Jasper Jones is a coming of age, post-modern gothic mystery novel written by an Australian author named Craig Silvey, first published in 2009. The story is set in a fictional rural town in Western Australia in 1965. The novel outlines the story of Charlie Bucktin as the innocent thirteen-year-old protagonist, who is forced to rethink his traditional notion of right and wrong, through his relationship with town outcast, Jasper Jones. The beginning of the novel straight through to the end explores the events surrounding the grim disappearance of Laura Wishart in the small town of Corrigan, a place filled with racism, injustice, and fear. Within the story, the plot has been driven through Silvey’s examination of the negative impacts in which the community culture in Corrigan had provided to its residents such as the deficiency of morality, racism and the lack of multiculturalism, and prejudice. Therefore, the strong impacts which lead to the books epic conclusion, serves as a reminder that the circumstances in which we live influence who we are and the choices we make.
The deficiency of morality in the town is significant in influencing the preconceptions of people’s identity and propelling a negative community culture. Due to Jasper’s indigenous background, he is marginalised in society causing him to be labelled the troublemaker and scapegoat for any matters of trouble. In chapter five, although they had insufficient evidence proving that he was the murderer of young Laura Wishart, Jasper, was still beaten up by the Sargent at the police station. The Sargent’s abuse of power and lack of morals meant that no one ever will question his actions and Jasper is fully aware of this compared to Charlie, ”They don’t need a reason, mate. Besides, who am I going to report it to anyway?” (Ch.5, Pg. 178,). This automatically puts the reader in a position where they consider Jasper to be dishonest, untrustworthy, and unreliable. Additionally, the preconception of Jasper by many parents in the town as ” a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant…he’s the example of where poor aptitude and attitude will lead.” (Ch.1, pg. 6) He is used a warning for children to listen to their parents, stay indoors, and be compliant. This further highlights the lack of morality by the town’s folk as they use an innocent indigenous boy as the town’s prime criminal. Consequently, this novel supports the idea of immorality through the portrayal of uninvolved bystanders as an overall force that powers the events of injustice that takes place in Corrigan.
The predominantly white country town of Corrigan demonstrates racism and the lack in value placed on multiculturalism through the treatment of the Lu family. Due to their Vietnamese background, the mistreatment of foreign cultures shown through this novel is evident in Australia during the 1960s. When Mrs. Lu was physically and verbally abused by Sue Findlay after the meeting at Minor’s hall, ”But Sue Findlay hadn’t finished. Jabbing her finger, she screeched the most horrible words, the nastiest things imaginable, her voice uneven with tears, her eyes crazy…” (Ch. 5, Pg. 168). The confrontation shows the extent of the racism that lies within the town, forming the existence of injustice on a daily life basis. Furthermore, Sue Findlay has been used as a representative of the town as Mrs. Lu is picked on, bullied, and marginalised. At this stage, it isn’t only a conflict between the schoolboys and Jeffery anymore, it is extended to fully-grown adults who should be more mature. This act of racism, however, has been demonstrated within the novel once more. Charlie sees and hears in chapter six, that four men attacked and destroyed An Lu’s garden, ”I see four men destroying An Lu’s garden… (Ch.6, Pg.266), along with violence and insulting language, ”An Lu doesn’t fall down when they hit him in the face, they grab him and pull him and keep hitting him… (Pg.266,) … I can hear them shouting: Red rat! F*****g red rat!” (Pg. 267). These extremely racist and disrespectful comments made about the Lu family highlights the racist attitude held by most citizens of the town, and reveals the issue of strong discrimination present in Australia. Therefore, the idea of racism and the lack of value placed on multiculturalism has intensified the story; which, in this case, forms the presence of the major concern of Laura’s death.
Silvey reinforces the content of this novel through his incorporation of the negative impact of prejudice. The ideas of prejudice in the novel, however, has an interchangeable connection with morality, racism, and multiculturalism. As the town is small and isolated, the people of Corrigan have not been exposed to a multicultural society; which therefore results in the presence of prejudice towards the minority race. This is shown through the love story which was revealed in chapter six by Mad Jack Lionel of Jasper’s parents, Rosie Jones and David Lionel. Due to her identity as an Aboriginal lady, Mad Jack disapproved the relationship between his son and Rosie, and refused to acknowledge her for racial reasons even after the birth of Jasper, ”Jack Lionel railed hard against it… he said it wasn’t right, that David was dirtying the family name” (By Charlie, Pg. 313). The statement, ”David was dirtying the family name”, indicated the sense of racism and prejudice Jack developed within himself before just like the others of Corrigan too. As the story continues, his bad impression of Rosie eventually fades away, ”Jack Lionel learned that he’d been so very wrong about her. She was kind and forthright and beautiful…” (Pg.313). However, despite any resolving pathways, the presence of prejudice in the town is still the catalyst for the major concern of the novel.
Considering the various negative impacts of the town, it is clear that the major concern of the novel, which is obviously the death of Laura, could have been avoided. Although Corrigan, in the perspective of an outsider, may be considered idyllic, beautiful, and picture perfect, it is actually a placed tightened with fear and suspicion. The characteristics of the town such as the deficiency of morality, racism and the lack of multiculturalism, and prejudice, resulted in catastrophic consequences with the death. Therefore, no matter how Corrigan is ever presented in the story, its guiding force leads to the unpleasant death of Laura Wishart; which would have been prevented if tolerance, acceptance, and respect did exist in the town.