It is New Year’s Eve morning, and Charlie is spending time with Jeffrey, who has become fascinated with Bruce Lee. Jeffrey wants to learn the infamous “one-inch punch.” They talk about karate and play cricket on the Lus’ front lawn, which, Charlie notes, is nothing but a bug-free piece of soil now. Friends and neighbors have given An new flowers and seeds to replant his garden. Charlie admits that this is a nice gesture, but he’s skeptical that the neighbors would have done anything had An Lu’s garden not been destroyed—when Sue Findlay scalded Mrs. Lu, for example, no one did anything about it.
Coming on the heels of the confrontation between the racists and his father, Jeffrey talks cheerily about Bruce Lee. In the past, we’ve noticed that Jeffrey seemed to use humor to hide his sadness and fear, and this seems to be another example of this defense mechanism. Charlie’s skepticism is both cynical and insightful, and he concludes that there is a limit to people’s ability to be truly magnanimous. Even when an act seems generous, there may be some residually selfish motive.
Lately, Charlie has found it difficult to eat anything—he’s been too obsessed with Eliza Wishart. He also feels anxiety in his stomach because he hasn’t heard from Jasper in more than a week. It’s possible that the police have arrested him again.
In the past, Charlie paired Eliza and Laura together, and so he didn’t want to look at Eliza for fear of triggering the sight of Laura’s body. Now, Charlie continues to think of his adventure with Jasper as connected to his love for Eliza, but he seems more content with the “crossover.”
Charlie and Jeffrey trade insults—Jeffrey teases Charlie about kissing Eliza, and Charlie says that Jeffrey is “a volcanic eruption of stupidity.” They mention the upcoming fireworks display at Miners’ Hall, and Jeffrey hints that Eliza might be there. As they laugh and joke, Charlie wonders if he’ll able to leave Jeffrey behind when he leaves Corrigan one day. In a way, saying goodbye to Jeffrey will be harder than saying goodbye to his own family. Jeffrey has always made Charlie feel relaxed and confident in himself.
Here, Silvey shows that Charlie’s plan to leave Corrigan after resolving the mystery of Laura’s death was much more than a childish impulse. Even now, when he’s calmed down, Charlie plans to leave the town. This isn’t a cold, unfeeling gesture—on the contrary, it confirms that Charlie is a good friend and a loving son. His decision to leave stems from his disgust with the culture of Corrigan and his ambitions to write.
Charlie thinks that it’s been difficult not telling Jeffrey about Laura. He wonders if Laura’s dead body will rise to the surface of the lake soon, and if he and Jasper will be arrested for hiding her there. He’s reluctant to go to the fireworks display that night for fear of running into Eliza—he’ll be too tempted to break his promise to Jasper and tell her about Laura. Charlie thinks about leaving town with Jasper, avoiding any responsibility for Laura’s disappearance. He could go to a new school, or travel with Jasper, as if they were characters from On the Road. Charlie fantasizes about exploring Australia with Jasper and writing letters to Eliza—and one day, he’ll be a great author in New York. When that happens, he’ll reunite with Eliza and tell her about Laura.
Charlie seems perfectly conscious that the secrets he’s been keeping about Laura and Jasper will inevitably “out” themselves. He’s struggled to refrain from telling his father, Jeffrey, and Eliza about Laura’s body so far, and seems to accept that even if he continues to persevere in this, some other unexpected event will bring the information to the public eye. Charlie continues to escape his guilt and anxiety with fantasies of success and literary fame. His fantasies don’t so much avoid the “Laura problem” as they solve it, and Charlie dreams about explaining himself to Eliza.
In the evening of New Year’s Eve, Wesley knocks on Charlie’s door and asks him if he’s going to go see the fireworks. Charlie says that he’s not sure, and that he might see Jeffrey instead. Then, Wesley tells Charlie the truth: he has been working on a novel in his study, and he’s finally finished it. Wesley wants Charlie to be the first person to read it. In his study, Wesley shows Charlie the manuscript, titled Patterson’s Curse. In spite of himself, Charlie feels jealous of his father. Without knowing it at the time, he’d always imagined himself showing his own manuscript to Wesley one day.
In the previous section, Charlie feared that a sudden, unexpected event would bring information about Laura to light. Here, he experiences a different kind of unexpected event—his father’s novel being finished. Charlie’s jealousy and resentment in this moment is a little surprising, since he wants to connect with Wesley through literature, and clearly has great respect for him. At the same time, we’ve seen Charlie resent Wesley for keeping secrets from him. Perhaps the news of Wesley’s novel hits Charlie the wrong way because it’s unexpected—in other words, because Wesley has kept his book a secret for so long.
Charlie takes Wesley’s manuscript and goes to read it in his room. Just as he’s beginning, he hears a knock at the window—Jasper is there. Jasper explains that tonight, he and Charlie need to confront Mad Jack—sneak onto his property and tell him that they know he wrote “Sorry.” Charlie says that confrontations like this only work in movies, and there’s no way Mad Jack will own up to his crime right away. Jasper insists that they visit him. He says that they’ll pretend they saw him kill Laura and scratch the word onto the tree. Tonight is the perfect time for the confrontation, he says, since everyone else will be at the fireworks display. When Charlie starts to explain, once again, that Jasper’s plan will never work, Jasper interrupts him, saying that Charlie can either help him by pretending he saw Mad Jack kill Laura, or not. He suggests that Charlie is only reluctant to go to Mad Jack’s because he’s afraid, and reminds him that he promised to help Jasper. With this, Jasper walks away from Charlie’s window.
