The play Jasper Jones Kate Mulvany revolves around an intelligent young boy named Charlie Bucktin living in the small Australian town of Corrigan in the 1960’s. His life changes drastically the night Jasper Jones shows him the dead body of Laura Wishart. The audience is exposed to the confronting issues of racial prejudice, injustice and is challenged to question right from wrong. The main themes prevalent in the play, are racism, scapegoat and secrecy. These themes are used to either challenge or reinforce the audience’s values, attitudes and beliefs on the issues explored.
The characterisation of Charlie and his interactions with Jasper Jones help to introduce ideas about the attitudes in Corrigan. Until Charlie met Jasper, he accepted the town’s assumptions and perceptions about Jasper. In Act 1, Scene 1, Charlie makes a direct address to the audience and breaks the fourth wall. He conveys “In this town, Jasper is the first to be blamed for everything.” However, following the discovery of Laura’s body, Charlie is forced to question his understanding of Jasper. “Shit Jasper! What if whoever did this is still here? Watching us!” This questioning conveys Charlie’s naivety. Dramatic irony is represented when Jasper forces Charlie to question the actions of reputable people in Corrigan. “They can do anything they like with their shiny badges and steel capped boots.” In summary, it can be seen that Charlie is forced to challenge these assumptions, seen through Jasper’s questioning of him. The audience gains understanding of the prejudice in Corrigan.
Through foreshadowing, Mulvany is able to represent the flawed nature of individuals. Late in the play, the audience discovers the abuse of Mr Wishart (the town’s mayor) on his daughter Laura. Eliza explains to Jasper “Then one night, I heard sounds in Laura’s room. My father was in there… I heard an argument. I heard her yell at him in a voice I’d never heard before.” This gives the audience an emotional insight of how helpless Eliza and Mrs Wishart are as they cannot tell anyone about the incident. Mrs Wishart hid the truth about her husband because she feared judgement from Corrigan. Charlie described to the audience “She told her mother that if she came forward and told the truth of what happened in the Wishart house, Eliza would take her to where Laura lay.” This contributes to the harsh judgement of Corrigan and the unstableness of the Wishart household. Town gossip labelled Mad Jack Lionel a murderer. He gave up on telling people what had truly happened. “This fucking town… this town who never had a place in their hearts for your mother, suddenly saw me as her killer.” Setting symbolises impacts of veneers in making assumptions about others and signifies the irony that the true danger of the town lies from within. This helps us to realise Corrigan is a town full of injustice and shallowness.
The people of Corrigan are small-minded, judgemental, prejudice and homophobic; this alludes that they are conformists and fear rejection and change. This can have an impact on people who don’t belong. Warwick Trent is the protagonist of racism in the play as he makes remarks such as referring to Jeffrey Lu as a “Cong”. Parents in Corrigan refer to Jasper Jones as a “motherless half-caste”. The mistreatment of the Lu family signifies coequality and how damaging racism can be. The message Silvey is trying to convey is that differences make individuals and families feel like outcasts and feel as though they aren’t accepted in society. Charlie seems to be drawn to the outcasts in Corrigan which is a motif in the play. Charlie delves beyond exterior surfaces of individuals unlike most other people in Corrigan. Act 1, Scene 9 reinforces the different life experiences and families of Charlie, Jasper and Jeffrey. Charlie experiences deep guilt over the experience of hiding Laura’s body. In addition he experiences conflict with his mother. Jasper is beaten and kicked by a mob. This reinforces his experience as a scapegoat and victim of racism. “This town thinks I’m an animal… They think I belong in a cage.” Jeffrey’s family has experienced hardship as a result of the Vietnam War, including the loss of his aunty and uncle. His parents live in fear whilst the remaining people in Corrigan are victims of parochial attitudes.
Throughout Jasper Jones the play, many issues are presented that are prevalent in modern society. Charlie gains understanding of the people in Corrigan and he sees the town from a different perspective.