Before Matilda was about to fall asleep one night, her mother told her that Grace Watts died. At the funeral not long afterward, the villagers convened to pay their respects. To break the silence, Dolores said a prayer by memory—since her Bible burned up along with everything else—but she stumbled partway through. Eventually she reached the end, and when it was silent again, Mr. Masoi asked her to repeat it. This time she had no trouble reciting the prayer. When she finished, somebody else tried to utter a different Biblical passage but was unable to piece it together. This attempt was followed by yet another unsuccessful prayer. Soon the audience started passing around stories about Grace, telling Mr. Watts what she was like as a child. As they shared their memories he smiled and nodded, grateful for each person’s contribution. “The big things came back to us, and the little things,” Matilda remembers. “Mr. Watts did not care how small.”
Yet again, collaborative storytelling comes to the forefront of Mister Pip. In the same way that the children try to reconstruct Great Expectations, the funeral-goers try to reconstruct the Bible. It is, of course, meaningful that these books, which are held up as examples of two conflicting cultures, receive the same kind of communal attention after they’ve disappeared. Although they espouse different ideologies and ways of being, they end up serving the same function, bringing the community together to connect over stories and ideas. As such, Jones suggests that it’s not the stories themselves that matter most, but how people tell and receive them.
At home that night, Dolores told Matilda that Grace was the smartest child in school. The village, she explained, had high hopes for her when she went to New Zealand to study dentistry. When she came back, though, she was different. “[…I]t was clear that ‘different’ didn’t mean better,” Matilda notes. Grace became an outsider in her own village, the wife of a mysterious white man. To make matters worse, she hadn’t even earned her degree in dentistry, so she couldn’t take care of the Bougainvilleans’ teeth, as they had all expected her to do. “Instead of a dental nurse we got Pop Eye,” Dolores told Matilda. “We did not know anymore if she was black or white. There. That’s all I have to say on the matter because now she is dead.”
Interestingly enough, Dolores frames race as a social construction when she says that the village didn’t know whether Grace was black or white when she came back from New Zealand. This implies that she views race as a cultural phenomenon, one that is subject to change if somebody adopts a new way of life. This is actually a nice representation of how hybridity can influence identity, though Dolores’s observation doesn’t seek to praise this kind of racial and cultural adaptability. For her, Grace’s new racial ambiguity is the unfortunate result of having lost touch with her roots.