In this important exchange between Jasper and Charlie, we see both characters in their strengths and limitations. Charlie is rational, calm, and sensible, and so he recognizes that there’s little to no way Jack will just confess to killing Laura if two children confront him. At the same time, Charlie is also weak, indecisive, and prone to romanticizing others, especially Jasper. Jasper, for his part, is charismatic, authoritative, and strong-willed. He’s also unrealistic and prone to fantasies of escape and confrontation that could never occur in the real world. Ultimately, Jasper wins out over Charlie. This suggests that Charlie is far from maturation—he’s still a child, going along with whatever the stronger person orders, or in this case persuades, him to do.
Remembering his loyalty to Jasper, Charlie decides to follow him to Mad Jack’s house. He tells Wesley he’s going to see the fireworks with Jeffrey. Wesley is clearly disappointed that Charlie isn’t reading his novel right away, and a small part of Charlie is pleased with this.
Another reason that Charlie agrees to follow Jasper is that it upsets Wesley. This is a more spiteful and petty action than we’d expect from Charlie, and it sounds like the kind of thing Ruth would do. At the same time, it’s rooted in a sense of literary ambition that we’ve already seen throughout in the novel, so his spite doesn’t seen like a total non sequitur.
Charlie leaves his house and walks through the center of town to Mad Jack’s house, noticing the children laughing and playing. He hears his name and turns to see Eliza, looking beautiful. She tells Charlie she’s glad he came to see the fireworks, and that she’s been meaning to tell him something important. Charlie reluctantly tells Eliza that he needs to go, but he squeezes her shoulder and promises that he’s coming back soon. He thinks that he’d give anything to be able to spend the evening with Eliza instead of having to spend the evening at Mad Jack’s.
We can tell that Eliza is going to tell Charlie something about the mystery of Laura’s death, but Charlie clearly doesn’t realize this. His loyalty to Jasper trumps everything else, including his love for his father and for Eliza. This isn’t to say that Charlie doesn’t care about Eliza—on the contrary, he’s come to care more for her than for Jasper. Yet Charlie is a man of his word (or boy of his word), and he made a promise to help Jasper.
Charlie walks the rest of the way to Mad Jack’s house, where Jasper is waiting for him. He smiles and tells Charlie he knew Charlie would come. Charlie doesn’t reply. Jasper twice asks Charlie if he has a light for his cigarette, and it occurs to Charlie that Jasper is as nervous about trespassing onto Mad Jack’s property as Charlie is. Jasper insists that he and Charlie must enter through the front of Mad Jack’s house, not the back—they need to project confidence. Charlie sees how false Jasper’s confidence is—it’s as superficial as Batman’s cape. Nevertheless, he follows Jasper to the front of the building.
On this visit to Mad Jack’s house, Charlie realizes a great deal about bravery and appearances. Bravery, he sees, is often a kind of illusion, based on superficial markers like drinking, smoking, and bold talk. The broader point, one that Charlie doesn’t seem to understand as of now, is that acting brave makes a person become brave. It’s the old principle of “fake it ‘til you make it,” or, in more academic terms, “masculinity as performance.”
Jasper bangs on the front door of Mad Jack’s house and calls for Mad Jack. After a few moments, Mad Jack appears at the door. He smiles, much to Charlie’s surprise, greets Jasper by name, and invites him into the house, putting his hand on Jasper’s shoulder, though Jasper brushes it off at once. Charlie notes that Mad Jack is shorter and less imposing than he’d imagined, with yellow teeth and white hair. As he ushers Charlie and Jasper into his home, he walks with a pronounced limp. Charlie notices old photographs and dead butterflies pinned to the walls.
Our first impressions of Mad Jack both confirm and deny what we’ve heard about him so far. He’s clearly a dirty-looking old man who lives by himself, and there are plenty of strange and disturbing objects in his house. Nevertheless, Jack doesn’t “yell” at Jasper, as Jasper had previously described him doing. We can feel that we’re about to learn the truth about Jack—a truth that has little to do with the rumors about the man.
Mad Jack invites Jasper and Charlie to sit down, but Jasper insists that they won’t sit. Jack, unfazed, asks for Charlie’s name. Jasper tersely tells Jack Charlie’s name, but adds that he doesn’t need to know anything else about Charlie. Jasper gets to the point: he tells Jack that he and Charlie know “what he’s done.” To Charlie’s surprise, Jack sighs and sits down, looking tired and sad. Jasper asks him to admit that he killed “her.” Jack quietly tells Jasper that he’s wanted to speak with him about the matter for a long time. When Jasper adds that he and Charlie saw Jack kill “her” three weeks ago, Jack is confused—he claims that he “did it” when Jasper was only two years old. Instead of being confused, Jasper insists that Jack is a liar, and urges him to confess what he’s done. Charlie notes that Jack looks saddened, but not the least bit intimidated.
