The day after he sees Jeffrey, Charlie wakes up and sees a large wasp on his window. He throws a copy of The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer, at the wasp. The book misses its target, but causes the window to fall shut. Charlie wonders if he’s banished the wasp, or just made it angry.
The wasp seems to represent Charlie’s feelings of guilt and anxiety. He can “hide” or “banish” these feelings, just as he “banishes” the wasp, but this approach runs the risk of exacerbating his anxiety (or angering the wasp). The better approach, we’ll come to see, is for Charlie to confront and work through his feelings.
Charlie enters the kitchen, where his parents are sitting. His mother tells him to stay in sight of the house if he spends time with Jeffrey. Charlie asks why, and in response, she only glares at him and says that she’s his mother. Charlie is angry with his mother for always winning arguments. He’s also angry that his father remains silent during these arguments. Charlie remains silent, and his mother takes this as an affirmation that he’ll stay near the house.
Charlie’s father has seemed like a reasonable person thus far, but he remains silent in this scene. This suggests that there’s some tension between Charlie and his father. As much as he loves his father, Charlie wants him to be brave and assertive, thereby making himself admirable and setting a good example for Charlie himself.
Charlie sits at the kitchen table and reads the paper. There is news of the Vietnam War—more Australian soldiers are being shipped there to help the Americans. Charlie’s father has wanted to protest the war, but Charlie’s mother always tells him that it’s a waste of time. Charlie wants his father to stand up to his mother and be brave.
Here we get another example of how Charlie’s father conceals his true feelings. Charlie’s frustration with his father seems perfectly legitimate—he should express his political convictions instead of always giving into his wife’s advice.
After he reads the paper, Charlie walks to Jeffrey’s house, where An Lu is still working on his garden. Charlie knocks on the door, and Jeffrey answers it, even though he almost never does so. Jeffrey explains that he’s been grounded for swearing. Yesterday, Mrs. Sparkman was at the door when Jeffrey told his mother he was going to play “fucking cricket.” Sparkman told Mrs. Lu what the word meant, and she grounded Jeffrey. Jeffrey isn’t allowed to listen to the radio or go outside. He tells Charlie to go find Eliza, and teases Charlie for being “queer,” which Charlie finds ridiculous.
This is a largely expository section, but it also shows us that Jeffrey has to deal with his parents’ discipline in the same way that Charlie does. They both must accept their parents’ authority, basically without question. It’s also relevant that Jeffrey calls Charlie “queer.” While the possibility is never seriously explained in the novel, there are strong homoerotic elements to Charlie’s friendship with Jasper.
Charlie walks down the street, unsure where he wants to go. He passes by his school, where a few children are playing, and eventually arrives at the town library. It’s empty except for the librarian, Mrs. Harvey. Charlie browses the fiction section, collects a pile of books, and goes to read them at a desk in the building. Most of the books are mysteries and thrillers. Charlie looks to see who has checked them out before, but he doesn’t see Mad Jack’s name, or any other names he recognizes.
Charlie proves that he is a resourceful and intelligent boy, and possibly capable of the task of investigating Laura’s murder. He uses all the resources at his disposal—in this case, the town library (in the days before the internet, he has no other option). It’s important that Charlie assumes that Mad Jack is an avid reader, too—Charlie assumes that everyone is just like him.
As Charlie looks through thrillers and mysteries, he remembers the Nedlands Monster, a criminal who was hanged last year, to the pleasure of everyone except Charlie’s father. Charlie goes to the newspaper section of the library to find information about this subject. The Monster killed five people in one weekend three years ago. The culprit took two years to find. It turned out to be a quiet man with a harelip: Eric Edgar Cooke. Cooke stabbed a woman and shot several other people. As a child, his father had beat him, and throughout his life he was bullied for his cleft palate.
Charlie confronts more and more evil and horror as he tries to solve the mystery of Laura’s murder. His willingness to continue with his research, knowing full well that it means more terror and discomfort, shows that he’s committed to the truth, and to clearing his friend’s name.
