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This Boy's Life

Tobias Wolff

Part Two, Chapters 3–4

Part Two, Chapters 1–2

Part Two, Chapter 5; Part Three, Chapter 1

Summary

Chapter 3

Marian, Kathy, and Rosemary decide to rent a house together. Rosemary is put in charge of finding the house, and when she selects a dilapidated house in need of fixing up, the other two women aren't pleased. They move in nonetheless and begin making a new home for themselves. Shortly after, Kathy gives birth to a son, Willy, a sweet and cheery baby. Kathy and Rosemary take day jobs while Marian is responsible for Willy and Jack. Marian believes that Jack needs sterner discipline, but Rosemary cannot bring herself to be harsher, as she suffered physical and emotional abuse from her father during her childhood. As a result of this abuse, Rosemary is docile in the face of violent, tyrannical men like her father, and is not capable of physically punishing Jack. On Halloween, Taylor, Silver, and Jack break the windows of their school cafeteria. The next day, two police officers come to the school and interrogate a number of boys with bad reputations. The principal delivers an ultimatum over the intercom, saying that he knows who the guilty parties are, and that they can save themselves from a more severe punishment if they come forward on their own. The boys know this is a ploy because they have been in the same classroom with each other all day. Ultimately, they are never discovered, and are actually encouraged by the police involvement to be more derelict.

Within months of moving into the decrepit house, both Marian and Kathy are engaged to be married. Marian relentlessly tries to fix Rosemary up with a man of her own, and after a slew of short-lived romances, Rosemary meets Dwight, a relatively unimpressive but decent-seeming man. Dwight drives three hours from his home every weekend to see Rosemary. Jack reports that Dwight "tries too hard" to impress Rosemary, and from the beginning, Jack does not like Dwight. Jack cruelly but comically mimics Dwight's behavior, doing impressions that have Kathy, Marian, and Rosemary laughing despite themselves.

Chapter 4

Jack and Rosemary spend Thanksgiving in Chinook with Dwight and his three children, Norma, Skipper, and Pearl. Jack is disgusted when Pearl, the youngest, runs up to his mother and embraces her. Immediately, Jack feels a strong affection for Norma, the eldest of Dwight's children. This affection soon becomes a serious infatuation. Dwight's home is far from cozy. It is a former war barrack that has been transformed into a cramped duplex. That night, Rosemary and Jack have to share the sofa-bed in the living room. Rosemary has trouble going to sleep and asks Jack what he thinks of Dwight and his family. Jack tells her he thinks they are all right and makes a special note of Norma. Rosemary worries that things feel too hurried and does not want to rush into anything. She finally feels like she is beginning to establish herself in Seattle and does not particularly want to get married.

The following morning, Dwight gives Rosemary and Jack a tour of Chinook. The town is bleak and desolate. Norma complains that there is nothing to keep her amused. Dwight does his best to brighten Rosemary's impression of the factory town as part of his plan to convince her to move to Chinook and marry him. Before Jack arrived in Chinook, Dwight promised him that he would be able to participate in a turkey shoot organized by a local rifle club. Jack looks forward to the turkey shoot and is disappointed when Dwight tells him that he will not be able to participate. The event is for adults only. Dwight uses Jack's Winchester .22 rifle himself and blames his poor performance on the quality of the gun. Rosemary is the only woman participating in the event. The event organizer is taken aback when Rosemary he asks to participate, but concedes when Rosemary lies that she is a member of the National Rifle Association. Rosemary wins the turkey shoot and Dwight is jealous of her superiority.

Norma cooks a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner, and in the morning Dwight drives Jack and Rosemary back to Seattle. On the way back, Dwight stops at a bridge and points out the spawning salmon. Dwight tells them that the salmon come from the ocean to spawn in the fresh water, and that they will soon die.

Analysis

An essential part of Rosemary's character is highlighted in Chapter 3 when she buys the dilapidated old house, confident that with a little fixing up, it will be a lovely home. This hopefulness is a trait that both helps and hurts Rosemary throughout the duration of the memoir. She envisions everything as being better than it actually is, much like Jack does in his fantasies of a wealthier, happier life. Although Rosemary's faith in the house's potential may not have become a tragedy, her hopes and expectations of Dwight will soon prove an irreversible mistake. Jack's immediate dislike of Dwight is foreboding of their future relationship, one filled with turmoil, hatred, and abuse. Also foreboding of what is to come is Dwight's jealousy of Rosemary's victory at the turkey shoot, and the false promises he makes to Jack.

Also pertinent to Rosemary's character is the abuse she experienced in her childhood, which is referred to in Chapter 3. Rosemary cannot bring herself to physically or even verbally punish Jack for his misbehavior because she is afraid of scarring him in the same way that her father scarred her. This does not mean, however, that Rosemary has learned to stay away from the tyrannical, abusive men who share her father's most domineering traits. Instead, she seems drawn to men like her father, first marrying Jack's father, a compulsive liar and deadbeat, and then Roy, a violent and lazy gun fanatic. The salmon that Dwight points out to Rosemary and Jack, which are swimming from their home in salt water to fresh water so that they may spawn, are symbolic and darkly foreboding of the move that Jack and Rosemary will soon make from Seattle to Chinook. Having left their home, the salmon are dying, their bodies stripped of their pink flesh in rejection of their new environs. Like the salmon, parts of Jack and Rosemary will die once they move and are forced to endure the horror of life with Dwight.

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