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This Boy's Life

Tobias Wolff

Part Four, Chapters 3–5

Part Four, Chapters 1–2

Part Four, Chapters 6–7

Summary

Chapter 3

Skipper buys a dilapidated 1949 Ford with the intention of fixing it up. Skipper puts all of his money into the car and when he is finished, the Ford looks almost new. Skipper mentions that he is thinking of driving to Mexico to have the car upholster ed and tells Jack that he will consider bringing him along. Jack misconstrues this off-handed comment as a promise, and fantasizes about driving through Mexico with Skipper. One night, however, Rosemary raises the subject of Jack's going to Mexico and Skipper does not even remember talking to Jack about it. Skipper tells Rosemary he is bringing a friend along instead.

Picturing Skipper and his friend out on the road makes Jack feel "cheated and confined," and Jack's disappointment makes him think of his biological brother, Geoffrey, whom he has not seen in four years. Jack also misses his father and convinces h imself that his father was not a mean man, but simply had overwhelming responsibilities of his own. Later, however, when Jack is an adult and has his own son, he does not understand how his father could have abandoned him.

Jack makes a habit of hitchhiking to see how far from Chinook he can get. Jack plans to travel to the town of Concrete, but loses his nerve and only gets as far as Marblemount, which is one town over from Chinook. Jack continues to thumb rides, hoping tha t someday he will be able to go all the way to Connecticut to see his father. Skipper returns from Mexico almost in tears, one of only two times that Jack has ever seen him near crying. Skipper's car was destroyed in a vicious sandstorm, and the damage looks irreparable. While Skipper explains what happened, Jack quietly gets behin d the wheel of the car and pretends that he is driving.

Chapter 4

Dwight refuses to buy Jack a new pair of sneakers because he thinks Jack outgrows his shoes too quickly. Instead, Dwight buys Jack an ugly pair of brown street shoes. When Jack plays basketball in the brown shoes, he trips all over himself. During the game, Jack is distracted by the shrill and crazy cackling coming from a crazy woman in the stands. After the woman is removed by a security guard, the audience is quiet, almost solemn, and the other team seems to feel guilty for winning the game. Norma and her boyfriend Bobby give Jack a ride home after the game and it occurs to Jack for the first time they fool around in the car while waiting to pick him up. Jack is jealous, and for a moment is even angry, but he feels too tenderly toward Norma to remain angry with her.

Chapter 5

Rosemary joins the local rifle club and does very well at competitions. Dwight is as poor a shooter as ever and continues to buy new guns to prove that his old firearms are faulty. None of these new rifles improves Dwight's shooting, and his poor performa nce is a major source of conflict between him and Rosemary. To improve, Dwight fixes a practice target to the front door of the house and points the gun at Jack when Jack returns home from his paper route.

Jack admits to being a thief who steals candy and change from houses along his paper route, and he plans to steal enough money to run away. Jack is ready to do anything to get away from Dwight and even fantasizes about killing him. Jack is not hurt by Dwi ght's accusations that he is a thief and a liar because Jack does not see himself that way. When Dwight calls Jack a sissy, Jack thinks of Arthur, who is his best friend and the biggest "sissy" in school. Jack remembers how the word sissy sparked the fistfight between him and Arthur just a few months earlier. Regardless, Jack refuses to allow Dwight to define him with his relentless abuse and criticism.

One night, as Dwight, Rosemary, Pearl, and Jack return home from a shooting tournament, Dwight is furious that Rosemary has won yet again. Dwight drives to a local tavern, cursing the entire way, and leaves Rosemary, Jack, and Pearl in the car when he goes inside. When Dwight does not come out for a long while, Rosemary goes inside the bar. Jack and Pearl do their best to irritate one another and sing to pass the time. When Dwight finally emerges from the tavern, Rosemary refuses to get in the car unl ess Dwight will give her the keys. Dwight makes no attempt to surrender and Rosemary gets inside the car. The ride home is full of close calls and near-fatal hairpin turns.

Analysis

Jack is sorely disappointed when his dream of driving to Mexico with Skipper does not conform to reality. Once again, Jack is overlooked and is promised something only to have it snatched away after he has built it up himself in his imagination. Jack also feels, to some degree, that Skipper has betrayed him. Jack's desire to leave Chinook is stronger than ever, and this is why his disappointment at not being able to go with Skipper is so profound. It seems as if all Jack can think about is how he can esca pe his miserable situation, and this urge to flee dictates all of his actions, good and bad. Jack steals from the subscribers on his paper route because he has no other means of income, especially since Dwight steals the wages he earns from the route. Evi dently, Jack is desperate to leave Chinook and to get away from Dwight, and it is this desperation that pushes him to steal.

Although Jack truly wants to leave Chinook, a part of him is frightened of the responsibility that comes with the independence he craves. Thus, while hitchhiking, he tests himself to see how far outside Chinook he can travel without actually leaving. Whil e Jack is out hitchhiking, he also notes that no member of his family has noticed his departure, which reinforces his feelings of neglect and abandonment.

Jack's desperation also manifests itself in his imagination, as is the case when he fantasizes about murdering Dwight, specifically by shooting Dwight with one of his guns while he is berating Rosemary. Jack again wants to play the hero and rescue his mot her from a force that he feels powerless against. In his mind, Jack equates murdering Dwight with justice. In the newspapers he delivers, Jack reads articles that prove to him that one can "kill a man and get away with it," and believes that he is also ca pable of doing so.

In refusing to adhere to Dwight's interpretation of who he is, Jack resists feeling any guilt whatsoever, unlike in his early boyhood, when he felt guilty for nearly every problem in his and Rosemary's lives. It is at this time that Jack also ceases to fe el responsible for his father's abandonment. Jack does not harbor any hard feelings towards his father, at least consciously, and resolves to forget about his abandonment of him. Instead of basing his image of his father on what he actually knows, Jack cr eates him "out of dreams and memories," once more constructing a fantasy far more alluring than reality. Jack's fascination for his father is actually fueled by Dwight's mockery of him for being wealthy and "High-and-Mighty," as Jack relishes the thought that his own father could overpower Dwight. As an adult, however, Jack's respect for his father is rocked when he has his own child. It is then that the feelings of grief and rage he suppressed as a child come rushing back to him.

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