As Charlie reads about Cooke, he thinks about Jasper, with his alcoholic, physically abusive father, and other victims of bullying: Jeffrey; Prue Styles, a lonely girl with a birthmark; and Sam Quinn, a boy with a cleft palate. He wonders if all people have the capacity to commit murder if they’re bullied and abused enough. He reads that Cooke’s explanation for killing was simple: “I just wanted to hurt somebody.” Cooke was executed on October 27, 1965.
Charlie is immature in many ways, but he shows great insight in the way he thinks about murder and crime. His analysis of guilt and innocence is neither totally deterministic (he doesn’t think people are products of their environments) nor liberating (he doesn’t automatically assume everyone who commits a crime is 100% personally responsible). This results in an ambiguous and sometimes frustrating—but balanced—view of guilt and innocence. It’s also relevant that we learn here that the novel takes place in the 1960s. This situates the book in the era of the Vietnam War, the Mono Landing, and the Civil Rights Movement, all of which are important to understanding the novel’s themes.
As Charlie examines the newspaper with a description of Cooke’s execution, he notices another article, about the murder of a 16-year-old American girl named Sylvia Likens. Sylvia’s mother and father worked at carnivals, and they were forced to pay to leave Sylvia, along with her younger sister, Jenny, in the care of a woman named Gertrude Baniszewski, since they couldn’t afford to travel with her. Gertrude hated Sylvia and Jenny, especially because she had seven children of her own already. When Sylvia’s parents didn’t send Gertrude the money they’d promised, Gertrude began beating Sylvia, and telling her other children to hurt her too. They trapped Sylvia in their basement, where they forced her to eat her own urine and vomit. Sylvia told Jenny that she was going to die soon, and shortly afterward, she died of shock and starvation.
In this second story of crime, Charlie confronts even darker themes than he’d seen in the tale of Eric Edgar Cooke. Where Cooke killed adults, possibly in part because he’d been bullied throughout his life, Gertrude killed for no good reason—she seems to be a cruel, even evil woman. It’s disturbing, too, that children helped Gertrude torture Sylvia. Perhaps this is Silvey’s way of reminding us that even children are capable of crimes. Thus the children of Corrigan (including Jasper) are also suspects in Laura’s murder.
As Charlie reads about Sylvia’s death, he wonders why Jenny didn’t tell someone about Sylvia sooner. Jenny wasn’t being held in the basement, and she went to school—she could easily have told a classmate or a teacher what was happening to her sister. Charlie wonders how an entire community—all the people who heard Sylvia’s cries and did nothing—could allow something so horrible to happen.
Charlie’s thoughts on Sylvia and Jenny are immensely disturbing. It may be the case that ordinary people are capable of acts of great evil—and indeed, this has been the conclusion of psychologists for the last fifty years. At the time when the novel is set, Philip Zimbardo was finalizing his infamous experiments, in which ordinary people shocked and “killed” innocent people.
Charlie leaves the library and walks home, passing by the town bookstore. He tries to forget about Sylvia, but finds that he can’t. Then he hears a voice, and realizes that it’s Eliza asking him if he’s all right. He forces a smile, knowing that it must look like a disgusting leer. Eliza smiles and laughs, and he thinks that she looks beautiful, like Audrey Hepburn. He tells her that he’s been at the library, and adds that he’s been reading. Eliza feigns surprise, and Charlie doesn’t realize at first that she’s being sarcastic. He’s conscious that his wit and humor have left him altogether. He manages to tease Eliza about standing outside a bookstore, reading for free, and she smiles. Eliza asks Charlie to walk her home, and he nervously agrees.
Here, for the first time, Charlie shows his attraction to Eliza without any clear signs of being disturbed by her resemblance to Laura. It may be that Eliza is a pleasant relief after Charlie’s dark, horrifying research into serial killers. It’s also true that Eliza is Charlie’s kind of person—smart, witty, and bookish. It’s obvious, as least for the readers, that Eliza likes Charlie as much as Charlie likes her, but of course, this won’t be clear to Charlie for some time.
