Charlie Bucktin is shocked to find Jasper Jones at his window. Jasper’s visit has interrupted his nightly reading, and Charlie is caught off guard but alert, demanding to know who is there and, after learning it is Jasper, what Jasper wants. “I need your help. Just come out here and I’ll explain,” Jasper whispers (1). Although Charlie is “shaken,” he turns out the light and removes the window above his bed. He climbs headfirst out of the window and into the night. Outside, Jasper is not much more forthcoming but instructs Charlie to follow him.
Charlie is “excited but afraid” (2). He follows Jasper over his fence and into the neighborhood. They don’t speak as they walk through town, and although Charlie is desperately curious, he doesn’t ask questions. They arrive at Mad Jack Lionel’s cottage, where they stop so Jasper can have a cigarette. When he offers one to Charlie, Charlie wordlessly declines. Charlie hopes this isn’t their final stop, as Mad Jack gained infamy with the town’s children years ago when he killed a young woman. Mad Jack hasn’t left his home since the murder, which only adds on to his mystery.
They continue on, following the river into the woods. Charlie’s familiarity with the landscape lessens the deeper they go, but “Jasper’s stride is long and strong” (5). Charlie finds that it is easy to follow Jasper, and that he trusts Jasper, “straight up,” though he has “no reason to” (5). This makes him “one of a few," as Jasper has a very bad reputation in their community (5). He is often the first one to be blamed if there is any trouble, because people view him as “the example of where poor aptitude and attitude will lead” (5). While Charlie doesn’t explain what Jasper is blamed for, he makes sure to note that other children often lie about his involvement when they have done something wrong, as it “instantly absolves them” (5). Jasper’s involvement means, to these children’s parents, that “they’ve been waylaid by the devil” (5). It is also clear to Charlie that Jasper’s race has a lot to do with his reputation, and he remembers his father’s anger when he repeated one of the racial slurs he heard about Jasper at the dinner table. In response to this incident, Charlie’s father gives him unlimited access to his personal library, which is seen as a coming-of-age moment by both Charlie and his father.
Charlie introduces two important characters here: Jeffery Lu and Eliza Wishart. Jeffery is Charlie’s longest-standing friend. A year younger, he has been bumped up to Charlie’s grade because of his intelligence. They compete for the top place in class with Eliza Wishart, who Charlie has a crush on but has not, up to this point, been able to talk to. Jeffery and Charlie keep each other company in a town that is sports-obsessed and not very welcoming to their intellectualism. Jeffery faces a lot of racism due to the fact that he is Vietnamese, but Charlie admires the way he is able to shoulder that hatred without letting it take the smile off of his face. Charlie mentions guilt about not defending his best friend from racist bullies more often.
They stop at a tree, and Jasper gives Charlie the option of turning back. Charlie is scared now, and if it had been anyone else, Charlie thinks he would have. Instead, he ducks by the tree and into the clearing beyond it. There he sees the body, and immediately begins to scream. Jasper holds him, partly to keep him there and partly to muffle his screams. The body is a pale girl in a nightdress. She has scratches down her arms, and her face is bruised and bloody. She is hanging from a tree, dead. According to Charlie, the girl looks “disappointed and sad… surrendered” (10). While Charlie can’t look away, Jasper can’t look, and holds Charlie with his back to the body. He tells Charlie that the body is Laura Wishart. Jasper has lost his bravado: “He looks so skinny now. And slouched. Like a boy” (10).
Jasper explains. He doesn’t believe that Laura could have killed herself. The rope, for one, is his. He uses it to swing into a nearby dam, and hides it well up among the trees when he’s done with it. Laura couldn’t have gotten it herself. And the spot is his: “I’m not the only one who’s bin here, but I’m the only one who knows how to get here. No one has bin here without me” (12). Up until that night, the spot was unique to Jasper, and it is where he would go to sleep when he was not at home. That night, he had gone to sleep, and he found Laura’s body. He ran to her and tried to save her, but it was too late. Laura was already dead. So, Jasper went for help. He went to Charlie's window.
It occurs to Charlie that the murderer might still be there, and he grows afraid despite Jasper’s reassurances that they were alone. Although he wants nothing to do with the dead body, Charlie feels “involved”—what he has seen cannot be unseen. He tells Jasper that they must tell someone, go to the police. But Jasper disagrees; Jasper tells Charlie they must find out who did this to Laura. Jasper tells Charlie that if they go to the police, the police will pin the murder on Jasper: “They’re gonna come here, see that it’s my place; they’ll see her face, they’ll see she’s been knocked around, they’ll see that it’s my rope” (14).
