Tom Christian Watts, known locally as Pop Eye, is an elderly white man living in the village with his black wife, Grace. Grace is from the village and now suffers from an undisclosed mental illness. He and his wife are local eccentrics, providing the children with entertainment on occasions when Pop Eye, wearing a clown’s red nose, pulls his wife along the village in a trolley. In turn, she stands regally looking at no-one. Matilda is keen to understand what this behaviour means, ‘sensing a bigger story’, but the adults ‘looked away’ as if embarrassed by the sight. Only at the end of the novel is the ‘bigger story’ made clear.
At the start of the story Matilda only knows what she sees of Mr. Watts: he wore ‘the same linen suit every day’; ‘his large eyes in his large head stuck out further than anyone else’s’ and hence his nickname; ‘he was white as the whites of your eyes, only sicker’; he lived with Grace in’ the minister’s old house’ beyond the village. Matilda comments that by the time she was born the Watts had:
‘Sunk out of view of the world’.
Obviously this white man has little power or influence, unlike most whites in Matilda’s life.
However, because Tom Watts is ‘the only white for miles around’ the village children are interested in him, staring at him ‘until their blocks of ice melted in their black hands’ and ask to do school ‘projects’ on him. He is ‘a source of mystery’ to the village children, as well as the reader.
Once the blockade has taken hold, and all of the white folks have been evacuated off Bougainville, including the local teacher, Tom Watts, the only white man left, volunteers to teach the village children in an effort to maintain some schooling. It is at this point that Matilda gets to know Mr. Watts.
Mr. Watts wants the children to broaden their horizons beyond village life and culture:
‘I want this to be a place of light’
He is honest with the children and treats them as equals. He lets them know their future