Jasper Jones

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Escape, Guilt, and Writing Theme Analysis

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
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Escape, Guilt, and Writing Theme Icon

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.

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Escape, Guilt, and Writing ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Jasper Jones related to the theme of Escape, Guilt, and Writing.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Laura Wishart
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Charlie describes his experience touching the dead body of Laura Wishart, which Jasper has discovered in the woods. At first, Charlie feels like he's in a dream--everything he says and does seems vague and foggy. But when Charlie helps Jasper throw Laura's body in the river, he can no longer pretend that he's living in a dream--touching Laura's corpse brings home the reality of the situation in the most unforgettable way.

The passage shows Charlie as both an actor and an observer. Charlie's a peculiar character: his primary "job" is to witness and write about the other characters' actions (even his own book is named after someone else), and yet Charlie also gets involved in these characters' actions. Charlie tries to remain an impartial third party, but almost right away, he becomes personally invested in Laura's disappearance.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Ruth Bucktin
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie doesn’t get along well with his mother, Ruth. Ruth is strict, spoiled, and not particularly loving. In this scene, Ruth punishes Charlie by making him dig a hole in the hot sun. As Charlie digs, he thinks about his mother, remembering that she comes from a wealthy, powerful family that never approved of her marriage to Charlie’s father. Several times a year, Ruth leaves Charlie to stay with her family, far away. Charlie resents his mother for leaving him so often, but he’s also sympathetic to her desire for luxury and solitude. By striving to understand Ruth—a woman he seems not to like very much, even though she’s his mother—Charlie is training himself to understand far stranger, less forgivable people.

Chapter 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jasper Jones (speaker), Charlie Bucktin
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jasper tells Charlie about the personal "religion" to which he subscribes. Jasper claims not to believe in any organized faith--he doesn't think there's a god, a heaven, or anything of the kind. Instead, Jasper subscribes to the belief that he is capable of anything: he believes in his own "spirit" of hope and inner strength. Jasper even suggests that all forms of religion are just versions of his own belief in himself; when a Christian, for example, prays to God for help, he's really praying that he'll find the spirit and the courage to help himself.

Jasper's trust in his own abilities parallels Charlie's quest to find bravery and strength through the act of writing. Just as Jasper prays to his spirit in times of uncertainty, so does Charlie turn to writing and self-expression when he's frustrated. Charlie tries to use words to inspire himself to be braver than he thinks possible--to summon the same strength that Jasper embodies.

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Wesley Bucktin, An Lu
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie has just returned from a late-night meeting with Jasper--he's disobeyed his parents' orders to stay in the house. Charlie reunites with his mother and father, both of whom were worried that Charlie--like Laura Wishart (or so they think)--had been kidnapped. As he embraces his parents, Charlie notices that a good chunk of his community has turned out to search for him. The sight of Jeffrey's father, An, among other disappointed neighbors, then convinces Charlie that he wants to leave his hometown as soon as he can.

Although Charlie has just learned that many people in the community are invested in his safety, he seems to take an entirely different conclusion from this. He's exhausted with the constant surveillance of small-town life: he has the sense that someone (whether it's his mother, his father, or Jasper) is always watching him and judging him. Charlie wants to go far away and behave like a free-wheeling character in one of his beloved American novels, such as On the Road or Huckleberry Finn. The more smothering his parents' attention becomes, the more strongly Charlie feels the need to get away from his family altogether.

Chapter 6 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jeffrey Lu
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Immediately after returning from his late-night meeting with Jasper Jones, Charlie is taken to speak with the town's police officer. Charlie's parents--afraid that their son was kidnapped by the same person who kidnapped Laura Wishart--have called the police, and now Charlie is forced to lie about his whereabouts (he can't mention anything about Jasper for fear that he'll incriminate Jasper).

Under pressure, Charlie learns some important lessons about the power of writing, and about fear. Although Charlie is nervous and frightened of being caught in a lie, he uses his intelligence and familiarity with books to craft an elaborate lie that disguises his nervousness perfectly. As we've already seen, Charlie uses writing and communication to keep himself sane--he keeps a diary of his experiences in order to mitigate some of his trauma and anxiety. But here, Charlie uses storytelling to keep himself and Jasper out of danger--and he discovers a pleasure in telling these lies, and convincing others of their truth.

