The Role of Imagination in Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip and Its Analysis In Terms Of Reader-Oriented Criticism
The imaginative and creative aspects of literature are essentials components of the word literature itself. Literature is the product of human being’s imagination and intellect so through literature we can live more than one life. Imagination can be expressed as a mental faculty which all people have and as an important principle in literary theory. Only imagination provides the possibility to take us to times, places and realities that we have not lived before. Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Jones shows us that literature provides an escape from real life through imagination and it also allows entrance to another world escaping from oppressive political regimes in his novel Mister Pip.
In this essay, Mister Pip will be analyzed in terms of the role of imagination and reader – oriented criticism. The novel Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is set in the early 1990s on Bougainville Island in the Ocean, in the middle of a civil war. There is a blockade around the island, and the majority of natives and non-natives have gone.
The last white man on the island, Mr Watts, has stayed behind with his native wife and he decides to teach the children. The only thing he knows, is Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. He reads the novel to them and the children are greatly affected by it. When the children carry on the story to their parents, and soldiers and rebels invade the village, a misunderstanding due to the novel results in the destruction of the village.
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In Mister Pip, we can realize that thanks to imagination an author and reader are able to deal with, judge, and enjoy literature. Literary works give the possibility of manifold inner experiences, because imagination enables the author to create and the reader to follow literary realities on different levels. According to Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
In Mister Pip, although Mr. Watts has the only textbook which is Dicken’s Great Expectations, he gives his students more than knowledge by showing the true way to reach their imagination. Besides, if we have looked at the Dictionary of Psychology, we actually understand what imagination is. It is “the reorganization of data derived from past experiences, with new relations, into present ideational experience.” In other words it’s the ability to take old datas with some new datas mixed in and make a picture in your mind.
We can divide imagination into three basic types: Imitative imagination, creative imagination and literary imagination. Imitative imagination is apparently the mind’s reconstruction of the past. People use their brains to conceptualize something they have experienced and recreate it.
In Mister Pip, we can illustrate this imitative imagination that when the copy of Great Expectations which the only thing that the children have is stolen, the children are invited to recreate the text from the fragments they can remember. On the other hand, creative imagination involves mental imagery, which is based on past images or experiences to construct feelings or conditions that we have never experienced before. The island children discover the Great Expectations by means of Mr. Watts and for them the novel provides an imaginative escape route from their daily realities to a new friend for their adventures and confidences.
Moreover, at the end of the novel, Matilda, the protagonist, comments on her life with these following sentences : People sometimes ask me “Why Dickens?” which I always take to be a gentle rebuke. I point to the one book that supplied me with another world at a time when it was desperately needed. It gave me a friend in Pip. It taught me you can slip under the skin of another just as easily as your own, even when that skin is white and belongs to a boy alive in Dickens’ England. Now if that isn’t an act of magic I don’t know what is. (Jones 199) She reveals her success in becoming a scholar and a Dickens expert and concludes her narrative by emphasizing the power of literature to offer escape and solace in the worst of times. Great Expectations has a long-lasting influence on her, and considering the novel as a whole, it is Dickens’ novel that prompts her to look back and write her life story. She also learns that “escape” can be achieved imaginatively, that one can furnish an alternative world in one’s own mind.
Imagination also enables Matilda to learn that things could change and even a person can change into something because literature has a transformative power. Literature of significance says to us, “Change your life”. An intelligent voice appeals to our way of thinking and feeling and proposes a challenge. How does this affect the possibilities in your life? Steiner (142) remarks on the indiscretion of serious art; it invades our last privacies and exposes our unknown motives and belief. […] When we are emotionally engaged, our minds are more attentive and our opportunity for learning is heightened. Emotions code the information we are receiving and it enters more deeply into our awareness. When we are moved by what we read, we respond, either in thinking, discussions with others, or sometimes in writing our own stories.
