Early the next morning, Papua New Guinean (or “redskin”) helicopters appeared overhead, searching the village for its inhabitants. Fortunately, Matilda and the rest of the townspeople heard them coming and were able to escape into the forest, leaving their homes and prompting the “redskins” to retreat without incident. Later that day, the children returned to school, where Matilda’s classmate Gilbert Masoi sheepishly introduced his mother, Mrs. Masoi, who had come to speak about cooking. In a blunt and short lesson, she told the children the best way to kill an octopus and a pig.
In this section, Jones begins to merge wartime tensions with his examination of storytelling and communal unity, allowing the presence of the “redskins” to ominously exist just beneath the surface of everyday life in Bougainville. It’s notable that Mr. Watts doesn’t cancel class, instead continuing the lessons as scheduled and inviting parents to share their wisdom—in doing so, he gives the villagers something to focus on other than the war while also strengthening the community’s wealth of shared knowledge, ultimately giving them something in which they can invest themselves.
The villagers were not as lucky the next morning, when the “redskins” came upon their homes once more. This time the helicopters actually landed, and Matilda and the townspeople barely made it to the jungle in time. When the coast was finally clear, they returned to the village to find dead roosters and chooks, which the “redskins” had slaughtered. Worse, they found an old dog with its belly “ripped open.” Matilda writes that “to stare at that black dog was to see your sister or brother or mum or dad in that same state.” In addition, Matilda and Dolores discovered that their only goat had been taken from them. Matilda imagined the soldiers airlifting the animal out of the village, “its big eyes fill[ed] with wonder” as it rose above the treetops.
The flaying of the dog indicates to the community that there is no denying the escalation of the conflict on Bougainville. Suddenly the violence has become immediate, invading Matilda’s life such that she can’t help but imagine the deaths of her family. By showing the effect of the dead dog on Matilda, Jones illustrates the community’s mounting fear that they will soon fall apart at the hands of ruthless soldiers who don’t care at all about them.
In school later that day, Dolores arrives to lecture about faith. She began by telling the students that they had to believe in something, for even “the fish believe in the sea.” She referenced the arrival of missionaries generations ago, when white people first arrived on the island to spread their belief in God. Many older people, she told the students, decided to “stay with the wisdom of crabs,” remaining invested in their own beliefs that originated on the island. Dolores supported this conviction, saying that true faith can come from something as simple as following a school of fish in order to navigate one’s way in the ocean.
The fact that Dolores’s lecture on faith coincides with the “redskins’” first act of aggression reveals her dependency on religion and spirituality. For her, systems of belief provide coping mechanisms. Her speech also brings to mind what happens when two cultures collide—by discussing the missionaries’ influence on the island, she unwittingly makes a case for hybrid faith, in which two beliefs merge with one another (Christianity and native island lore, in this case).
At this moment, Dolores transitioned to speaking about religion, emphasizing the importance of prayer and praising the work of the missionaries who visited Bougainville many years ago and built churches. “Faith is like oxygen,” she said, before quoting the first line of Genesis. Finally, she concluded with a pragmatic lesson regarding how to foresee weather patterns by studying the movements of crabs in the sand. Matilda couldn’t help feeling like her mother’s insistence on religion and faith was intended to challenge Mr. Watts’s beliefs. When school let out that day, Matilda and her classmates went down to the beach to test Dolores’s crab method. While she was there, Matilda scratched “PIP” into the sand and lined the letters with white heart seeds.
Matilda privately rejects the backhanded challenge her mother delivers to Mr. Watts. She recognizes that Dolores dislikes Mr. Watts’s secular outlook, which he promotes by teaching Great Expectations, a nonreligious novel. When Matilda writes Pip’s name in the sand, she reveals to readers her allegiance with Mr. Watts and her interest in that which exists outside her own culture. The fact that she uses heart seeds to write the letters in the sand symbolizes this passion for the outside world, for the heart seed—as one of the mothers taught the class—is blown in from the ocean. In the same way that the plant comes from afar and takes root in Bougainville, Pip has drifted into Matilda’s life from foreign shores.
As Great Expectations progressed, Matilda began to feel sorry that Pip couldn’t fully enter her world. She laments that she was always visiting his life, creating what she calls a “one-way conversation.” Regardless, though, her bond to him as a character increased. “At some point I felt myself enter the story,” she writes. Beginning to frame aspects of her own life in terms of Great Expectations, she realized that—much like the divide between Pip’s difficult sister and his kindhearted uncle—there was a gulf between Mr. Watts and Dolores, and she began to intuit that she would have to choose between the two sides.
The differences Matilda senses between Dolores and Mr. Watts represent contrasting worldviews. Although Mr. Watts himself doesn’t challenge Dolores, it becomes clear to Matilda that she will offend her mother if she trades her own culture for Mr. Watts’s. The fact that she will have to choose between these two figures harkens back to Dolores’s ideas regarding betrayal, when she asks Matilda if she would ever steal from her if somebody asked her to. Dolores wants her daughter to be loyal and to adhere to what she believes is a superior way of life—if Matilda chooses do otherwise, it would be the equivalent (in Dolores’s eyes) of stealing from her mother.