In class Mr. Watts thanked everybody for coming, saying that he hadn’t been sure even he was going to be able to make it, given that Grace had become quite sick. He acknowledged that everybody—including himself—had recently lost valuable possessions, emphasizing that the one thing they all still had intact was their imaginations. He encouraged the students to close their eyes and silently say their names, telling them that “nobody in the history of [their] short lives” had the same voice in their heads; “This is yours,” he explained. “Your special gift that no one can ever take from you.” In keeping with this appreciation of the mind, he suggested that the class work together to rewrite Great Expectations by memory. Together, they decided to accumulate the fragments they could recall, recording them in Mr. Watts’s notebook.
In reassembling Great Expectations, Mr. Watts encourages his students to become involved with collaborative storytelling. This process is similar to when the community members visited the classroom to share their fragmented bits of wisdom, since both instances demonstrate the usefulness of combined knowledge. This time, though, Watts emphasizes how special the imagination is, showing his students that they don’t need material possessions to define who they are or how they view themselves.
Matilda committed herself wholeheartedly to the task of remembering the lines and scenes of Great Expectations. She points out that it was difficult to recall lines when sitting in the classroom but that she often found fragments when going about her everyday life. “You had only to look out the door to see a scrub fowl wander into view,” she writes. “[…] A stray thought like that could hook you.”
Matilda uses her own life to illuminate her memories of Great Expectations, a fact that is significant considering that, until this point, it has been the other way around (with Great Expectations illuminating her life). As such, what was once a “one-sided conversation” becomes ever so slightly more dynamic, as Matilda’s tangible experiences influence the way this new version of Great Expectations is told. In this way, storytelling influences real life and real life influences storytelling.
During this period, Dolores’s criticisms of Mr. Watts intensified. Although Matilda would normally have avoided hearing such malicious things said about her teacher, she discovered that her mother’s exasperated and mean-spirited rants were reminiscent of Estella’s cold treatment of Pip in Great Expectations. When Dolores erupted one day with the line, “Do you not have a shadow of your own to play with?” Matilda ran to Mr. Watts’s house, too excited to wait until the next school day to relay the fragment she’d just remembered as a result of her mother’s phrase. When she arrived, Mr. Watts was tending to Grace, who looked very sick. Matilda blurted out the line, startling Mr. Watts as he held his hand over his wife’s eyes. When he regained his composure, he told Matilda to go to where his jacket was hanging, take out the notebook, and record the fragment herself. In doing so, she discovered that his white jacket was filthy.
Again, Matilda’s everyday life affects her approach to the retelling of Great Expectations, a process that merges fiction with reality. It’s also worth noting that Mr. Watts’s white jacket is dirty when Matilda visits him. Suddenly, he is no longer an untouchable white man in a perfect suit, but a person who can get dirty like everybody else. This only helps Matilda move farther from the notion that he is an “other” set at a remove from the rest of the village. In this moment, she witnesses a shred of his private life, and it is no more or less glamorous or difficult to understand than anyone else’s.