Mr. Pip

Mr. Pip Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lloyd Jones's Mr. Pip. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lloyd Jones

Jones was born in Lower Hutt, New Zealand in 1955, and went on to study at Victoria University of Wellington. As one of New Zealand’s foremost literary authors, he has won multiple awards, most notably the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2007 for Mister Pip. He has said that Great Expectations was the first “adult” novel he read and that it had a profound influence on his conception of literature. He has since written 15 books, including novels, story collections, and a memoir.
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Historical Context of Mr. Pip

Between 1988 and 1998, the island of Bougainville was involved in a messy armed-conflict known as the Bougainville Civil War. The origins of this war trace back to the establishment of a large copper mine on the island in 1972. Because Papua New Guinea invested in the mine—becoming a 20% shareholder—the government developed an economic dependence on its existence. But the people of Bougainville felt that the mine was destructive both to their land and to their social systems, claiming that the company that established the mine had ultimately created a system of apartheid by bringing white workers to the island and separating them from the black locals. Indeed, the mine attracted many laborers, including white Australians as well as Papua New Guineans, whom Bougainvilleans called “redskins.” Tensions mounted as the mine’s facilities segregated workers based on race, and in 1988 Francis Ona—the commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army—led an uprising that finally shut down the entire operation, at which point many of the island’s white immigrants returned to their original homes. Not long afterward, Papua New Guinea enforced a blockade around the island, using helicopters and gunboats to patrol the perimeters. Francis Ona established an interim government and appointed himself president, but the conflict raged on fractiously, with clans and various rebel armies breaking off from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, warring with one another, and terrorizing the villages. With Papua New Guinea forces controlling some parts of the island, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army others, and rebel factions occupying still others, Bougainville ran rampant with violence and conflict. This is the chaotic wartime political climate in which Matilda and her fellow characters in Mister Pip exist, pulled between divided armies and powers.

Other Books Related to Mr. Pip

Mister Pip borrows its name and much of its subject matter from Charles Dickens’s thirteenth novel, Great Expectations. A bildungsroman—or coming of age story—of an orphan named Pip, the novel was first serialized in 1860 and compiled into three volumes the following year. Matilda is drawn to Pip’s story because it both relates to and greatly differs from her own life, simultaneously providing solace and escape. Because her father has left Bougainville behind, Matilda understands part of what it means to be an orphan, guessing what her father looks like in the same way that Pip tries to construct an image of his deceased parents. The most striking parallel between Matilda and Pip’s lives comes when Matilda’s mother steals Mr. Watts’s version of Great Expectations. Since the “redskin” soldiers occupying the village believe that Pip is a rebel soldier—demanding that the townspeople hand him over—Matilda must choose to either expose her mother’s theft (to prove that Pip is a fictional character) or risk her own safety along with everybody else’s. This incident mirrors Pip’s own dilemma when he is ambushed by an ex-convict who demands that he steal food and tools from his caretakers. Beyond providing this obvious parallel, though, Great Expectations serves as the general backbone of Mister Pip, a symbolic centerpiece that represents the liberating powers of the imagination.
Key Facts about Mr. Pip
  • Full Title: Mister Pip
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary fiction
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Realism
  • Setting: Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea
  • Climax: Convinced that Mr. Watts is a rebel soldier named Pip, Papua New Guinea’s “redskin” forces shoot him and hack him up with machetes. When Matilda’s mother, Dolores, confronts the “redskin” leader, she is dragged away, raped, and killed.
  • Antagonist: Papua New Guinea’s “redskin” forces, who occupy Bougainville in order to keep the islanders from establishing independence.
  • Point of View: First-person narration from Matilda’s perspective.

Extra Credit for Mr. Pip

Film. Mister Pip was made into a film in 2012, starring Hugh Laurie (of the television series House) as Mr. Watts. Among other places, the movie was filmed on the island of Bougainville. It was directed by Andrew Adamson, who also directed Shrek and Shrek 2.