Charlie walks Eliza home, frantically wondering what he should say, and whether or not he should hold her hand. He asks Eliza what book she bought at the bookstore, and she shows him a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Eliza tells him that she dreams of living in Manhattan, and adds that she thinks Audrey Hepburn is brilliant and dignified. Charlie pretends to have seen many of Hepburn’s films, but when Eliza asks him which ones, he can’t name any without her help. Eliza seems to find this endearing.
There’s a lot of dramatic irony in this scene. Charlie clearly thinks that he’s messing up his date with Eliza because he’s so awkward and tongue-tied. It’s easy to see, however, that Eliza is attracted to Charlie, even though it’s Charlie who narrates this scene. In much the same way that he pretended to be familiar with things—like booze and cigarettes—around Jasper, Charlie pretends to know Audrey Hepburn’s work around Eliza.
As they walk, Eliza tells Charlie that her sister is missing. She adds that her mother can’t stop crying, and that her father is drinking and yelling. Charlie notes that Eliza is very calm as she explains this, but he senses that she’s secretly distraught. He considers putting his hand on her back, but he dismisses this gesture as “fake.”
Charlie struggles to express genuine sympathy for Eliza, even when he’s perfectly aware that she needs and deserve it. This shows that Charlie is far from mature—he has to train himself not only to feel the right emotions but also to communicate these emotions to other people. Of course, it doesn’t help that he is hiding an enormous secret from Eliza this whole time.
Charlie and Eliza reach Eliza’s house, where Eliza’s mother, who is waiting outside, immediately yells at her for leaving the house without permission. Eliza insists that she asked her father if she could leave, and pretends that Charlie bought her the copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Eliza’s mother irritably tells Charlie that he should leave. As he walks away, Charlie watches Eliza’s mother pull her into the house. After he’s walked a few blocks, Charlie realizes that Eliza knows something about her sister’s disappearance.
Eliza seems like a skillful liar, as she instantly invents a story about Charlie giving her the copy of her book. In this sense, she seems and more clever and resourceful than Charlie himself, helping to explain why Charlie is so attracted to her. Despite the distance between Charlie and Eliza, Charlie does have the perception to realize that Eliza knows something about Laura’s disappearance, and, more implicitly, that he and Eliza are going through a similar experience of suffering.
When Charlie returns to his house, his mother slaps him and calls to Charlie’s father, whom she addresses as “Wesley,” telling him that Charlie is all right. Charlie thinks that it’s rare both for his mother to slap him and for her to call his father by his first name. Charlie’s mother yells at Charlie for leaving sight of the house against her permission, and tells him that someone kidnapped Laura Wishart. She orders him to go his room, even after he swears and yells that there is a wasp in his room.
We hear Charlie’s father’s name for the first time in this scene. It’s important that we know his name before we hear Charlie’s mother’s name. It suggests that like Charlie, our relationship with Wesley is closer and more intimate than our relationship with Charlie’s mother.
Charlie goes to his room. He wonders what Norman Mailer would say to him—he’d probably call Charlie a “pussy,” Charlie thinks. Before Charlie can do anything more, his mother walks in without knocking and orders him to come outside with her. Outside, she gives him a shovel and tells him to dig until she says to stop. Charlie complains that it’s hot, and asks why he’s being forced to dig at all. His mother simply tells him to keep digging, or she’ll take his books. She goes back inside.
Charlie continues to measure himself against his literary heroes. More to the point, his literary heroes are hyper-masculine people like Norman Mailer (who not only wrote novels but also boxed, and once bit off part of an actor’s ear in a filmed fight). We see Charlie’s mother’s pettiness and strictness here, but we don’t have any more information about why she behaves this way than Charlie himself does.
Charlie angrily digs, silently cursing his mother and imagining throwing her into the hole he’s digging. As he digs, he wonders what the hole could be used for—perhaps a tree. His mind jumps to Laura and Eliza, and he feels a strong desire to ask Eliza more questions about what she knows. He notices a large centipede in the dirt, and stops digging. At exactly this moment, his mother walks out and yells that he must keep working.
Charlie’s mother proves herself to be insensitive to Charlie’s fears and anxieties (about insects, at least). This helps to explain why Charlie dislikes her so much. Charlie also shows his active imagination. Even when he’s hard at work, he can’t help but think about everything that’s happened to him so far.
