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.
Fear 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?”
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.