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This Boy's Life

Tobias Wolff

Important Quotations Explained

Part Six, Chapters 3–5; Part Seven

Key Facts

I was subject to fits of feeling myself unworthy…. It didn't take much to bring this sensation to life, along with the certainty that everybody but my mother saw through me and did not like what they saw.

Jack explains his chronic feelings of guilt and self-loathing in Part One, Chapter 2. Throughout Jack's childhood, he is plagued by this same feeling of unworthiness, convinced that he is guilty of or responsible for things he does not have control over, such as his father's abandonment of him and his mother's involvement with abusive men.

It was truth known only to me, but I believed in it more than I believed in the facts arrayed against it. I believed that in some sense not factually verifiable I was a straight-A student. In the same way, I believed I was an Eagle Scout…. And on the boy who lived in their letters, the splendid phantom who carried all my hopes, I saw, at last, my own face.

In Part Five, Chapter 3, Jack's forges letters of recommendation from his teachers so that he can be accepted to elite private schools, and takes his re- creation of his identity to a new level. As Jack writes these lies about himself, they seem absolutely true to him. Jack refers to himself as a "phantom" and trades in his true self in favor of a boy who is everything he wants to be, no matter how false this new identity really is. Thus, Jack concludes that these letters are not lies, but are actually more truthful than any letter his teacher could honestly have produced.

Whatever it is that makes closeness possible between two people also puts them in the way of hard feelings if that closeness ends.

In Part Five, Chapter 4, Jack reflects on his deteriorating relationship with Arthur. Once best friends, Arthur and Jack's friendship eventually survives only on the pain that they cause one another. Instead of accepting that they have outgrown their friendship, they perpetuate it with mockery and cruelty. This line embodies Jack's fear of intimacy and closeness, not only with Arthur but also with others, perhaps because Jack has not yet experienced love.

When she was worried she wore a pale, tight-lipped mask…. Now the mask was gone. She looked young and pretty… As we walked we made plans…. We were ourselves again—restless, scheming, poised for flight.

In Part Five, Chapter 2, Jack and Rosemary are ready to leave Chinook and begin again somewhere different. The abuse they both have suffered in Chinook, largely due to Dwight, has caused both of them to fade. Now that Jack and Rosemary are on their way out, they can celebrate. They feel themselves returning to life and are excited for whatever prospects lie in their future.

When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights…and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we…have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever….

In Part Seven, Chapter 1, the author reflects on how joyous he felt the night he and Chuck drove back from their trip to Seattle. The term "green" connotes youth and innocence, and in this state of "greenness," Jack feels entitled to the glorious future he has planned for himself. This future, however, is entirely within Jack's imagination, and in thinking of his life, Jack completely disregards reality and gives no consideration to how he will actually achieve his goals.

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