Our interpretation is a moral act. We find that our response to what is on the page is immediate, no matter how long ago the author laid down her words. With time and experience in reading, we form an intensity of sight, what we might call a literary intelligence.(Susan Barber, 2005) Based on the quotation above, we can grasp this idea that any author and reader can see the literary or possible world in reference to their personal realities by appealing to the imagination. Whether literature works best as an agent for social change or whether it is just entertainment, art is still able to delight us through contact with the author’s creativity and imagination. In addition, Lloyd Jones said in an interview that he chose to introduce it, rather than any other classic novel, because it would be “the perfect book […] to position in a society that was broken down and […] pulled apart by eternal strife and war. Here is […] the role model, here is the possibility for you to think about your own life. You can reinvent yourselves” (Lloyd Jones Podcast) .
In Mister Pip, Matilda realizes that the characters of Great Expectations teach her to enter the soul of another, ultimately to imagine and the novel invites her to imagine another life and also Mr. Watts gives his students a friend: Pip and their imagination. At the beginning of the novel, Mr Watts promises that the children get acquainted with Mr Dickens, at the same time he opens up the classroom as a space of ambiguity, a place where he acknowledges differing opinions and the subjectivity of interpretation. He wants to show them that it is possible to change their lives because Pip did it and Mr. Watts did it, too. He intends to give the village children an alternative world to the one they live in: an imaginary world where everything is new and different, as opposed to their own world of constant fear.
The children perceive Great Expectations with fascination and are open to the idea of the imagination. When the soldiers invade the island and are told that this new world is fictitious, they refuse to believe it because they are far away from this new world. The rebels, all of them teenagers, do not get to listen to Great Expectations but Mr. Watts tells them a made-up story about his life acting like Pip, a character of Great Expectations although it is fiction, they believe it to be a true story and are fascinated, reacting just like the village children initially reacted to Great Expectations. All of them perceive it each in their own way. The world depicted in Mister Pip is one of Lloyd Jones’ imagination, because he has never been in Bougainville during the conflict. Moreover, Matilda’s imagination is so powerful that she believes her island will be saved and her life will change like Pip who is her childhood friend, however, when Matilda is at the university, she reads Great Expectations once more but she interprets it quite differently.
Matilda temporarily reinvents herself, by starting a new life in Australia after leaving the island, but at the end of the novel she decides to return home. Her confronting the previous traumas will also be the subject matter of this article. Mr. Watts is somewhat similar to Pip, because he manages to move away from a situation he was unhappy in, and reinvent himself, just like Pip. However, his past continues to haunt him till his death. The novel affects people both positively and negatively. When the redskins have burnt down the village, Mr. Watts tries to comfort the children and himself by telling them that “ we have all lost our possessions and many of us our homes, but these losses, severe though they may be, remind us of what no person can take, and that is our minds and our imaginations’’ (Jones 106). From this it is clear that fiction and the imagination work together to reinvent ourselves.
In Mister Pip, Mr. Watts reads Great Expectations to his pupils in a different way and the characters in the novel understand it in a different way. A literary work can have more than one interpretation and each reader does not interpret in the same way. This is called reader-oriented criticism. According to the nineteenth-century essayist, novelist and literary critic Henry James, “this house represents the literary form-a story, a novel,a poem,or an essay-with each window being an individual reader’s distinct impression of that literary work”. Each person reads the same text but all will obtain different impression. Reader response criticism declares that the reader is just as much a producer of meaning as the text itself.
Reader-response criticism began in the 1960s and ’70s, particularly in America and Germany, in works byRoland Barthes, Norman Holland,Wolfgang Iser,Hans-Robert Jauss,Stanley Fish. Wolfang Iser, a German literary scholar, builds a reader oriented theory around the concepts of narrative. According to Iser’s gap theory and Rosenblatts’ transactional theory, no text can exist until either the reader or an interpretive community creates it and gaps mean the absent details and connections within a narrative that a reader must fill in or make up his or her own experiences. Iser also claims that “the reader is an active, essential player in the text’s interpretation, writing part of the text as the story is read and concretized and, indispensably, becoming its coauthor”. For Rosenblatts, “the text acts as a stimulus for eliciting various past experiences, thoughts and ideas from the reader, those found in both our everyday existence and in past reading experiences.
Simultaneously, the text shapes the readers’ experiences by functioning as a blueprint, selecting, limiting and ordering those ideas that best conform to the text”.
