When Craig Silvey published his novel, Jasper Jones, in 2009, Australia was a very different place in comparison to the small Western Australian town of Corrigin in 1965, the fictional setting of the narrative. A knowledge of the context of text production and the context of the world of the text can help us to gain a deeper understanding of the issues raised in the novel. Most importantly, the novel foregrounds values such as egalitarianism, multiculturalism and racial and gender equality, while promoting attitudes towards these which in most cases are vastly different to those held by most Australians almost half a century ago.
Since the earliest days of European settlement, Australia has considered itself to be egalitarian by nature. Our first convicts and settlers left behind the English class system for a land where any man could rise in society, not by virtue of his birth, but by the strength of his work ethic. As a consequence, contemporary Australians still cherish this notion, and reinforce its importance as a national value. In Jasper Jones, egalitarianism is affirmed through key characters whose words and actions either reinforce the nobility of the poor, the humble and the marginalised, or challenge the assumption that wealth, status or occupation are associated with higher virtues. The Corrigin Shire President, Mr Wishart, is described as “high class and top brass”, yet in reality is “the worst of the lot” in terms of moral depravity, corruption and abuse of power. Similarly, Mrs Bucktin, who considers herself “to be better than” her husband and son, is exposed as a fraud who runs back to her “old money” family at the end of the novel. By highlighting the hypocrisy of those who impose themselves over others and exert power unjustly, the novel affirms the value of egalitarianism by encouraging readers to identify with humble characters like Charlie, Mr Bucktin and Jasper Jones.
The term multiculturalism, so familiar to contemporary Australians,...
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