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Wesley Bucktin, Ruth Bucktin
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

After being caught sneaking away from the house, Charlie is forbidden from leaving the house at all. Because he has no alternative, Charlie spends his time in his room, reading books and writing. Charlie's love for books allows him to escape from the smallness and dullness of life in his town--he can imagine going elsewhere even when he's imprisoned in his bedroom. In a similar way, Charlie's writing abilities continue to keep him sane. He hasn't forgotten the gruesome spectacle of Laura Wishart's corpse. It's only by writing about his experiences that Charlie avoids becoming wracked with guilt; by putting ink to paper, he establishes a safe distance between himself and his own trauma.

Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jasper Jones
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie, increasingly exasperated with his town's behavior, fantasizes about escaping the town altogether, with Jasper Jones by his side. Charlie has read plenty of books about people who travel around the world, never getting too comfortable in any one place. Here, he imagines that he and Jasper could model their behavior on Jack Kerouac, the seminal Beat writer who wrote On the Road.

Charlie's fantasies are appealing, but they're also naive and a little cowardly. Charlie has ample reason to hate his town: townspeople have bullied and beaten his best friend's father, simply because he's Vietnamese. And yet Charlie is too hasty in his plan to leave town altogether: he's never had any real experience with being on the road, and wouldn't know the first thing about how to go about moving from place to place. Moreover, Charlie's desire to leave the town suggests that he's still too afraid to stand his ground and protect the people he cares about: he'd rather avoid his peers altogether than protect those in need.

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jasper Jones, Mad Jack Lionel, Laura Wishart, Rosie Jones
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie and Jasper have just visited Jack, hoping to convince him to confess to Laura Wishart's murder. Instead, they wind up discovering that Jack is Jasper's own grandfather. Jack had always called out at Jasper whenever he saw him, because he feels responsible for the death of Jasper's mother (Jack was driving the car when Jasper's mother was rushed to the hospital with appendicitis).

Thinking back on everything he's just learned, Charlie reaches some bitter conclusions: life is a mess; the world is meaningless, etc. Charlie even comes to sympathize with his townspeople--the same people who beat up his best friend's father just a few days before. In the past, Charlie has resented his neighbors for ignoring injustice and pretending that everything is perfect. Now, Charlie can understand his peers' behavior--they're just trying to forget how horrible life can be.

And yet in spite of his understanding, Charlie himself doesn't try to forget about the horrors of life. Instead, he converts these horrors into literature. By writing about Jack, Laura, and Jasper, Charlie finds a more powerful and honest way of coping with tragedy: he deals with his problems head-on instead of repressing 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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Eliza Wishart
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Charlie frantically tries to write down everything he's just learned. We can feel his anxiety as he repeats the words "this is what happened."

Charlie has just discovered that Laura Wishart's father--a respected member of the community--was raping his daughter, and even impregnated her before her death. This piece of information, along with many others, is almost more than Charlie can bear. But where a weaker, less intelligence teenager would be traumatized, Charlie uses his writing to cleanse of himself of some of his trauma. By writing down the horrors of his community, Charlie establishes a firm distance between his self and his horrifying experiences. Put another way, by writing everything down, Charlie seems to say, "I've experienced a lot, but I am still me."

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 8 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Wesley Bucktin
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Wesley, Charlie's father, has been working on a novel for a long time. After he's finished with it, Wesley shows his work to Charlie. Although Charlie has previously been jealous of his father's writing, he's proud of his father for writing such a tremendous book, and even hopes that someone will publish it soon.

Charlie's pride in his father shows that he's become more secure in his own identity as a writer. Previously, Charlie was afraid that Wesley was competing with him for literary success; Charlie didn't trust his own literary abilities enough to support any writing other than his own. Now, though, Charlie has the self-confidence to be confident in other people, as well. He has a story of his own to tell, and so he's not concerned about his father finishing his book first.