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.
Racism and Scapegoating ThemeTracker
Racism and Scapegoating Quotes in Jasper Jones
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.
“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?”
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.
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.
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.