‘Mr. Pip’, the story of Matilda, a young Melanesian girl, and her journey to adulthood has an ever-present theme of power. From the Redskins aggressive dominance to Mr. Watts tranquil demeanour, power is gained in many different ways. Power resides not just with characters but also with inanimate objects and abstract concepts, making the presentation of power in ‘Mr. Pip’ a topic of great substance.
European influences had a powerful effect on the lives of the islanders. The novel ‘Great Expectations’ is a prime example of how such influences can entice it’s audience, Matilda in particular, to the point that they are obsessed. After being read just one chapter of ‘Great Expectations’ Matilda felt as if she was “spoken to by this boy Pip.” and that she had “found a new friend.” To be so influential so early into the novel demonstrates the power it has over Matilda and the other children.
Matilda’s engrossment of ‘Great Expectations’ is almost paralleled by Dolores’ commitment to the Bible. Both ‘Great Expectations’ and the Bible were introduced as part of European influences and both had great impact on Matilda and Dolores’ lives. After the islanders’ possessions were lost to the Redskins visits, Matilda tried to “summon passages from Great Expectations” and Dolores “did the same with the Bible.” To be comparable with Matilda’s obsession of ‘Great Expectations’ already displays the amount of power the Bible has but the fact that the Bible dominates not only Dolores’ thought but also her actions and lifestyle means that the Bible’s hold on Dolores is even more powerful than ‘Great Expectations’ hold on Matilda.
Mr. Watts relationship with Matilda, as well as the other children, is one based on respect. “And for the first time in all the years I’d seen him dragging Mrs. Pop Eye behind in that trolley, he smiled. After that I never called him Pop Eye again.” This quote exhibits perfectly the respect that Mr. Watts earned after speaking to his class for the first time. “When he spoke we shut up,” proving the power Mr. Watts had but unlike many other powerful characters within the novel Mr. Watts never abused his power, keeping his calm and welcoming personality throughout the novel. Mr. Watt’s power extends to more than just the children. When threatened to be raped by a drunk Rambo his reply was as simple as, “You will do nothing of the sort. You will sit down and you will listen,” showing how his calm, sophisticated use of language is a powerful weapon effective against more than just his students. In the eyes of all the islanders the “Drunk now looked like a ridiculous man.” showing not only Mr. Watts power over that particular Rambo but also his power over all the islanders, changing their opinion from fearing the Rambo to thinking him to be ridiculous. This perhaps makes him the most powerful character as he is one who can gain great power over others with little to no effort but without ever seeing the need to exploit it.
In contrast to Mr. Watts welcoming demeanour, Dolores’ power over Matilda is far more aggressive. During one of her lessons Matilda described her mother as trying to “bully us into knowing what she did.” This quote aptly describes her parental methods throughout the novel as she tries to dominate Matilda in their relationship.
As Matilda gradually becomes more defiant towards her mother it is evident that Mr. Watts has more power over Matilda than Dolores. “Her constant put-downs of Mr. Watts,” hints at Dolores realisation that Mr. Watts does not only have more power over Matilda but is also more respected and she is envious of that.
The Redskins and the Rambos are in a constant power struggle, fighting for control of the island. Both groups attempt to intimidate the islanders through threatening behaviour in order to gain power. The Rambo’s power proved to be ineffective against Mr. Watts who easily swayed them with the promise of his ‘story’. The Redskins, on the other hand, were far more ruthless. With each of their visits becoming progressively more violent, escalating from the killing of a dog to the burning of possessions and homes to the murder and rape of several islanders. This structure displays the gradual increase of fear and tension. The Redskins more brutal behaviour and immunity to Mr. Watts’ manipulation is evidence of their superior power in comparison to the Rambos.
The way it enthrals it’s readers is obvious evidence of the power ‘Great Expectations’ had, however it’s power can be explored far deeper. Dolores fears ‘Great Expectations’ believing that, like Joseph, after getting a taste of the ‘white world’ she will want to leave the island and her mother. This fear led to Dolores stealing the novel, an act that served as the catalyst of the events leading to the Redskins violent visits. The Redskins ultimately raped and killed Dolores but it could be easily seen as ‘Great Expectations’ which killed her as well as many other islanders. Despite Dolores’ best efforts of ridding the island of the novel, the novel still resonated clearly in Matilda’s mind as Mr. Watts and the children tried to recover fragments of ‘Great Expectations’ in order to recreate the novel. In an essence, Dolores and ‘Great Expectations’ were in a battle and ‘Great Expectations’ very nearly won, however Dolores’ legacy to Matilda sees her abandon Dickens and return home.
Power is presented within ‘Mr. Pip’ very subtly. It is essentially the core of the novel, with the idea of power present in every chapter and always open for interpretation. In a sense the theme of power is more important than the plot itself as almost every major plot point encompasses the concept of power.