In New Zealand, Matilda called all of the Wattses in the phonebook, leading her to June Watts, who lived in the very house in which Mr. Watts met Grace. Apparently, Mr. Watts had failed to mention that he was already married to another woman when he fell in love with Grace. Matilda visited this woman and discovered that Grace had been institutionalized in a mental hospital at one point during her time in New Zealand. Given the “dead air” of the house’s living room, Matilda was not particularly surprised to hear this; “Grace must have seen that sky and those same slow-moving clouds. She must have had this same deathly drag on her heart that I felt,” she writes.
Matilda previously recognized that her father had happily assimilated into white culture, but here she considers the difficulties of transplanting oneself into a new world. The “dead air” of June’s living room is wildly different from the tropical air of Bougainville, and Matilda portrays this contrast as difficult to reconcile. In this moment, Jones seems to be suggesting—contrary to the book’s commitment to adaptability—that there are certain problems that arise from moving from one culture to another and that they can, in the end, prove insurmountable.
Before Matilda left, June showed her photo albums of Mr. Watts and Grace acting in amateur theater performances. One of the pictures depicts them in a production of The Queen of Sheba. In this photo, Mr. Watts is wearing a red clown’s nose and is pulling Grace in a trolley. June told Matilda that it was the director’s idea to add these elements to signify that “some meeting of minds had been achieved.” Matilda notes that now she had a fragment of Mr. Watts’s previous life. Having learned about his passion for acting, she wonders how much of his classroom personality—which included long pauses, slow pacing, and contemplative looks at the ceiling—was merely posturing. “Who was it that us kids saw in the classroom?” she muses. Was he a man truly obsessed with Great Expectations, or was he a man “left with only a morsel who will claim it the best meal of his life?” She then concedes that it is “possible to be all of these things.”
Although he shows the origins of Grace and Mr. Watts’s strange clown-nose-and-trolley procession, Jones leaves the matter open-ended, neglecting to offer a reason as to why the director of The Queen of Sheba thought these elements conveyed that a “meeting of minds had been achieved” between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. By leaving this unanswered, Jones invites readers into the process of making up the story, allowing them to fill in their own interpretations of what, exactly, a clown nose represents in the context of two cultures coming together. This turns Mister Pip itself into an act of collaborative storytelling that mirrors Mr. Watts’s investment in the communal aspect of narration.