Jasper suspects Mad Jack. He tells Charlie that the man has a vendetta against Jasper, “more than anyone else in this town” (16). Every single time Jasper had taken this path to his spot in the woods, Mad Jack had come out onto his porch, waving and yelling Jasper’s name. “He knows my name,” Jasper says, “I reckon he’s out to get me” (16). Jasper had been seeing Laura before her death, and so Mad Jack saw the two walk past his house together many times. Every night, he yells at Jasper, but not earlier that same night, when Charlie and Jasper stopped in front of his home. Tonight, Mad Jack’s house was quiet. Charlie becomes angry, and accuses Jasper of putting his life in danger: “after you had a suspicion that Mad Jack Lionel had just killed someone, you came to get me, and then you took me straight to his house?” (17). He fights hard against oncoming tears and threatens to leave. Jasper puts a calming hand on Charlie’s shoulder and entreats him to stay, telling Charlie that he just doesn’t know what to do. They need to find justice for Laura. They need to find who actually did this so Jasper doesn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. Charlie lets himself be convinced into helping Jasper, telling himself that it is a commendation of his character that Jasper knew he could be trusted in a situation like this one.
But Charlie doesn’t know how to help, and he is increasingly disturbed by Laura’s body. Jasper has a plan: throw Laura’s body into the dam nearby. Charlie pulls himself together and decides to be brave: “I no longer have the luxury of choosing the right time. I can’t unfurl from my cocoon when I’m good and ready” (24). He watches, silent, and Jasper climbs the tree to cut Laura down with a bread knife that he had previously hidden in the vicinity. Laura thuds to the ground in a disturbing way, in a way that reminds Charlie that “she’s just loose meat” (26). Jasper straightens her out respectfully and carefully, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand as he goes. They see they the rope is not tied in a noose, rather just a knot, which supports the hypothesis that she was killed before being hung from the tree. Jasper works hard to remove the rope from her neck, “slices at the rope with a surgeon’s care” (27). Underneath, they see black bruises that show that she had been strangled.
Charlie looks away, and when he looks back Jasper has disappeared. In his panic, he reaches out to hold onto something for support and inadvertently touches Laura’s shoulder. It is still warm. The experience disturbs Charlie, who feels as though touching Laura “has sealed my fate… I am in this story. She can’t be ignored” (28). Jasper returns with a large granite rock which he ties to her feet. The boys pick Laura up and carry her to the dam, and, on three, they throw her in. They both begin to cry, and once they calm some, Charlie finally accepts a cigarette from Jasper. As they smoke, Jasper tells Charlie about his relationship with Laura, which is closer than he had previously made it seem—“She was like my girl and my mum and my family all at the same time, you know” (34). Jasper shares some of his alcohol with Charlie too, and tells Charlie about his life. He tells Charlie his reputation has come from the fact that he steals small items to survive, as his alcoholic father doesn’t provide for him. He tells Charlie that he doesn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for himself, and that he has hope that he will get out of the town and make a life for himself.
One of the primary literary elements of note in this chapter is the tense it is written in. By writing the novel in the present tense, Craig Silvey makes it so the reader learns as Charlie learns. For example, when Jasper arrives at Charlie’s window, the reader has as little clue about why he would be there as Charlie does: “I don’t know why, but he has. Maybe he’s in trouble. Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to go” (1). This immediately throws the reader into the action, and they are able to feel the anticipation Charlie feels as he agrees to embark into the night with Jasper. Later, once Charlie sees Laura’s body and comes to comprehend all that has happened, the present tense, as well as the first-person narration, gives us a vivid sense of Charlie's shock. He can provide only flat descriptions of the events: “Laura Wishart is dead and anchored to a piece of granite. And Jasper Jones is kneeling, watching over her quietly” (29). The present tense here also works to emphasize the finality of this moment: once Laura is dumped in the dam, she will only ever exist in the past tense.
In this introductory chapter to the novel, we come to know the main character well. One aspect of his personality that impacts his actions and motivations is his self-image. At first, Charlie is shy in front of Jasper. He second-guesses himself: “As I strap them on, I realize that this, an application of pansy footwear, is my first display of girlishness and has taken me mere moments” (2). The fact that his midnight caller is Jasper Jones himself doesn’t help: “But this is Jasper Jones, and he has come to me” (2). This is because, despite Jasper’s notoriety among the parents in his community, he holds significantly more social capital than Charlie among their peers. Jasper is on the football team in a town that values athletics above all else. In Corrigan, “kids have established a hierarchy based on their skill with a ball, rather than their clothes or their family car” (7). Charlie is an academically-minded kid who appreciates a good book and being “better than most at school,” brings him “ire in the classroom and resentment when report cards are issued” (7). He has only one real friend–Jeffery Lu.
