This Boy's Life
Part Four, Chapters 6–7
Jack rifles through his mother's dresser drawers and finds a letter from his Uncle Stephen, Rosemary's brother, who lives in Paris. Jack copies the return address on the letter and writes a letter to his Uncle Stephen in which he exaggerates h is terrible life in Chinook and begs Stephen to bring him and Rosemary to Paris. Uncle Stephen writes back that, regrettably, he is unable to rescue Jack and his mother, but that he will do all he can to help them. In his letter, Uncle Stephen encloses a check and suggests that Jack live with Stephen's family in Paris while Rosemary earns enough to leave Dwight. Stephen suggests that once Rosemary has managed to leave Dwight, Jack will move back in with her. Both Jack and Rosemary approve of the plan. Dwight cannot wait to have Jack out of the house, and Jack cannot wait to leave.
Jack is scheduled to leave for Paris as soon as he finishes seventh grade, but Uncle Stephen writes again with a different plan. In this second plan, Jack will live in Paris for five years, rather than just one. Jack will also have to change his last name , however, as Uncle Stephen will only allow Jack to come stay with him if he can legally adopt Jack as his son. Rosemary thinks this is a generous gesture, but Jack is unsettled by the idea of being adopted. Jack already has one mother and does not want a nother, even if being adopted means leaving Chinook and moving to Paris.
On Christmas, Dwight covers the tree with three cans of white spray paint and ruminates on his admiration for the composer and musician Lawrence Welk, who Dwight once met on a train. Out of nowhere, Norma decides to marry a man named Kenneth. Norm a says that Bobby Crow, her high school sweetheart, is going nowhere. Kenneth comes to Chinook to spend Christmas with Norma's family, and everyone hates him right away. Kenneth is very religious and tries to push his beliefs on everyone. He kisses No rma in front of the entire family and accuses Dwight of being an alcoholic. Years later, Rosemary divulges to Jack that Kenneth made a pass at her.
During dinner one night, Bobby Crow arrives to speak to Norma. They speak outside for a long while, and when Norma comes inside, she is bawling. It is evident that Norma does not love Kenneth, and Dwight pleads with her not to marry him. Regardless, Norma marries Kenneth and bears him a child. When Jack goes to visit her, she looks tired and aged. When Jack sees Bobby Crow about a year later and says hello to him, Bobby viciously demands to know who Jack is talking to.
On Christmas Eve, Dwight remembers the chestnuts that he ordered Jack to shuck over two years ago, and tells Jack to retrieve them from the attic. When Jack finds the chestnuts, they are covered in mold, as is the beaver that Dwight ran over years before. The beaver had been left to cure in a basin, and has sprouted two feet of mold that eerily resembles the beaver's living form.
Wolff tells his story with several deliberate series of events, the purpose of which is to emphasize the transformation that each character undergoes as he or she matures. This chronology is best exemplified in Chapters 6 and 7, where the changes in chara cter, time, and situation are more drastic than they are in most other sections of the memoir. Norma, for example, seems to change almost overnight from a sprightly young woman into a morose and weary shadow of her former self. She marries out of desperat ion, and in doing so, surrenders her bright and hopeful self. Bobby Crow also seems to mutate into an entirely different being. Once popular, successful, and good-natured, Bobby becomes pathetic and temperamental, made vicious by Norma's rejection. The ou tcome of Norma and Bobby's breakup is undeniably sad, and we can only wonder if they would have saved themselves and their happiness had they married one another.
The passage of time is also marked by the mold that has sprouted on the chestnuts and the beaver carcass in the attic. The image of the chestnuts Jack spent a miserable winter shucking now covered in mold is profoundly sad. For all of Jack's hard work, no thing has been gained. Like the chestnuts, Jack's youth and energy have wasted away, all because Dwight has made a point of showing off his power over Jack. Jack also reports that the two feet of mold that are growing on the beaver are eerily reminiscent of its living form, as if the beaver has returned from the dead to haunt Dwight after he has deliberately killed it with his car. Dwight has robbed the beaver of its life out of cold blood in the same way that he robs Jack of his freedom and happiness for the sole purpose of wielding his authority.
Jack equates going to Paris with the opportunity to recreate himself, which he has yearned to do throughout his boyhood. However, it seems that whenever the opportunity for such self-recreation is presented to Jack, it is quickly removed again by Jack's o wn bad actions and choices. Jack's opportunity to recreate himself in Paris is not completely unfeasible, but Jack simply cannot agree to change himself so drastically that he would have to renounce his mother. Rosemary has been the only constant in Jack' s life and Jack therefore cannot abandon her. Jack overcomes his disappointment over not going to Paris as he usually does, imagining himself there among the cobblestone and sidewalk cafes, using fantasy to repair the disappointment of his reality.
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