This scene is quick, confusing, and intentionally obscure. Jack and Jasper are talking past one another—Jasper thinks Jack is talking about Laura, but Jack is clearly talking about someone else. One wonders why Jasper doesn’t try to clarify the pronoun “her” a little earlier. It’s almost as if Silvey is intentionally drawing out the suspense for as long as possible. There is some poignancy in that fact that Charlie realizes Jack is innocent long before Jasper does. Jasper takes on the attributes of a petulant child by accusing Jack angrily and groundlessly. Thus, the scene works as a metaphor for Charlie’s growth, as he outstrips Jasper in one way.
Jasper presses on, trying to get Jack to confess to killing Laura. He tells Jack that he and Charlie know he killed Laura Wishart, beating and hanging her less than a month ago. Jack is horrified with this information, and barely seems to know that a girl named Laura Wishart has been missing. Jasper tells Jack that he found Laura’s body—confronted with this information, Jack asks Jasper how Jasper knows that Laura is dead. Charlie senses that the balance of power is changing: Jack is becoming more confident, and Jasper is beginning to sound like a scared, desperate child. Charlie realizes that Jack had nothing to do with Laura’s death, and that he isn’t “mad” at all—he’s just a sad, lonely man.
It’s interesting that Charlie thinks of Jasper as a small child in this scene. Previously, he’d thought of jasper as more mature than he—essentially an adult, capable of taking care of himself. The fact that Charlie is changing his mind about Jasper signals that Charlie himself is maturing. Once again, we see Charlie’s great capacity for sympathy for people unlike himself. This sympathy was already apparent in his friendship with Jeffrey and his research into Eric Edgar Cooke, but here, Charlie proves that he’s capable of changing his mind about people—abandoning his prejudices and fears—after talking to them for only a few minutes.
Jack asks Jasper why he’s being accused of murder, and as he asks the question, he begins to cry. He asks Jasper if it’s because of Jasper’s mother. Jasper doesn’t understand what Jack means, and when Jack realizes this, he weeps and shakes his head. Jack asks Jasper if he’s ever wondered why Jack calls Jasper’s name every time Jasper walks by. Jasper doesn’t know what to say. Jack tells Jasper to turn around—behind him, there are three photographs, which Jack identifies at Jasper’s mother, his father, and Jasper himself. Jack tells Jasper that he is Jasper’s father’s father—Jasper’s grandfather. Jack reveals that it was he who drove the car when Jasper’s mother died in a car crash.
There is a cliché in the Southern gothic genre that the reclusive, mysterious character (Boo Radley, for instance, in To Kill A Mockingbird), turns out to be related to one of the main characters in the novel. Jasper Jones is no exception, as Jack turns out to be the grandfather of Jasper, the title character. It’s in this moment that we realize that Jack’s reputation for “murder” is unfounded. He accidentally killed a woman, rather than murdering her in cold blood.
The narrative jumps forward: Charlie is back in his room, shaken by his confrontation with Jack. On his walk back from Jack’s house, he didn’t run into Eliza. Instead, he walked silently with Jasper. Once they’d reached Charlie’s room, Jasper told him that he planned to talk to his father as soon as possible. Alone, Charlie thinks that his town is a dark, ugly place. Perhaps this is the reason everyone seems eager to cover up ugliness with politeness and smoothness. At the moment, Charlie doesn’t blame them for doing so.
This is a sudden, jarring “cut” in the story, and it corresponds exactly to the jarring information that Charlie learns from Jack. Charlie’s world has changed—he no longer looks up to Jasper as a symbol of maturity and adulthood. He begins to grow conscious for the first time of the extent to which his town relies upon appearances to hide its true secrets and evils. Though Charlie had glimpsed this phenomenon before, only now does he realize how pervasive it is.
Charlie reveals everything Jack told Jasper. Jack was the father of Jasper’s father, whose name is David—he showed Jasper David’s old room, which was full of football trophies. Years ago, David met Rosie, his future wife, at a dance outside of town. Rosie was from the neighboring shire (or county), and because she was Aboriginal, David avoided spending time with her in the presence of the people of Corrigan. Shortly after meeting David, Rosie became pregnant, and David told Jack about her. Jack insisted that Rosie get an abortion, and told David that he was ruining the family name. David refused, and married Rosie shortly thereafter. Jack, furious, disowned David. In response, Davis changed his last name to Jones.
There will be a lot of information in this chapter, and much of it is surprising or shocking information. Here, Charlie relates the surprising truth about Jasper to the reader in a relatively calm, organized way. This will contrast markedly with the information he’ll learn from Eliza later on. We learn that Jack was guilty of the same racism and prejudice that the other people of Corrigan harbor too.
After Rosie’s child—Jasper—was born, Rosie tried to befriend Jack. After a year of attempts, Rosie finally succeeded. When Jack met Rosie, he changed his mind about her. She was beautiful, and a great cook, and he came to enjoy spending time with her—indeed, she became something of a replacement for Jack’s own wife. Jack dressed nicely whenever he visited her, and Rosie would always make special food for the occasion. David was never present for these visits—he never forgave his father.
Unlike the other townspeople of Corrigan, Jack overcame his racism through understanding, love, and personal empathy. We’ve seen characters (like Wesley and Charlie) who aren’t racist at all, and we’ve seen characters who clearly are (Warwick Trent, Sue), but it’s only now that Silvey portrays someone undergoing such a significant change of character.
