Jasper Jones written by Craig Silvey is a coming of age, mystery novel set in an Australian rural town in the 1960s.
It explores the events surrounding the grim disappearances of Laura Wishart in the small town of Corrigan, a place filled with undercurrents of racism and fear of the unknown. Archie Weller’s coming of age short story Stolen Car set in 1978, highlights the constant struggle against discrimination and apathy that Indigenous Australian people face everyday. Stolen Car alludes to the context of indigenous rights in the 1960’s where the humanity of Indigenous Australians were not recognized and were rather counted as part of flora and fauna. Through the use of metaphors and descriptive language, both Silvey and Weller represent the typical bildungsroman genre where the focus of the character’s growth is the main thrust of the narrative. Both composers achieve this through using the bildungsroman convention of the journey from innocence to knowledge through which public figures abuse their authority through racism for personal gain as a means of demonstrating that corruption is a problem of power as well as representing the awakening to evil existing within the world as an essential feature of this journey as the protagonists are confronted with harsh truths about the nature of the world which is also typical of the bildungsroman genre. Silvey and Weller intend to condemn the value of social injustice and a racist attitude whilst privileging the value of disruption in order to transform from innocence to experience. Both Silvey and Weller explore how corruption is a problem of power through the representation of the typical bildungsroman feature of the journey from innocence to knowledge through which public figures abuse their authority through racism for personal gain. They imply that this revelation is an essential aspect of the Coming of age experience so that the individual is empowered to break out of the corrupt system they are socialized into and the adopted norms valuing corruption.
Silvey and Weller allude to the context of the 1960-70’s being a decade of political and social upheaval in Australia as young people challenged the traditional values of society and actively opposed to the decisions and actions of the government. This is highlighted in Jasper Jones through the characterization of Pete Wishart who is supposed to be a public figure and role model but instead he’s an example of the injustices that take part in the world, allowing Charlie to realize that the world isn’t so perfect after all. This is evident through Silvey’s use of descriptive language in “If Jasper Jones hadn’t shown me the cigarette burns on his shoulders just hours before, … I wouldn’t have suspected this man to be the monster he was”, when Charlie saw the reality of the abusive treatment received towards Jasper Jones by the Shire, a man he once depended upon. This allows the audience to see how power can be misused and the double standards that exist in society. It highlights how people in positions of authority will take advantage of innocent people, and will mercilessly beat them on no basis other than race and rumours.
By creating these effects, Silvey challenges the reader to consider the injustice happening in the world today. Similarly, Wellers text portrays this through an implied metaphor in the police officer’s actions towards Johnny in “A fist slams his face, … He is pummelled in the side of the stomach”. This has the effect of opening the audience’s eyes once again to the injustice actions against Indigenous Australians by many public figures, positioning us to feel great sympathy towards the protagonist of the text. The use of a metaphor highlights how Aboriginal people are victims of scapegoating and are marginalized in society due to their race. Both composers assert that the realization of the norms valuing corruption young people are socialized into is an essential aspect of the coming of age experience as it signifies this revelation as a vital moment in the protagonists’ transitions from an innocent child into a worldly-wise young adult. Clearly, it is both composer’s intention to condemn the authority and power of public figures thereby privileging race equality as a means of highlighting the social injustices faced by many Aboriginals living in all white communities, confronting the audience with inhumanity and racism.
In addition, both Silvey and Weller represent the awakening to evil existing within the world as an essential feature of the journey from innocence to knowledge as the protagonists are confronted with harsh truths about the nature of the world which is typical of the bildungsroman genre. This is portrayed in the disturbing episode where Charlie read a book about the horrific murder of Sylvia Likens. Silvey uses a metaphor in “Everything bubbles up in me. I have to snatch it and squash it before it boils over”, which has the effect of positioning the audience to see the darkness of the world we live in and evoking the beginning of Charlie’s journey from innocence to experience. The audience can clearly see Charlie’s significant growth as his perception of reality is altered from his naivety in the exposition, learning the cruel capacity of people and the secrets of the town as he is filled with the reality of life. This empowers young people to clarify their own values and stand up for what they believe in as being confronted with the harsh realties of the complexities of the adult world such as the ugliness of racism can leave a young person confused.
Similarly, Wellers text portrays this journey through the use of a metaphor in “Johnny looks up with his new, dead eyes”, the words ‘dead eyes’ connotes his loss of faith in humanity and how he has changed through this flashing moment of insight where he finally ‘gets it’. This demonstrates how disruption is essential for growth as obstacles provide opportunities for young people to question the values of their communities and develop into autonomous human beings. This positions the audience to propel further towards the understanding of human nature and the evil capacity held within. Both Silvey and Weller assert that growth is contingent upon challenge and struggle, thereby privileging the value of disruption in order to change and transform from innocence to experience.
Similarly, their intention is to position readers to understand the never ending journey as a relentless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Silvey’s Jasper Jones and Wellers Stolen Car both represent elements typical of the bildungsroman genre. Both composers demonstrate that corruption is a problem of power in which public figures abuse their authority through racism for personal gains, through the convention of the journey from innocence to knowledge, a convention typical of the bildungsroman. Such a lesson is important for young people to learn as these injustices in the world need to be considered. Furthermore, Silvey and Weller also demonstrate the awakening to evil existing within the world as an essential feature of the journey from innocence to knowledge as the protagonists are confronted with harsh truths about the nature of the world which is typical of the bildungsroman genre. This revelation positions the audience to understand how disruption is essential for growth as obstacles provide opportunities for young people to question the values of their communities and develop into autonomous human beings. Clearly, both composers intend to promote the values of knowledge and maturity as a means of uncovering the perceptions of how the world works, the darkness within and the evil capacity of human beings.