Mr. Watts continued with his story. Back in the spare room, he and Grace filled up the walls with information and anecdotes, many of which originated—in Grace’s case—from Bougainville. And though they didn’t want to admit it, each one of them hoped Elizabeth would accept certain of their own traditions, rather than the traditions of the other parent, especially when one concept contradicted another, as was the case when it came to religion. Matilda points out that Mr. Watts finally confessed to being a godless man as he stood before the campfire and narrated his story. But she also highlights the fact that he did so “from the distance of the spare room. If things turned nasty he could always claim to have become a changed man.” As Grace fought to instill in her daughter a fear of the devil, the listeners of Mr. Watts’s story applauded her efforts, hoping that in the end her ideas would prevail over Mr. Watts’s secular fixation on fictional characters.
More than anything else in Mister Pip, the spare room represents the intersection of two cultures. The Watts family’s decision to have Elizabeth choose between their customs and traditions points to their desire to raise a child who fully embodies cultural hybridity. The spare room is a haven of diversity in a stratified world. In keeping with this, Mr. Watts uses it as a safe place in his own storytelling, a flexible environment he can manipulate according to his audience’s reaction. As such, Jones implies that narratives have the highest chance of successfully communicating across cultural borders when they leave room for malleable interpretation.
Mr. Watts’s story endeared his listeners to him, especially with its multiple anecdotes and tales that seemed to admit his own ignorance while championing Grace’s wisdom, which she had clearly gleaned from her childhood on Bougainville. Not long after Elizabeth was born, though, she died of meningitis, sending Grace into an overwhelming depression. Desperate to help her, Mr. Watts suggested that they move and that she change her name. He looked around the campfire and asked the villagers and rebels if anybody knew about the Queen of Sheba. Dolores asserted that she is a character in the Bible, saying, “The Queen of Sheba was a very wise black woman who sought out Solomon to see if she could match his legendary wisdom with her own.” Ending that night’s installment, Mr. Watts quoted from the King James Bible: “She communed with him of all that was in her heart…and there was nothing hid.”
In the Bible, the Queen of Sheba travels to King Solomon in order to test his divine wisdom. She is deeply impressed when she hears him speak, and declares: “It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it.” This last sentence is important when considering Mister Pip because it shows that people from two different cultures must come together in order to understand one another; they must communicate and listen for themselves rather than hear “reports” about one another from outside sources. Similarly, Grace and Mr. Watts come to accept their respective cultures because they patiently share and teach each other their various beliefs, as evidenced by their merging of ideas in the spare room.