One day in April, when Jack was visiting Rosie, Rosie clutched her side in pain and begged Jack to drive her to the hospital. Jack obliged, but drove over a deep pothole immediately after pulling his car out. As a result, the car skidded into a wall of trees. Jack emerged from the car, covered in glass and blood, only to see Rosie’s body lying in front of the car, dead. During the autopsy, it was found that Rosie had had appendicitis. Jack never forgave himself for driving the car that killed Rosie. He often wished that he had died instead of Rosie.
It’s difficult to blame Jack for killing Rosie, both because he was doing the right thing by driving her to the hospital, and because he clearly hates himself for his part in her death. Punishing him any further seems downright cruel. We’ve seen other characters in the novel struggle with guilt, but here Silvey shows the extent to which guilt can ruin a life. Charlie has been dealing with guilt for a few weeks, while Jack has been struggling with it for decades.
In the weeks after Rosie’s death, rumors spread throughout Corrigan. Some said that Jack had been in love with Rosie, and was trying to kidnap her, or that the two of them were having an affair and wanted to leave Corrigan together. No one ever mentioned the fact that Jack was trying to save Rosie from appendicitis. In response to the rumors, Jack became a simple, lonely man, never interacting with the townspeople, apart from the children who stole peaches from his property. He would always call to Jasper when Jasper walked by, and assumed that Jasper was ignoring him because he hated him. In reality, Jasper ignored Jack’s calls because his father never told him that Jack was his grandfather.
It’s here that we see for the first time the extent to which the townspeople can ruin other people’s lives simply through the power of gossip. We already knew that the townspeople were capable of violence (their attack on An Lu, for example), and we certainly know that they gossip. Yet here, gossip itself becomes an act of violence. Simply by spreading lies, the people of Corrigan sentence Jack to a lifetime of self-hatred and loneliness.
Charlie wonders how Jasper never learned about his father. Even if David never told Jasper, it seems likely that Jasper would have heard something from the other townspeople, who gossiped about how Jack killed Rosie. Perhaps, Charlie thinks, the town became afraid of Mad Jack, and the stories of his insanity quickly obscured any information about his relationship with Rosie. Charlie also feels amazed that he used to be afraid of Jack—it’s obvious to him now that Jack is a decent, sad old man.
Part of what’s terrifying about this section is that the townspeople seem to act so as to inflict the greatest possible amount of suffering on Jack, whether they know what they’re doing or not. In other words, they gossip just enough to shun Jack from public life, but not enough that Jasper would ever know the truth. In contrast to this, Charlie shows immediate sympathy for Jack after hearing his story.
After Jack explained his relationship to Jasper, he told Charlie and Jasper what he’d seen the night Laura died. He’d watched Laura walking alone, seemingly angry. Jack assumed that Jasper and Laura had had a fight, and Jasper would eventually follow her. Instead, Jack saw “someone” else follow Laura.
Silvey reminds us that the mystery is still far from being solved. Even if Jack wrote “sorry” on the car, it remains to be seen who wrote the same word on the tree. The “someone” who followed Laura must be identified.
A few hours after meeting Jack, Charlie is sitting in his room. He hears a tapping at the window—it’s Eliza. When Charlie opens the window, Eliza demands to know why Charlie didn’t meet up with her at the fireworks show, as he’d promised. She explains that she had to tell Charlie something: she knows where Laura is.
Charlie already sensed that Eliza knew something about Laura, but it wasn’t clear that she knew, or thought she knew, the full truth about what happened to her sister.
Charlie sneaks out of his window, his mind full of possibilities: he has no idea how much Eliza knows. It’s possible, he thinks, that it was Eliza who Jack saw following Laura. Eliza leads Charlie through town, past families celebrating the new year, and couples kissing. Eliza and Charlie say nothing, but Charlie notices that Eliza is very upset.
At the beginning of the novel Charlie snuck out of the house with Jasper. Now, he sneaks out with Eliza. This may symbolize his growth and development. At first he was a child, idolizing the older, more athletic boy, while now he’s matured a little, and walks with Eliza as her boyfriend and equal.
Eliza leads Charlie to the river, on the same path that Charlie takes with Jasper. By the river, Charlie notices an unexpected sight: his family’s car. He tells Eliza what he sees, and Eliza is surprised. Slowly, he approaches the car, with a terrible feeling that he already knows what’s inside. He peers inside the car, and sees his mother “grappling and gripping” a man he doesn’t know, with her dress half off. When Ruth sees Charlie, she pulls her clothes on and yells at him hysterically for being out after dark.
The revelations in this chapter will not end. Even when he’s on his way to solve one mystery, Charlie discovers the solution to a different mystery he didn’t even know existed. In retrospect, it was pretty obvious that Ruth was committing adultery—she disliked Wesley, left the house for long hours, and, previously, Wesley had told her that he knew about the “things” she did.
