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.
Fear Theme Icon

Charlie Bucktin, the protagonist of Jasper Jones, spends most of the novel in a state of fear. He’s afraid that Eliza Wishart, his crush, will think he’s awkward, he’s terrified of insects, and he’s frightened by bullies like Warwick Trent. The event that begins the novel—Charlie’s discovery of Laura Wishart’s dead body hanging from a tree—is so frightening and bizarre that it traumatizes Charlie for the remainder of the book, to the point that he can barely move. This behavior contrasts markedly—or at least seems to—with the calm, effortless heroism of Jasper Jones, the homeless half-Aboriginal boy who befriends Charlie.

Charlie wishes that he could overcome his fears, but he finds it enormously difficult to do so. He also sees adults in his community being paralyzed by their own fears. When racists, angry about news from the Vietnam War, bully the Vietnamese Lu family, for instance, no one steps forward to help them. In part, this is because many of the townspeople are racist as well, but their lack of response also suggests that no one is brave enough to defend the Lus out of fear of being bullied and shunned themselves. Charlie also learns that even those who seem fearless are not usually as brave as they seem—Jasper Jones is no more comfortable dealing with Laura’s death than Charlie is.

Over the course of the book, however, Charlie learns strategies for dealing with his fears. Arguably his most important insight is that one can never escape one’s fears entirely, but must simply live with them. Charlie explains this with an amusing analogy: Batman is the best superhero because he has no superpowers. In other words, he is a mortal, capable of being injured and even killed. Because of this, Batman has to learn to accept his fears and weaknesses, overcoming them to protect other people. In much the same way, Charlie accepts that he’ll always be afraid of the things that frighten him—insects, Laura’s body, etc.—but he also realizes that his fear allows him to be brave. It gives him the opportunity for feats of bravery.

Charlie sees other members of his community overcoming their own fears as well. His father, Wesley Bucktin, defends An Lu from a group of racist bullies even though no one else will. Charlie also discovers that fear can be fought with knowledge and understanding. His lifelong fear of Mad Jack Lionel, for instance, evaporates when he visits Jack, speaks to him, and learns that he’s a lonely, harmless old man. In all, Charlie realizes that while it’s impossible to get rid of one’s fears altogether, there are ways of minimizing and overcoming fear. By recognizing that all people feel fear, and that ordinary people are capable of heroism, Charlie trains himself be courageous—to act quickly and intelligently instead of being paralyzed with insecurity.

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Fear ThemeTracker

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

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

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 how you’ll end up if you’re disobedient. Jasper Jones is the example of where poor aptitude and attitude will lead.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jasper Jones
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Early on in the novel, Charlie, the young narrator, introduces us to Jasper Jones. Here, Charlie doesn't tell us what he thinks of Jasper--instead, he tells us what the people in his community think of Jasper. Apparently, they regard Jasper as bad in almost every way--he's untrustworthy, criminal, no-good, etc.

One of the most important things to notice about this passage is the way the people of the community talk about "ending up" like Jasper--as if Jasper is a mature man, at or near the end of his life. Nobody seems to recognize that Jasper is still very young--he's still a teenager, after all. The unsympathetic townspeople don't treat Jasper as a child of any kind--as far as they're concerned, he's responsible for his own ruin--thus, it makes a certain amount of sense that they'd think of him as an adult instead of a youth. In general, the townspeople treat Jasper as a scapegoat, not a human being. Instead of extending love and compassion to Jasper, they blame him for everything bad that happens, and measure their own "goodness" against his badness.


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“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.

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.

Chapter 2 Quotes

I wish I could tell Jeffrey everything. I really do. I wonder what it is about holding in a secret that hurts so much. I mean, telling Jeffrey doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t take anything back. It’s just information. It doesn’t dredge that poor girl from the depths of the dam, doesn’t breathe her back to life. So why do I feel like I need to blurt it all out?

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jeffrey Lu, Laura Wishart
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie--who's now an accomplice to Jasper, having hidden a dead body at the bottom of a lake--contemplates spilling his secrets to his best friend Jeffrey Lu. Although Charlie and Jeffrey are close friends, Charlie knows that he can't share his secret with anyone--he swore an oath to Jasper to keep silent about the previous night.

Charlie's behavior during this scene suggests a strong need to tell someone about his traumatic experiences with Laura's dead body. By telling someone about his trauma, Charlie hopes to lessen the burden of remembering Laura. In a sense, Charlie is trying to lessen the burden by writing the book we're reading. In other words, Jasper Johns represents Charlie's attempt make sense of his frightening, complex experiences.

