A large group of rebel soldiers appeared at the edge of the jungle one day. The villagers didn’t know how to feel about them, let alone receive them—after all, these soldiers were supposed to be on their side. Some of them could even have come from the village itself, though that wasn’t the case with this particular group. Hesitantly welcoming the men, the village provided them with food while they lounged near the jungle, drinking in excess and hooting. On their first night, Dolores worried they would come to retrieve Matilda, afraid that what they wanted were girls with whom they could have their way.
Once more, Jones shows the uncertainty Matilda’s village faces as a result of being trapped between two sides of a civil war. That these soldiers—who are supposed to be protecting the village—pose a possible threat illustrates that violent conflict leads to a loss of perspective. Constantly involved in an argument about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s powerful and who’s weak, the rebel armies lose their sense of purpose and commit themselves to a futile “us-versus-them” narrative that only leads to more violence.
The rebels found Mr. Watts the following day. One particularly drunk soldier jumped up and threatened him, yelling, “I will fuck you up the arse!” while unfastening his belt. Unmoved, Mr. Watts calmly told the man to sit back down and listen to him, embarrassing the drunkard into fumbling with his belt buckle as he collected himself. When the soldiers asked who he was, Mr. Watts told them his name was Pip, roughly quoting the first line of Great Expectations: “My Christian name is Philip, but my infant tongue could make of it nothing longer or more explicit, so I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”
Mr. Watts’s decision to call himself Pip once again shows his commitment to storytelling, as he steps into a fictional world in order to more competently navigate a tricky real life situation. With the entirety of the plot of Great Expectations at his disposal, he is well equipped to answer any questions the rebels may have for him. He also puts himself in a position that exists outside the narrow-minded narrative of the civil war—if he confounds the soldiers by telling them about Pip’s life, which is certainly strange and foreign to them, then they will have a harder time convincing themselves that he is an enemy soldier (a conclusion that would be in line with the war’s “us-versus-them” mentality). In other words, he presents himself as somebody who exists outside their paradigms and stereotypes.
Dolores pulled Matilda away from the rebel soldiers and ran to the beach, wanting to get away from the entire scene. But since they had nowhere to go, they returned to the village. At this point, Mr. Masoi fetched them and brought them back to the rebel campfire, where Mr. Watts explained that he wanted Matilda present in case anything needed translating. Addressing the soldiers, he said he would answer their questions about who he was and where he was from but that there were two conditions: first, he did not want to be interrupted; second, his story would be doled out in seven nightly installments. In turn, Matilda began to see why her teacher had decided to call himself Pip. Now he could blend parts of Great Expectations with elements of his own life, moving easily between fiction and reality. For six nights, Matilda stood next to Mr. Watts and translated as he went in and out of reality.
Mr. Watts’s plan to tell his story over seven nights references the Middle Eastern collection of folktales called One Thousand and One Nights, wherein a woman named Scheherazade avoids being executed by a homicidal king. The story goes as follows: there was once a king who discovered that his wife was being unfaithful to him, so he executed her. He then decided to marry a new woman each night before killing her the next day. When he married Scheherazade, though, she told him a magnificent story that ran all throughout the night, stopping in the middle of the narrative just before dawn and telling him that he would have to wait until the next night to hear the rest. She continued this plan for 1,001 nights until the king fell in love with her and didn’t kill her. Mr. Watts employs this same method, hoping to use the power of storytelling to avoid the threat of violence from the rebel soldiers.