Matilda explains that the previous visit by “redskin” soldiers influenced village members in different ways. While some people secretly stored food and supplies in the jungle—preparing to hide, should it become necessary—her mother decided to throw herself into the task of teaching Matilda about their family history, which included “sea gods” and “turtles,” along with human relatives, too. She told her daughter that Mr. Watts descended from a “shining cuckoo,” a bird that Matilda had seen flying away from Bougainville to new places, where they took over other birds’ nests, discarded the original eggs, and deposited their own before flying off again. Matilda remarks that her mother “thought she had Mr. Watts summed up” and that she saw only a “white man,” not the kind person his students saw.
Jones becomes more explicit in his portrayal of Dolores and what she thinks of Mr. Watts. Nervous that Matilda will choose white culture over her own, she depicts Mr. Watts as an “other,” reducing him to his most basic quality: his whiteness. An us-versus-them mentality emerges from this viewpoint as Dolores refuses to observe Mr. Watts’s specific traits as a human. To make it easier to oppose his secular worldview, she “sum[s]” him up, deciding that he’s merely a “white man.” It’s worth noting that this approach shuts down all possibility of merging two cultures together, instead championing one way of life over the other.