He doesn’t need superpowers. That’s my point. You’re an idiot. He can hold his own. He has an alter ego. He has a costume. He fights for Truth and Justice. He has arch enemies. And he does all this without any weird mutations. He’s just really determined. That’s what makes him interesting. The fact that with enough dedication and desire, we could all be Batman. Batmen. Batpeople. And that’s what makes him the best.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jeffrey Lu
Related Symbols: Batman versus Superman
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Charlie and Jeffrey have a strange, trivial-sounding conversation about the differences between Batman and Superman—a conversation that ends up being more thematically important than it seemed at first. Jeffrey argues that Superman is the superior hero: he’s stronger than Batman, faster, can fly, etc. Charlie makes the interesting argument that while Batman is physically weaker than Superman, and has no superpowers, his humanity makes him the braver, more heroic person. Superman has very little to fear—he knows he’s essentially invincible. Batman, on the other hand, faces his fear every day. He’s learned to embrace fear and move past it—a kind of heroism Charlie admires more than brute strength or speed.

Charlie’s argument reinforces one of the key themes of the book—overcoming one’s fear. Charlie deals with a series of frightening and intimidating situations. Gradually, he comes to accept that bravery isn’t the opposite of fear at all: true bravery involves first facing fear, then summoning the willpower to continue on.

Chapter 3 Quotes

How was it that Gertrude Baniszewski could seduce so many children into committing these acts? How could they turn up, day after day, to do the unspeakable? And how could they return home of an evening, no words of shame or remorse tumbling out of their mouths? What did Sylvia Likens do to deserve this? Or was it just shit luck and chance?

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Sylvia Likens, Gertrude Baniszewski
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

As Charlie becomes increasingly involved in Laura Wishart’s disappearance (first lying about it, then actually helping Jasper get rid of her body), he starts to wonder what could lead a human being to hurt a child. Being a bookish, nerdy teenager in a pre-Internet age, Charlie goes to the library and does some research on the subject. During the course of his research, he comes across a woman named Gertrude Baniszewski, who tortured and murdered a child (Sylvia Likens) for no discernible reason, and enlisted her own children to help her. Appalled by what he reads, Charlie tries to grasp what could have led Gertrude to act the way she did.

In the first place, it’s important to notice that Charlie is trying to understand Gertrude. While most of the people in Charlie’s community don’t offer any sympathy for the criminals, or people they perceive to be criminals (like Jasper), Charlie genuinely wants to understand people who are unlike him. This certainly doesn’t mean that Charlie wants to forgive Gertrude for her actions—but he’s too intelligent and open-minded to accept that Gertrude is purely “evil” and normal people are “good.” Indeed, the facts of Gertrude’s case practically prove that there are no normal people: Gertrude was able to convince other children to hurt her victim—innocent, everyday people were capable of committing astounding acts of cruelty, and other "normal" people ignored the crimes until it was too late. Charlie’s investigation may shed some light on the actions of his neighbors—average Australian people who nonetheless greet Vietnamese immigrants with violence and bullying.

I think about Eliza’s manner. So dry and centered. So matter-of-fact amid the panic. I watch her climbing the garden steps to their front door, holding her weeping mother. Someone is there to meet them with an outstretched hand and a look of concern. I shrink behind the branches. And then, swift as a knife, it occurs to me. A rash of sparks coats my skin. My heart almost leaps from my chest, and my brick slides.

Eliza Wishart knows something.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Eliza Wishart, Mrs. Wishart
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Charlie thinks about Eliza Wishart. Eliza is the sister of Laura—the young woman whose body Jasper and Charlie found at the beginning of the novel. Charlie has a massive crush on Eliza, and wants to tell her all that he knows about Eliza’s sister. He struggles to withhold his secret from Eliza, remembering the promise he made Jasper to say nothing. As Charlie thinks about keeping his secret from Eliza, he comes to the surprising realization that Eliza is also keeping secrets from him. Her calm, complacent manner parallels Charlie’s own—both teenagers are concealing a big, terrible secret.