As Ruth yells at Charlie, he senses that he doesn’t have to listen to her anymore. Ruth grabs his hand and orders him to get in the car so she can drive him home, but he pulls away with ease. Firmly, he tells Ruth that he’ll never do what she says again. He adds that Ruth “dug this hole,” and now she’ll have to “fill it in.” As he says this, Charlie feels hatred for his mother, but also sympathy—she looks weak and childish. He tells her, “go home,” and as he says the words, he feels as authoritative as Jasper. With this, he turns, takes Eliza’s hand, and walks away. Ruth calls after him, but he doesn’t listen.
Charlie seems to come of age in this moment. Instead of being afraid of his mother and obeying her every command, he realizes that he doesn’t have to obey her anymore, because she doesn’t have any moral authority over him. Yet if this is a moment of coming of age, it’s a rather depressing one, determined by random chance, not the laws of nature. It’s notable that even in the depths of his anger, Charlie also feels sorry for Ruth.
As Eliza and Charlie walk away from the river, Eliza tells Charlie that she’s sorry, and these simple words soothe Charlie. They walk past Jack’s house, and Charlie feels another wave of sympathy for the man, who’s now forced to lived alone. Eliza leads Charlie to the glade where Jasper previously took him, and Charlie notices that she doesn’t hesitate at all.
The word “sorry” comes up again and again in the novel, sometimes sincerely, sometimes insincerely. Here Eliza is saying the word in an honest attempt to make Charlie feel better. Charlie is sensitive enough to accept Eliza’s word. He’s also sensitive enough to remember Jack’s fate even while thinking about Ruth and Eliza.
Eliza and Charlie arrive at the glade. Eliza looks at Charlie and says that he’s been there before—it’s not an accusation, just a statement. She tells Charlie that they need to “tell each other things.” Charlie asks Eliza to go first, and she agrees. She takes out a letter, and explains that Laura wrote it for Jasper. Charlie asks Eliza how she found the letter, but she only shrugs. Eliza tells Charlie that she’s had the “Mean Reds” for the last few weeks. The Mean Reds are a feeling of anger, confusion, and paranoia—Charlie nods and says that he’s been feeling exactly this way. As Charlie nods, Eliza begins to shake, and tells him that she killed Laura—it’s her fault.
Everything Eliza says to Charlie leading up to her confession is a kind of test—a test of whether or not Charlie will understand what she’s been going through. It’s because Charlie passes this test—because he, too, has been coping with guilt and anxiety because of his role in Laura’s disappearance—that Eliza reveals that she is personally responsible (or considers herself so) for Laura’s death.
Charlie explains what Eliza told him about Laura’s death. He notes that he needs to “get it out” quickly, because it’s too difficult to hold inside himself.
Eliza knew that Laura and Jasper were in a relationship, Charlie explains. Their relationship charmed Eliza—it was like a modern Romeo and Juliet—but it also filled her with envy. In November, Jasper stopped seeing Laura, and Laura fell into a depression. Laura stopped talking to Eliza, and stopped eating or talking to anyone else either. Later, when Eliza found Laura’s letter to Jasper, Eliza discovered something: Laura and Eliza’s father, the shire president, would drunkenly abuse Laura, and had done so since Laura was a child. Eliza never knew Laura received this treatment.
Much like Charlie, Eliza idolizes other people by comparing them to her favorite books. Charlie is constantly comparing people to characters from Kerouac and Lee, while Eliza compares Laura and Jasper to Romeo and Juliet. What follows is the darkest secret we’ve encountered in the novel so far—Pete Wishart is an incestuous rapist. It’s terrifying that someone so respected and powerful in the community could be so evil.
On the night that Jasper took Charlie to the glade for the first time, Eliza tells Charlie, there had been an argument in Eliza’s house. Eliza’s father was drunkenly yelling at Laura. Eliza’s mother was calm and oblivious, as usual, and Eliza was sitting in her room, reading and listening to music, trying to pretend that she couldn’t hear the yelling. Suddenly, Eliza heard screaming and pounding from Laura’s room, immediately next to hers. There was a loud sound like a gunshot, and then footsteps. Eliza looked out of her window and saw her father driving the car out of the garage.
Eliza takes refuge in her books and entertainment. Instead of facing her problems, and the problems in her own house, she escapes into fantasy and dreams about New York, much as Charlie does. This helps to explain why Eliza blames herself for Laura’s death—instead of helping Laura (for example, going into her room and investigating the source of the sound), Eliza chooses to continue reading.
After Eliza saw her father driving away, she heard her sister crying and walking out of the house. Eliza didn’t try to comfort Laura because she was afraid and unsure of what to do. After Laura had been gone for a few minutes, Eliza realized that Laura was probably going to meet Jasper. Quickly, she ran out of her house and followed Laura. Eliza was afraid and confused—she had no idea why her father had been shouting at Laura. Nevertheless, she followed Laura to Jasper’s glade, wanting to turn back the entire time. In the glade, Eliza hid behind a tree and watched as Laura sat and cried. Eliza wanted to reveal herself, but she insists that she didn’t because she didn’t want to “disappoint” Laura, who was clearly waiting for someone else.
Eliza’s decisions in this section have caused her tremendous guilt and will continue to haunt her. Just as Charlie needs to ease his pain by writing down the information we’re reading, Eliza needs to ease her own feelings of guilt by confessing to someone else—Charlie. It might be objected that Eliza’s reasons for leaving Laura alone don’t exactly make sense, but this is precisely the point. There’s a limit to how fully we can understand other people’s actions. Sometimes, people do things that make no sense whatsoever. This is why guilt is so harmful—there’s no easy way to rationalize Eliza’s behavior.