In this case, Mister Pip is an example novel which shows that a reader interprets the text in ways that reveal his or her identity and different readers produce different interpretations and even different texts. With this following quotation, we can openly comprehend that each reader should fill the gaps with his or her interpretation or imagination.
Gist. This needed explaining. Mr. Watts put it this way.” If I say tree, I will think English oak, you will think palm tree. They are both trees. A palm and an oak both successfully describe what a tree is but they are different trees.” So this is what gist meant. We could fill in the gaps with our own worlds.(Jones 113)
Based on the quotation above, we can realize that Mr. Watts teach to the children how to see and analyze something with their own eyes. An other important literary theorist, Norman Holland points out that the reader makes sense of the text by creating a meaningful unity out of its element. He also claims that if the facts of a text have satisfied the reader’s ego, the reader readily projects her or his fears and wishes onto it. For him, the text frees the reader to reexperience his or her self-defining fantasies and to hold their importance. For example, if we have deeply looked at the novel, we see that through its plot, characters, technical and stylistic preferences, it makes the reader reconsider roles of literature.
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In The Fictive and the Imaginary (1993), Iser argues that literature has lost the quality to lead and improve the reader because media and schools have imposed established beliefs and fixed thoughts so Iser suggests that fiction and imaginary provides breaking the boundaries and overcoming these fixed ideas. In this following quotation, we can see how fiction and imagination provide a psychological escape from thoughts of daily life in a novel.
Mr Watts had given us kids another piece of world. I found I could go back to it as often as I liked. What’s more, I could pick up any moment in the story. No. I was hearing someone give an account of themselves and all that had happened. I was still discovering my favourite bits. Pip in the graveyard surrounded by the headstones of his dead parents and five dead brothers ranked high. We knew about death-we had seen all those babies burried up on the hillside. Me and Pip had something else in common ; I was eleven when my father left,so neither of us really knew our fathers.(25)
Dickens’ novel changes the way Matilda perceives her life and her surroundings, lets her to draw parallels between Pip and herself, and provides her with another world to which she can escape. Additionally, literature has the potential to open up our minds, not only to what is but to what could be. Like Iser, Stanley Fish, a contemporary reader – oriented critic, argues that meaning inheres in the reader, not the text and the text is tabula rasa and the reader determines the form and content of the text. His theory is radical and controversial. He states that “In the procedures I would urge, “the reader’s activities are at the center of attention, where they are regarded not as leading to meaning but as having meaning.” He defends this idea because he believes that there is no stable basis for meaning. There is no correct interpretation that will always be true. Meaning does not exist in the text. It exists, rather, within the reader. From this following quotation, we can comprehend that Matilda interprets her experiences in the light of reader-response criticism.
By now I understood the importance of the forge in the book. The forge was home: it embraced all those things that give a life its shape. For me, it meant the bush tracks, the mountains that stood over us, the sea that sometimes ran away from us, it was the ripe smell of blood I could not get out of my nostrils since I saw Black with its belly ripped open. It was the hot sun. It was the fruits we ate, the fish, the nuts. The noises we heard at night. It was the earthy smell of the makeshift latrines. And the tall trees, which like the sea, sometimes looked eager to get away from us. It was the jungle and its constant reminder of how small you were, and how unimportant, compared to the giant trees and their canopy’s greed for sunlight. […] It was fear, and it was loss. (Jones 46)
Based on the quotation above, Jones shows us that Reader-oriented criticism opens a new window to the readers and shows that the subjective experiences and imagination affect readers’ interpretations. We can comprehend from these lines that interpretations of each work change from person to person.
In conclusion, Mister Pip is a novel that shows how literature and imagination can change our lives for the better or for the worse. Matilda also shows the reader that it is possible to get lost in a fiction and by means of imagination we can start a new life. In the novel, Lloyd Jones gives us the fact that there is always hope in spite of our bad memories. Through reading we can imagine ourselves into someone else’s life and empathize with them and we start feeling as them, to see the world as they see it. So this essay will be helpful to understand that considering Reader-oriented criticism, everybody has a different interpretation about literary works and also through imagination each work can be invaluable for the reader to guide him/her in the way of life.
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