Matilda traveled from the Solomon Islands to Townsville, Australia, where she reunited with her father. She notes that his “transformation into a white man was near complete.” She sensed that though he wouldn’t ask why she was alone, he was waiting for her mother to walk off the plane, too. Brushing this off, he told her that they had “some eating to catch up on” because he bought her a birthday cake for each of her birthdays that he missed. “That’s four cakes,” she pointed out, and he chuckled in affirmation.
Even though Matilda sees that her mother’s worst fears about her father have come true—since he has, for all intents and purposes, become a white man—she also recognizes that he has not completely forgotten about his old life, as illustrated by his acknowledgement that he has missed four of her birthdays. This suggests that it is possible to transition into a new culture and way of life without fully sacrificing the life that came before. In short, it is possible to exist as a multicultural human being.
Matilda explains that she attended the local high school in Townsville, Australia. On her second day, she went to the library and found Great Expectations. When she sat down to read it, she realized with a shock that Mr. Watts had read her class a simplified version of the novel, omitting wordy sentences and even entire characters. She relates an argument Mr. Watts had with Dolores one day when Dolores listened to him read Dickens’s sentence, “As I had grown accustomed to my expectations I had insensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and those around me.” Dolores took issue with the word “insensibly,” claiming that it merely confused readers and encouraging him to remove such ornamentations when he read aloud. Matilda believes that from that day on, Mr. Watts simplified the text.
Once more, readers see Mr. Watts’s willingness to adapt. Although Great Expectations is his favorite novel, he opens his mind to the possibility of altering it in order to accommodate his listeners. This acknowledges that his students come from a different background than him, a background that has perhaps not furnished them with the tools to understand certain words or ideas that Dickens uses. Rather than forcing them blindly into his own worldview, then, he creates a new kind of text that is inclusive and adaptable.
Matilda won the Townsville senior English Prize and eventually graduated from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. During her time at the university, her father would sometimes visit, and one time he arrived with Maria, his housecleaner, with whom he’d fallen in love. Maria was kind and eager to establish a relationship with her new stepdaughter, often asking about Dolores and confessing to Matilda that her father never spoke about his ex-wife—a fact that pleased Matilda.
Though understandable, it is strange that Matilda is happy her father never talks about Dolores to Maria, since this runs contrary to her feelings about storytelling and the importance of sharing one’s life and past with others. Of course, she most likely feels this way because she believes her father doesn’t deserve to talk about her mother, but it seems Mr. Watts—whom she otherwise models herself after so thoroughly—would encourage an open dialogue between her father and Maria so that they could fully understand one another. As it stands, her emotional response to her father’s reluctance to share Dolores’s story is out of step with her broader worldview.
Even though Matilda says she never pushes Great Expectations on anybody, she admits that it was a useful tool when she taught as a substitute teacher in Brisbane at an all-boys Catholic school. When the class was acting rowdy, she would open Great Expectations and read aloud, an act that never failed to calm down her students, mesmerizing them with Pip’s story. After a time, she started writing a thesis about Dickens and decided to visit New Zealand to better understand the life Mr. Watts led before he came to Bougainville.
Matilda’s desire to understand Watts’s previous life harkens back to the fact that he never delivered the final installment of his life’s story, since the “redskins” killed him before the last night of his tale. As a result, Matilda is left with only the fragments of a story. In keeping with the novel’s preoccupation with combining storytelling and real life, she sets out to piece together Watts’s narrative, ultimately becoming involved in it herself in the same way that she became involved with the reconstruction of Great Expectations after Mr. Watts’s copy burned in the village fire.