In the glade, Eliza watched Laura as she bent over her lap, seemingly writing a letter. Then, Laura climbed the eucalyptus tree, skillfully navigating from branch to branch. Eliza watched as Laura, now at the highest branch, slipped a rope around her neck, rocked back, and fell from the tree, hanging herself. Instead of screaming or running, Eliza could only stare at her sister’s dead body in shock. Eventually, she found the energy to walk forward, where she found a letter on the ground.
Previously, Jasper had claimed that Laura couldn’t have climbed the tree by herself, and this claim was a vital part of Jasper’s search for a killer, since he had effectively ruled out suicide. Now, it becomes clear that Jasper was wrong about Laura, and also that he didn’t know as much about her as he’d thought.
As Eliza stood in the glade, hypnotized by the sight of her dead sister, she heard a voice, and quickly hid again. Jasper Jones arrived in the clearing. Eliza watched as he wailed and moaned, embracing Laura and trying in vain to support her body so that she could breathe again. Then, Jasper ran away from the glade. Eliza tried to follow him, but he was too fast—as a result, she spent hours struggling to find her way out of the bushes. When she emerged, she ran to the river and vomited. Then, she staggered home, arriving shortly before the dawn.
Charlie has always thought of Jasper as a skillful, observant navigator, capable of hiding from anyone. Here, it becomes clear that Jasper isn’t as sharp as he’d seemed, as Eliza saw him with Laura, and Jasper had no idea that he was being watched. Eliza’s vomiting parallels Jasper’s and Charlie’s in the earlier chapters of the novel—a sudden, physical rejection of the horror she’s just seen.
The day after Laura’s death, Eliza read the letter Laura had left, even though it was addressed to Jasper. Eliza learned that Laura and Jasper were planning to leave Corrigan forever. In her letter, Laura told Jasper that she was afraid Jasper had left her behind and didn’t love her anymore. She’d gone to the glade in the hopes that Jasper would be there to take care of her.
Jasper is more responsible for Laura’s death than we’d thought. While he certainly didn’t kill her, his negligence partially inspired her to hang herself. This piece of information will be important in the final chapter of the novel, but for the time being it’s almost ignored as Eliza proceeds with her frantic confession.
By reading Laura’s letter, Eliza learned why she’d been arguing with her father the night she killed herself. Pete Wishart had raped Laura many times—now, she was in “trouble.” Laura wrote that she was “full of milky poison.” At dinner, in the presence of her mother and father, she had accused her father of raping her and impregnating her. Amazingly, Laura’s mother refused to believe her. Later in the evening, while Eliza was still reading in her room, Laura’s father came into Laura’s room and warned her never to tell anyone about his abusive behavior again. Laura refused, and tried to hit her father—she even threw a glass paperweight at him. In response, her father beat her mercilessly, and then left her alone to weep. With these words, Charlie writes, “it’s out.”
Pete Wishart not only abused his daughter, but also raped and impregnated her. Laura was “in trouble” in the sense that she was carrying a child—her own sister as well as her daughter. Perhaps even more shocking than this fact is the knowledge that Laura’s mother listened to Laura tell the truth about Pete, and then ignored the information altogether. Previously, we’ve seen the townspeople ignore unpleasant facts in order to preserve their worldview (for example, refusing to see that a Vietnamese boy is good at sports), but the intimacy of Laura’s confrontation with her mother makes her mother’s rejection especially horrifying.
As Eliza reads Charlie her sister’s letter, her voice is sad yet unflinching. Charlie realizes that Eliza has been going through a pain far worse than his own: she blames herself for Laura’s death. At the same time, Charlie is deeply angry with Eliza—if she hadn’t taken Laura’s letter, Jasper would have found it, and neither he nor Charlie would have had to go through the hardships of the last month. Still, Charlie realizes, if Eliza had left the letter, Charlie would never have become close friends with Jasper. Charlie wonders how Jasper will take the news contained in Laura’s letter. In all probability, Charlie thinks, he will blame himself for Laura’s death even more than he already does.
Charlie’s greatest act of empathy in this scene is to realize that as great as his own pain has been, Eliza’s is much greater. It is Charlie, too, who first thinks about how Jasper will take the news of Laura’s suicide. He’s thinking about other people, even when he’s at his most anxious. Eliza’s calmness, which has previously been charming and alluring to Charlie, is now a little disturbing. Beneath the calmness, there is a great deal of anger, guilt, and anxiety.
Eliza then reveals the final piece of the mystery to Charlie: it was she who carved “Sorry” on the tree in the glade. Then she asks Charlie to tell her what he knows. Reluctantly, he explains that Jasper showed him Laura’s body—the most horrible sight, he tells Eliza, that he’d ever seen. Afterwards, he and Jasper cut Laura down, weighed her body with stones, and threw her in the river. Charlie can barely look at Eliza, and he begs her not to hate him for what he did. Eliza tells Charlie that it hurts her that he didn’t tell her what he knew. Charlie nods, but explains that he had to keep his promise to Jasper. Eliza doesn’t reply.