The fact that Charlie and Eliza have so much in common—they both seem to be wracked by a guilty conscience—foreshadows the romance that will arise between them. More to the point, though, the passage suggests Charlie’s struggle to understand people who are—he believes—unlike him. Eliza Wishart seems completely different from Charlie in every way—she’s pretty, popular, well-spoken, etc. Thus, it’s a surprise for Charlie when he comes to realize, here, that he and Eliza aren’t so different after all.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Strangely, of all the horrible things I’ve encountered and considered recently, dropping a bomb seems to be the least violent among them, even though it’s clearly the worst. But there’s no evil mug shot, no bloody globe. It’s hard to figure out who to blame. There’s something clean about all that distance. Maybe the further away you are, the less you have to care, the less you’re responsible. But that seems wrong to me. It should be in the news. It’s wrong that they died. But if they weren’t Jeffrey’s family, would I care so much? That’s hard. Probably not, I guess. I mean, if you took every bad event in the world to heart, you’d be a horrible mess.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jeffrey Lu, Mrs. Lu, An Lu
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Charlie thinks about the news he's just heard: his friend Jeffrey Lu's uncle and aunt were killed in a bombing in the Vietnam War. Charlie feels horrible, but his sympathy is mostly directed at Jeffrey, his best friend. Charlie is less concerned by the death of Jeffrey's relatives than he is by the death of Laura Wishart: one girl's death seems to outweigh an entire village's destruction.

As Charlie's thought process suggests, there's a limit to the amount of compassion and understand one can feel for other people. Nobody can muster sympathy for everyone else--one must choose which people to feel sympathy for. Proximity and similarity usually determine how much sympathy one feels--i.e., Charlie feels sorriest for the people he knows, or for close friends and relatives of the people he knows (there's also often a subconscious racial or nationalistic aspect to this kind of empathy as well).

Charlie's thoughts also imply that there's a limit to the amount of understanding he'll be able to muster for criminals like Gertrude Baniszewki. Even if it's possible, in an abstract sense, for Charlie to sympathize with this murderer, he simply doesn't have the moral strength to understand and sympathize with all similar people--if he tried to do so, he'd be a "horrible mess."

Chapter 5 Quotes

Jasper Jones has lost his girl, maybe his best friend, too. His only friend. It seems so infinitely sad to me, I can’t even imagine. To lose someone so close, someone he had his hopes pinned on. Someone he was going to escape with, start anew. And to see her, right there, as she was. Right where I’m sitting. What a horrible series of events this has been. But Jasper Jones has to keep that poker face. He has to throw that cloak over his heart. I wonder how much of Jasper’s life is spent pretending his doesn’t give a shit.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jasper Jones, Laura Wishart
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie tries to understand what his friend Jasper is going through. Jasper's girlfriend, Laura, has died recently; while a young woman's death would be sad under any circumstances, it's particularly moving since Jasper has few friends--his status as an outsider and  a scapegoat in his community means that he's forced to hold his friends especially dear.

Charlie also realizes that Jasper has to hide his emotions: his sadness, his loneliness, and especially his fear. Unlike Charlie, Jasper denies that he's afraid of anything; a lifetime of bullying and scapegoating has trained him to put on a tough face whenever anything frightening happens to him.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Go home!” my father explodes. He stands up, tall and intimidating. He glares with real anger. And I can’t help but feel a blush of pride, seeing it. I’ve been wrong about him.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Wesley Bucktin
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, a group of townspeople attack the Lu family's house. They destroy An Lu's prized garden and beat him up--partly because of Jeffrey's success as a cricket player earlier, and partly because of their general hatred for Vietnam (the novel takes place during the Vietnam War). To Charlie's surprise, his father, Wesley, bravely defends An from harm, fighting the gang of townspeople and ordering them to go home.

Charlie is surprised with his father's bravery; based on Wesley's behavior around Charlie's mother, Charlie has imagined that Wesley is generally meek and submissive. As Charlie struggles to summon the bravery to act in his own life, he's inspired by his father's example. Thanks to Wesley's behavior in this passage, Charlie has a new role model.

Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

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.

Chapter 9 Quotes

But what no spectator that day will ever know or anyone who will later lend their ear to an account, is that it requires more courage for me to tentatively bend and snatch up that rotten fruit from amid that sea of bees. My hands tremble. I can barely work my fingers. But I get them.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Peaches
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Charlie proves his bravery to the townspeople by sneaking onto Mad Jack Lionel's property and completing a traditional town challenge: stealing some of Jack's famous peaches. Unbeknownst to anyone else, Charlie isn't the least bit afraid of sneaking onto Jack's property, since he's now friends with Jack. Instead, the scariest part of Charlie's mission to steal the peaches is picking up the peaches themselves, which are surrounded by bees--Charlie is frightened of bugs and insects, and dislikes having to touch them.

The passage shows that although Charlie is no longer afraid of Mad Jack, he continues to feel some irrational fears, which he then proceeds to overcome. Charlie has learned that Jack shouldn't be feared, but much more importantly, he's learned that fear itself can be dealt with. Like Batman, Charlie doesn't deny his fears; he accepts them and moves past them, reaching into the bees that he finds so disgusting.

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.