Charlie continues digging and thinks about his mother. She has always hated Corrigan, he knows, but lately it seems as if her sarcasm and curtness have lost even the trace of warmth and kindness they once held. Everyone can see that she hates Corrigan, except for Wesley. She and Wesley moved to Corrigan shortly after they married. This fact suggests that they may have been shamed into eloping.
Here Silvey gives us more information about Charlie’s mother and father. The fact that Charlie is thinking these things now suggests that he makes an effort to understand everyone, even the people he dislikes. Thus, he tries to see why his mother is so angry and sarcastic.
Charlie keeps thinking about his family. His mother comes from “old money,” while his father’s family lacks any money at all. His father was the youngest, and he showed great aptitude in school. His brothers, who had to drop out of school to work, wanted him to become a doctor or a lawyer—thus, they were disappointed when he said he wanted to study literature. Because Charlie’s mother’s parents didn’t approve of Wesley, the couple eloped before his mother finished her degree. Wesley planned to become a novelist, but he never managed to finish a novel. Now, 13 years later, Charlie’s mother is clearly bitter, especially after losing a daughter. Sometimes, she visits her family for weeks at a time, never announcing that she’s leaving more than a day or two ahead of time. Charlie thinks that one day, his mother might not come back from her visits. Her family doesn’t want her to stay married to Wesley, and they remind her of the wealthy lifestyle she left behind when she eloped. Charlie wonders about his mother’s wealthy upbringing, and about how lucky he was to have a kind, loving father. Perhaps if Cooke had had a similarly easy life, he wouldn’t have gone on to kill.
In a novel about coming of age, it’s important that the protagonist measures his own progress against that of adults who have already lived most of their lives. Charlie’s impressions of his parents’ lives is pretty bleak, and it seems unlikely that either one of them will substantially change. As a result, Charlie’s mother will continue to be unhappy and dissatisfied with Corrigan, while Wesley will continue to stoically endure, all while working on his novel. The difference between Wesley and Charlie’s mother is that his mother has a life to return to—she could be wealthy and glamorous if she returned to her family. Again, Charlie proves that he has a gift for sympathizing with those who don’t get much sympathy. Even a murderer like Cooke, he sees, is still a human being.
Charlie wonders what the hole he’s digging could be for. After a few hours, he’s dug to the depth of his thighs. He continues thinking about Cooke. It seems odd that after a lifetime of being abused by men, beginning with his father, Cooke would kill women. But perhaps this was because he wanted to become the people who bullied him—he wanted to take on the role of his own father.
Charlie’s insight into Cooke’s motivations explains a great deal, but not everything. It suggests that people can become the very thing they hate, but it doesn’t do much to account for Cooke’s specific actions—his choice of a weapon, his attacks on women, etc. There’s a limit to how much understanding Charlie (or anyone) can achieve.
By the late evening, Charlie has dug a hole as deep as his ribs. Charlie’s mother comes out of the house and surveys his work—Charlie thinks that she’s secretly impressed with the huge hole he’s dug. She tells him to stop digging, and then orders him to fill in the hole. Charlie is horrified and amazed by this command, and he refuses to obey. His mother yells at him that life is like digging a hole and filling it in: a lot of work for nothing. Charlie tells his mother that that’s her life, not his. He curses her and tells her he’d like to bury her head in the hole. This infuriates his mother—she grabs the shovel and tells him to fill in the hole with his hands.
It’s clear that Charlie’s punishment is a reflection of the way his mother thinks about her own life. Based on what we’ve just learned about her, this seems like an apt metaphor. Charlie’s mother has spent her adult life “digging holes”—creating problems for herself—which she must then repair. One can imagine that she is enormously unsatisfied with small-town life, as it gives her none of the opportunities she was used to with her family or in school.