Eliza doesn’t explicitly forgive Charlie, but she doesn’t yell at him, either. Thus, it’s unclear exactly how Eliza feels about Charlie’s deception. Certainly, this isn’t the confrontation scene Charlie had imagined between the two of them—he had pictured Eliza screaming at him for moving Laura’s corpse. In a way, it’s worse that Eliza remains silent after Charlie explains what he did. Instead of moving past her anger and sadness, Eliza contains it, potentially allowing it to grow even worse.
Eliza mutters that it’s her fault Laura died: if she’d spoken to Laura while she was in the clearing, Laura wouldn’t have hanged herself. Charlie insists that this isn’t the truth—it is her father who is responsible. He apologizes to Eliza for moving Laura’s body. Eliza says that she forgives Charlie, though she wishes he’d told her. In a way, though, she is glad Charlie saw Laura’s body, because it means that he knows what she’s going through.
Even if she can’t express her emotions, Eliza can use words to explain them. Charlie, who had previously failed to assure Eliza that she wasn’t a bad person, is now quick to tell Eliza not to blame herself. This shows that he’s grown more sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings, even in the last few weeks.
Charlie asks Eliza why she didn’t come forward with Laura’s letter, and if she was afraid of her father. Eliza says nothing, which Charlie takes as proof that she was. Charlie starts to ask Eliza if her father ever raped her, but Eliza shakes her head no before he can finish the question. Suddenly, she asks Charlie to dance with her, and Charlie obliges. He closes his eyes and imagines living with Eliza in Manhattan. Eliza tells him that she plans on leaving Corrigan, and asks him to promise to come with her when she leaves. Charlie promises, and kisses Eliza on the head. Eliza begins to cry. Charlie holds Eliza and thinks that perhaps, for once, he’s doing the right thing—sometimes a quiet embrace is better than a witty poem.
The sudden transition from the discussion of rape to the act of dancing is jarring, but this is the point—Eliza wants to forget everything she’s just told Charlie, just as Charlie wants to forget about Laura’s corpse. The young people in the novel—Charlie, Eliza, Jasper, Jeffrey—are all alike insofar as they use entertainment and humor to escape their problems and emotions. The best example of using art in this way is the book Jasper Jones itself, which Charlie “writes” to overcome his own conflicted emotions about the events he’s witnessed in Corrigan.
Still alone in Jasper’s glade, Eliza leads Charlie toward the hollow under a tree. In the hollow, there are tins of food, plates, tobacco, and cards. Charlie realizes that this is where Jasper sleeps at night. Eliza wants to sleep in the hollow with Charlie. Charlie crouches down next to her, but thinks that sleeping in the hollow isn’t right, since it means taking Jasper Jones’s space. As he lies down next to Eliza, he wonders what he and Eliza will do with their information about Laura. They could keep silent, thereby saving Eliza from her father’s anger. But even if they say nothing, Charlie thinks, it’s possible that the information will get out anyway.
There’s something deeply symbolic about the fact that Charlie is now sleeping in Jasper’s home. It’s as if Jasper has ceased to be a convincing role model for him, so Charlie has “replaced him” by becoming more mature, sensitive, and capable himself—taking on the qualities Charlie once associated with Jasper. Now that all the information about Laura is known to Charlie, he faces a completely new challenge—what to do with it? Charlie had imagined that he would be able to tell the public about Laura’s killer, but now he sees that this is more difficult than he’d envisioned.
As Charlie lies in the hollow with Eliza, he hears a noise, and looks up: Jasper is in the glade. Jasper demands that Charlie explain why Eliza is there. In response, Eliza throws him Laura’s letter. Jasper says that he won’t be able to read it, since it’s too dark. Instead, Eliza explains everything she’s told Charlie. Charlie notices that she’s bitter and angry as she explains—she clearly blames Jasper’s absence for Laura’s depression. As Eliza tells Jasper about the sight of Laura hanging herself, he groans and jumps into the nearby waterhole.
We see the conflict between Eliza and Jasper, one which will have enormous consequences in the final chapter. Eliza blames Jasper for Laura’s death, or at least she wants him to suffer for Laura’s death, just as she has suffered. Clearly Jasper is suffering, though—his act of throwing himself in the waterhole could be another act of suicide, just like Laura’s hanging.
When Jasper jumps into the waterhole, Eliza and Charlie are shocked. Instead of standing still, however, Charlie removes his shirt and jumps into the water after Jasper, wondering if Jasper might be trying to drown himself. In the water, Charlie finds Jasper’s body—he’s holding himself beneath the surface. Charlie is forced to push to the surface when he runs out of air. As he rises, he’s surprised to feel Jasper’s body rising with him. At the surface of the water, Jasper grips Charlie’s body violently, and for a moment Charlie thinks Jasper is trying to drown him. Then, Jasper embraces Charlie. Charlie realizes what has been the truth all along: Jasper is a frightened, lonely boy. He asked Charlie to help him with Laura because he was too frightened to go by himself. If even Jasper Jones feels fear, Charlie thinks, then everyone does. People shouldn’t aim to rid themselves of all fear—they have to learn how to “carry fear” and live with fear. Charlie remembers talking about Batman with Jeffrey—much like Bruce Wayne, people have to learn to achieve things while also struggling with their emotions.
