jasper Jones as a way for Charlie to cope with the events he’s experienced. Forced to keep Laura’s death a secret, Charlie had to deal with anxiety, guilt, and fear. By writing about Laura’s death (in other words, writing the book we’re reading), he eases his burden, passing on some of his feelings to the reader. Other characters, like Jasper and Eliza, feel similar feelings of guilt and anxiety—indeed, they both blame themselves for Laura’s death. Yet neither Jasper nor Eliza uses writing to overcome guilt. Instead, Jasper flees Corrigan, and Eliza resorts to arson and attempted murder of her father to enact justice for Laura’s death.
In general, then, the book Jasper Jones itself is a key part of Charlie’s coming of age. Instead of running away like Jasper or Ruth, or turning to violence, like Eliza, he stays in Corrigan, dealing with his problems more maturely and intelligently by writing about them. For Silvey, writing is a part of growing up. Rather than avoiding one’s problems by retreating into make-believe, or fleeing one’s problem altogether, the writer can confront his problems head-on, interpreting them and dramatizing them. While this doesn’t make one’s problems disappear altogether, it does prevent them from “building up,” as they do for Eliza.
Escape, Guilt, and Writing ThemeTracker
Escape, Guilt, and Writing Quotes in Jasper Jones
I am dizzy and sick. And it’s as though touching her has sealed my fate. I am in this story. She can’t be ignored. She’s real. I’ve touched her now. I’ve been privy to her last moments of heat, her last wisps of smoke.
It’s occurred to me that one day she might not come back at all. She might simply refuse. I know her family pressure her. I know they coddle her with self-serving concern, that they constantly remind her of the things she’s missing, the things they feel she deserves. And I don’t really blame her for being seduced by it. It’s what she grew up with, I guess.
I had to make things work when I could. Soon as you can walk and talk, you start makin your own luck. And I don’t need some spirit in the sky to help me do that. I can do it on my own. But, see, that’s what I reckon, Charlie. It’s that part inside me that’s stronger and harder than anything else. And I reckon prayer is just trustin in it, havin faith in it, just askin meself to be tough. And that’s all you can do.
I look over at An Lu, who is returning to his home, his hands behind his back, his chin on his chest. I wonder what he’s thinking. There’s something about his posture that convinces me he’s judging me poorly. I feel so ashamed, I feel like everyone in this town is disappointed in me. And that’s when I resolve it, with my father’s hand on my back. When Jasper Jones goes, when he leaves town after this mess is over, I’ll be going with him. I’ll be leaving too. Leaving Corrigan behind. For good.
I was terrified, but something kicked in me. I discovered a gift for lies. I looked straight at them and offered up the best story I could muster. It was like I’d clicked opened my suitcase and started spinning a thread at my desk. Weaving between the factual and the fictional. It was factitious. And Jeffrey was right, it was all in the delivery. I had them. I’d reeled them in. They all nodded like it was the truth, writing it down on a yellow pad.
Mostly, I spent the time writing. Almost obsessively. Every day and every night. It’s the thing that gave me company. Along with reading, it’s what got me out of the house without them being able to stop me at the door.
We’ll be like Kerouac and Cassady. We could steal away in boxcars, ride all the way across the country. Melbourne, Sydney. Every town in between. I could document our adventures. Maybe one day I could get our story published under a nom de plume. I’d have to move to New York City. The famous writer who fled from his hometown and shunned the limelight.
We’d gone to confront Mad Jack Lionel about murdering Laura Wishart only to find that he was driving the car that killed Jasper’s mother. The world isn’t right. It’s small and it’s nasty and it’s lousy with sadness. Under every rock, hidden in every closet, shaken from every tree, it seems there’s something horrible I don’t want to see. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why this town is so content to face in on itself, to keep everything so settled and smooth and serene. And at the moment, I can’t say as I blame them.
This is what happened. And I’ve got to get it out quick, I’ve got to loosen the valve on it and let it go, fizzing and spraying, because it’s too hard, it’s too heavy, it’s too much. I can’t hold on to it for too long because it’ll burn. Do you understand? It’s the knowing. It’s always the knowing that’s the worst. I wish I didn’t have to. I want the stillness back. But I can’t. I can’t ever get it back. So. Thisiswhathappened.
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.
It’s so smart and sad and beautiful that I’m not even jealous. And I have a warm feeling in my belly that says someone important is going to believe in it. That one day I’ll see my father’s name on a straight spine on a bookstore shelf, standing proud and strong and bright.