A few hours later, Charlie is almost finished refilling the hole. Wesley walks into the yard and tells Charlie that he can stop digging. Charlie continues to dig, which leads his father to ask him why he’s been acting so odd lately—he’s usually a smart and reasonable kid. Charlie counters that he’s almost fourteen, and thus not a kid anymore. His father tells him that he should have told them he was leaving the house, and adds that Charlie’s mother was right to be worried. Charlie likes that his father talks to him like an equal, not a child.
Wesley’s behavior with Charlie is markedly different than Charlie’s mother’s behavior. Wesley isn’t afraid to tell Charlie that he was wrong, but he doesn’t punish Charlie excessively. This suggests that he himself doesn’t feel the same dissatisfaction with life that his wife feels—thus, he doesn’t feel the need to take out his frustration on his son.
Wesley muses that the world is changing, and Laura’s disappearance proves as much. He tells Charlie that his mother will tell Charlie that he’s to go without dinner, but he advises Charlie to accept this information, and then eat food after Charlie’s mother goes out to play bridge. He tells Charlie that Charlie’s mother does a lot for him. Charlie replies that a maid could, too. Wesley reminds him that his mother wants him to respect her.
Wesley seems more in touch with the politics of the time than either Charlie or Charlie’s mother. Wesley is concerned with Vietnam, racism, and the waves of violent, sexualized crime in Australia during the period the novel is set in. Charlie’s observation about the maid suggests that his mother’s interactions with him are cold and unemotional, little more than the mechanics of making coffee and food.
Wesley informs Charlie that he’s spent the afternoon at the Miner’s Hall, organizing a search party to look for Laura. Charlie is tempted to tell his father about Jasper and the river, but he remains silent. Wesley says that he’s taught Laura in school, and believes that Laura has a troubled, volatile quality to her personality. He also acknowledges that he doesn’t know anything about her home life. He guesses that Laura will turn up soon, having visited a friend or run off on her own. Charlie suggests that Laura is dead, but his father says that this is unlikely, though possible. He claps Charlie on the back and reminds him to accept the punishment his mother is about to give him.
In spite of his love for his father, Charlie hesitates to tell him about Jasper and Laura. This indicates that Charlie is a man of his word, and it’s a sign that Charlie is more mature than he sometimes seems. We get the sense that Wesley knows Charlie is up to something, but it’s impossible to tell if this derives from Wesley’s thoughts or Charlie’s own paranoia. Sometimes, Charlie’s narrative perspective limits our knowledge of other characters.
A few hours later, Charlie’s mother has left for bridge, and Charlie and his father are carefully cutting food so that Charlie’s mother won’t notice that he’s eaten anything. As they do so, Charlie asks his father if he’s writing in his library. Wesley jerks his head and replies that he just does his schoolwork and reading there. He says that novel writing should be left to novelists. Charlie nods, but when he goes off to his room, he wonders why his father is lying to him.
Wesley’s behavior in this section seems almost childish. He’s rebelling against his wife, just as Charlie does, but he is a grown man. It also reinforces the point that everyone has secrets: Wesley, Charlie, and even Charlie’s mother herself (as we will later learn).
Alone in his room, Charlie notes that Jasper Jones has not come to his window that night. He wonders where the search party will look first. He also notices that his father’s light is on in the study. This saddens Charlie, since it reminds him that his father lied to him about writing. Charlie contemplates writing a new novel, perhaps about Jasper Jones himself.
Charlie accepts that having secrets is an essential part of being an adult, so he can understand why Wesley hides his novel from him, even though this disappoints Charlie. Perhaps Wesley does this because writing is an intensely personal, private act for him.
Charlie sees an unfamiliar car pull up. He thinks that the car might belong to the police, and that they’ve come to arrest him. But then the door opens, and he sees his mother walking out, laughing. He wonders if she might be drunk. As she walks to the house, her face goes blank.
With the “unfamiliar car” we get an early sign that Charlie’s mother may have secrets of her own. We also see that she is skilled at hiding these secrets—she can make her face “blank.”
Charlie reads Mark Twain and feels himself falling asleep. He imagines himself talking to Eliza, saying all the right, witty things.
Charlie has fantasies about wooing Eliza, and it’s unsurprising that his fantasies take a literary form: they’re based on words, not actions.