Only several days after Grace’s funeral, Mr. Watts was back in the classroom encouraging his students to summon their memories of Great Expectations. At this point, Matilda recounts the circumstances that led to her father’s departure from Bougainville. As an employee of the island’s large copper mine, he was called upon by Australian bosses to live in the Bougainvillean town of Arawa, away from Matilda and Dolores’s village. When Dolores visited him, she saw that he was slowly modeling himself after the white Australians surrounding him. He started drinking heavily and smiling like a white person. When rebels began attacking the mine and tensions escalated in Bougainville, his boss offered to “sponsor” him and his family in Australia. Matilda considers the meaning of the word “sponsor,” explaining that Mr. Watts likened it to the word “adopt,” which she says felt appropriate given her father’s apparent desire to be taken in by white culture.
Matilda picks up on the fact that her father’s gravitation toward white culture doesn’t fit with her mother’s desire to stay firmly rooted in her existence as a black woman in Bougainville. Her meditation on the word “sponsor” illustrates the potential risks of “adopt[ing]” a culture so fully that everything else gets left behind. Although she isn’t as suspicious of this process as her mother is, she appears cognizant of her father’s unfortunate failure to maintain elements of his own culture; his is not a story of the successful comingling of two cultures, but an example of one way of life completely erasing another.
Matilda likens her father’s Australian sponsor to Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer who serves as a middleman between Pip and his anonymous guardian (who gives him a fortune) in Great Expectations. Like Mr. Jaggers, this man represented an opportunity for upward mobility. Dolores and Matilda, though, had no such representative; “My mum now hoped to join my dad, whenever that might be,” Matilda writes. “This was just wishful thinking, because there was no Mr. Jaggers in my mum’s life. We were trapped, without a way off the island.”
It is difficult to understand exactly what Dolores wants. On the one hand, she is rooted to her home and resents Matilda’s father for having essentially turned into a white man. On the other hand, she wants to leave Bougainville and join him, and is exasperated that—unlike him—she has nobody to help leave. Jones fails to fully dissect these contradictory wishes, allowing them to sit side-by-side in Dolores’s personality, a problem in her character that ultimately gives her depth, for humans are often unclear about what they want. In a way, one could argue that Dolores’s conflicting desires produce a hybridity of sorts that exists in her very identity, which would be ironic given her staunch disapproval of hybridity in other contexts.
On her way to a creek where she liked to wash her clothes, Matilda came upon Mr. Watts at Grace’s grave. Standing next to him, she asked him if his wife loved Great Expectations as much as he did. To her surprise, he said that she did not. In fact, she had trouble getting through the entire book, always happy to find an excuse to put it down. Eventually, Grace told him that she would read the novel all the way through if he would do the same with the Bible, a deal he was unwilling to make.
That Grace read the Bible is an important detail, as it shows that she did not, in fact, completely lose her Bougainvillean beliefs. Though Dolores and the rest of the villagers thought she returned to the island a changed woman—a woman who had seemingly transitioned from black to white—it emerges in this moment that she still held onto the things she learned in childhood. But this was perhaps too hard for the villagers to acknowledge, because doing so would require accepting that two people can fall in love across cultural boundaries and that separate beliefs can comingle without destroying one another.