Jasper makes Charlie question his own masculinity, and so Charlie feels the need to perform it more strongly around the other boy: “I spit and sniff and saw at my nose” (2). When Jasper offers him a cigarette, he is unable to simply say no: “Wanting both to decline and impress, for some reason I decide to press my palms to my stomach and puff my cheeks when I wag my head at his offer, as if to suggest that I’ve smoked so many already this evening and that I’m simply too fill to take another” (3). But as the night progresses, so does Charlie's perception of the other boy. Jasper comes to look as young as he is, and Charlie sees him as weaker as he did before: “He looks so skinny now. And slouched. Like a boy” (10). While he takes Jasper off of a pedestal, he obtains a more masculine and grown status himself when he accepts a cigarette from Jasper. The fact that he hates the cigarette does not take away from the significance of the moment. At the end of the chapter, Charlie and Jasper are able to walk home as equals, and Charlie’s self-image is bolstered by the fact that he can help Jasper.
The way that the two boys relate to each other, rather than how they relate to themselves, also changes through the chapter. In the beginning, Charlie is in awe of Jasper and believes anything the other boy tells him, as when Jasper claims to have seen Mad Jack Lionel before. Jasper’s “sureness and his presence make him easy to follow,” and Charlie trusts Jasper “straight up, though [he] has no reason to, and that makes [him] one of the few” (5-7). Charlie sticks to Jasper and follows him obediently through the woods toward the unknown, “like a loyal and leashless dog” (7). Charlie is so in awe of Jasper that he is surprised that Jasper even knows his name. But Jasper does know Charlie and has chosen the boy to ask for help because of his reputation as a smart boy who likes to read. Jasper “reckon[s] [he] can trust” Charlie. He believes that Charlie’s love of reading has made him more tolerant than other people in their town: “When you’re readin. You’re seeing what it’s like for other people” (22). After the deed, the boys are able to create a friendship despite their previous relationship as strangers on opposite sides of the social scene. The familiarity of their path home causes Charlie to feel comforted, and he feels “a weird sense of kinship, like we’re old friends” (39). Loyalty has grown from this shared experience, which is both “serious and substantial”; the boys have become “comrades in some private war” (39). Charlie’s awe of Jasper remains in a large capacity: “While the rest of this town looks at Jasper Jones like he’s no goof, it thrills me that he treats me like I’m equal” (40).
Jasper’s reputation is an important theme of the chapter. Establishing Jasper’s bad-boy reputation sets up the central conflict of the novel: that Jasper will likely be blamed for Laura’s death. According to the people of Corrington, Jasper is “a Thief, a Liar, and a Truant” (5). His poor reputation has caused the other kids to throw him under the bus whenever they get into trouble, because “Jasper’s involvement instantly absolves them. It means they’ve been lead astray. They’ve been waylaid by the devil” (5). This has plunged Jasper’s reputation past any redeemable point by the time of Laura’s death. As Charlie writes, “Of course this town will blame him… His word isn’t worth shit. All that matters is the fact of this girl’s death and this town’s imagination” (14). The separation of fact from “imagination” is a theme that we will arise again in the novel.
Finally, it is important to note the role of racism in Corrington. Jasper’s poor reputation has a lot to do with his race, as his status as half-black has caused him to receive scorn from the white community. Racism has impacted the way that Jasper is treated by the other members of his community. As he outlines the dire situation he has found himself in, Jasper tells Charlie, “I mean, I know people have always been afraid of me. Kids specially, but old people too. Wary” (23). Racism becomes a value-judgment on Jasper’s character: “They reckon I’m just half an animal with half a vote. That I’m no good” (23). This is why Jasper is so stuck in response to Laura’s death, and why he feels unable to ask anyone but Charlie for help dealing with it. Charlie’s best friend Jeffery has also experienced racism in Corrington, as Charlie writes, “Jefferey’s parents are Vietnamese, so he’s ruthlessly bullied and belted about” (7). The racism that Jeffery faces is less condemning than Jasper’s, but it nevertheless comes to impact every aspect of his life.