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.
Racism and Scapegoating Theme Icon

Jasper Jones is set in 1960s Australia, where non-white people are often the targets of bullying and cruelty. Because he is half-Aboriginal, Jasper Jones is routinely blamed for other people’s crimes and indiscretions. The townspeople of Corrigan also bully and even attack the Lu family. The novel takes place during the Vietnam War, when Australia sent many troops to fight against the Vietcong. As a result, racism against the Vietnamese was very high, and the Lus are victims of it. The author, Craig Silvey, makes it clear that there are many whites (like Wesley) who are willing to fight racism, but overall, Corrigan is a profoundly racist community in which all kinds of discrimination and race-based harassment are tolerated.

While minorities obviously should not have to “prove” their worth to white communities, Silvey does show that whites can overcome their own racism by respecting and admiring others for their actions. Jasper earns a grudging respect from his community by playing football, and Jeffrey Lu, Charlie’s Vietnamese best friend, wins over his cricket team, which had previously called him “Cong,” with a superb performance in a cricket match. This kind of respect is a fragile thing, however, and rarely a real mitigation of racism—if someone is considered valuable only when they do something outstanding, then they are not really considered inherently valuable as a human being. Thus, Jasper Jones never stops being the town scapegoat, and Jeffrey’s father, An Lu, is beaten only a few hours after Jeffrey’s cricket performance.

Ultimately, Silvey suggests that racism arises from ignorance, and people must make an effort to be understanding and empathetic in order to overcome their own prejudices. For example, Jeffrey’s likability, his intelligence, and his athleticism are drowned out by Corrigan’s assumptions about Vietnam and the Vietnamese, while someone like Charlie, who lacks such assumptions, can see those qualities and consider Jeffrey a valuable person and friend. In the end, it is this process of friendship and understanding—like Charlie’s friendships with Jeffrey and Jasper—that is the most successful way of combating racism.

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Racism and Scapegoating ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Jasper Jones related to the theme of Racism and Scapegoating.
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.

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

The next ball Jeffrey punches through cover, zipping through for two runs. And it’s with complete disbelief that I hear real encouragement from the sideline. His teammates. In unison those belligerent bastards, yelling, “Shot, Cong!” across the field, at once turning an insult into a nickname.

Related Characters: Charlie Bucktin (speaker), Jeffrey Lu
Page Number: 187-188
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Jeffrey Lu is hated in his community--he's Vietnamese, and therefore a representative of the country with which Australia is currently fighting a war--he's eventually allowed to play a game of cricket with the rest of his town's team. Surprisingly, Jeffrey's abilities slowly earn him the admiration of his peers--he's so good at cricket, and so useful to his team that eventually his teammates have no choice but to admit it.

Jeffrey's performance in this scene shows one way that minorities have struggled for equality: through personal achievement. It's unfair, of course, that Jeffrey should have to succeed at cricket just to be treated as a human being, but it's undeniable that in this instance his talents help convince his peers to accept him, at least for the time being.