Charlie proves how much he’s grown lately. In the past, Charlie would often “freeze up” in moments of crisis. After seeing how quickly his father runs to save An Lu, however, Charlie learns how to take action without hesitation. It’s also an important reversal from the first chapter: initially, Jasper was the one “leading” Charlie, but now, it’s Charlie who must “lead” Jasper out of the waterhole. It’s not clear if Jasper was actually planning to kill himself, but it seems likely that Charlie’s presence is enough to convince Jasper to come to the surface. Guilt, Silvey suggests, is a state of loneliness, and sometimes it’s satisfying simply to know that other people sympathize with one’s guilt. Charlie also remembers his conversation about Batman—one must accept fear and then move past it, rather than simply denying that it exists.
Charlie and Jasper swim to the side of the waterhole and climb out. In silence, Charlie, Eliza, and Jasper look at the water, which leads directly to the river. Eliza says, “She’s down there forever.”
Eliza’s words can be taken literally or metaphorically. Metaphorically, Laura will be “down there” in the depths of the three teenagers’ minds for the rest of their lives.
Eliza, Jasper, and Charlie lie in the glade and look up at the stars. Suddenly, Charlie turns and tells Jasper that he and Eliza are thinking of leaving Corrigan too. Jasper immediately rejects this idea—if Charlie and Eliza leave, the police will resume their investigation, track down the two of them, and possibly implicate them in Laura’s death. Eliza nods and tells Charlie that Jasper is right. She says that she’s going to tell “everyone” about what her father did to Laura, and how Laura died. Charlie tells Eliza that this is impossible: if Eliza explains that Jasper was connected to Laura, the police will arrest him. Eliza indignantly says that she has to tell the truth, and that she’ll leave out the parts about Jasper. Charlie objects that this wouldn’t be the truth at all. He tells Eliza that she blames Jasper for Laura’s death, and that she’s trying to punish him in the same way she’s been punishing herself. Eliza doesn’t speak, but Charlie senses that she knows he’s right. Jasper only shrugs and tells Eliza that she should do what she thinks is right.
In this lengthy section, Charlie, Jasper, and Eliza have a long-overdue discussion. They’ve been trying to solve the mystery of Laura’s disappearance, but now they must solve the mystery of how to announce the news to the town of Corrigan. Although it would be easy to tell the town that Pete Wishart is a rapist and an evil man, Charlie is too loyal to his friend Jasper to allow this to happen. Any hint of a connection between Jasper and Laura would be disastrous, since it would allow the police to arrest and interrogate Jasper once again, perhaps even killing him. Agonizingly, the best course of action for Jasper’s sake is to remain silent about Laura’s suicide.
Jasper, Eliza, and Charlie fall asleep in the glade. The next morning, they walk back to Corrigan, slowly and silently. When they pass Jack’s house, Jasper stops and says that he needs to talk to Jack once more. He tells Charlie that his father has left town—-Jasper has no idea why. He puts his hand on Charlie’s shoulder and thanks him, and then turns to Eliza and mutters an apology to her. Although his voice is quiet, Charlie can tell that the apology means a great deal to him. Charlie and Eliza watch Jasper walk toward Jack’s house. They see that Jack is sitting on his porch. Charlie senses that he’ll never see Jasper again.
Here we get another kind of ”sorry.” Even if the apology is muttered, it’s entirely sincere. Jasper regrets his role in Laura’s suicide as much as he regrets anything he’s ever done. Yet it’s not clear what the impact of these apologies will ultimately be. It’s not clear, in other words, if Eliza’s anger with Jasper changes at all because of his apology. At the same time, Charlie continues to love and respect Jasper, and feel an almost preternatural connection with him.
Charlie and Eliza make their way toward Corrigan. Along the way, a car pulls up by them, and a man asks Eliza if she’s Pete Wishart’s daughter. Eliza shakes her head, and the man drives on. Only a few minutes later, another car stops them, and the Sarge steps out and orders them to get in. Reluctantly, Charlie and Eliza get in the car, and the Sarge drives them to the police station, muttering that he’s gone to a huge amount of trouble to find Eliza. At the station, the Sarge sends Eliza inside and tells Charlie to go home, warning him never to cause him trouble again. Charlie walks away, thinking that he knows firsthand what the Sarge is capable of. Instead of going home, he waits a few blocks from the station, worrying that the Sarge will hurt Eliza. A few hours later, Eliza emerges from the building, apparently unharmed, accompanied by her parents. As they drive away, Charlie tries to catch Eliza’s eye from her car. He thinks that Eliza sees him and smiles, but he can’t be sure.
This section describes the first “test” of the secret that Jasper, Eliza, and Charlie must now keep. Eliza is given the opportunity to confess what she knows to the police, and she does nothing. Clearly, she respects the agreement she’s come to with Charlie and Jasper, that they must keep quiet about what they know in order to protect Jasper from the police. Yet there’s no honor or glory in protecting this secret, at least not for Eliza. She wishes she could bring her father to justice, and perhaps for this reason, she doesn’t make eye contact with Charlie—she’s alienated from him by her desire for revenge and her continuing sense of complicity in Laura’s death.