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This Boy's Life

Tobias Wolff

Part Four, Chapter 8

Part Four, Chapters 6–7

Part Four, Chapter 9; Part Five, Chapter 1

Summary

Chapter 8

Jack plans to run away to Alaska with eighty dollars he has saved by stealing money from his paper route subscribers. Jack's Scout troop has a meeting in Seattle called The Gathering of the Tribes and Jack intends to make his getaway while Dwight is out drinking with the other Scoutmasters. Jack tells Arthur about his plans to run away and Arthur agrees to come with him. At first, Jack does not actually want Arthur to come with him, but changes his mind when he realizes that he is afraid of go ing alone.

Cal, Arthur's father, is an agreeable man who enjoys even the corniest of Jack's jokes. Mrs. Gayle, Arthur's mother, is a snob. She takes Jack and Arthur along on her shopping sprees. Whenever Jack sleeps over, Mrs. Gayle allows the boys to stay up late w atching old movies. One night, Jack and Arthur kiss, which comes as a surprise to both of them. After the kiss, Jack and Arthur become defensive whenever they feel particularly close or sentimental. They often have small fights with one another and then r eturn to being friends as if nothing had ever come between them.

During the Gathering of the Tribes, Jack tries to stay away from Arthur, who does not "look like a serious Scout." Jack participates in the swimming tournament and, although he is confident he will do well, actually loses badly. One troop, Ballard, is cle arly the best of all the Scout troops at the Gathering, but is disqualified from the events because they are wearing "non-regulation caps and boots." In the cafeteria later on, Jack befriends the Ballard boys. He accompanies them to the football field, wh ere they smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Arthur joins them, but leaves when one of the Ballard boys offers him some of the drugs. Another Ballard boy shows Jack a near-empty box of condoms and boasts that it had been full the night before.

Jack and the Ballard boys reunite in Glenvale, where the Scouts from the meeting are attending a carnival. Jack brings his overnight bag with him, prepared to run away. While Jack and the Ballard boys are in line for a ride, Arthur approaches them again a nd asks Jack if he wants to leave. Jack tells Arthur they will leave in a while, and Arthur disappears. Arthur approaches Jack again shortly after, however, impatient to leave for Alaska. Annoyed, Jack assures Arthur that they will leave eventually, just as soon as he is done at the carnival.

Jack is conned out of all his money by Smoke and Rusty, two men who run a carnival game called Blackout. The men encourage Jack to play the game until he runs out of money, then ignore him completely and find new customers to prey on. For his eighty dolla rs, Jack is left with a stuffed pink pig.

When the park closes, Jack begs Arthur, whom he has ignored all day, to drive back to Chinook with Jack and Dwight. Dwight hates Arthur because he is a "sissy," but Arthur is especially reluctant to ride with Dwight and Jack because Jack has treated him w ith such disrespect. Begrudgingly, Arthur agrees to go along, and seems to have forgiven Jack for mistreating him. Feeling both grateful and guilty, Jack gives Arthur the stuffed pink pig he won at Blackout with his eighty dollars.

Analysis

Chapter 8 highlights the transformation that alters Jack's relationship with Arthur. Friendships often gradually dwindle, and this is the case for Arthur and Jack, whose friendship never seems to recover after the boys kiss. This kiss does not seem to ind icate any sexual feelings the boys might have for one another, but more precisely indicates feelings of closeness and affection. These feelings, especially the kiss, scare Jack and Arthur so much that they refrain from any and all sentimentality from that moment on, and turn on one another at the slightest indication of affection. This fear of emotional closeness can be attributed to Dwight's expectations that Jack be masculine, and to Jack's fear that Arthur's effeminate demeanor is somehow contagious, a nd that he too will become a "sissy."

As a defense mechanism against Jack and Arthur's sudden closeness, Jack disassociates himself from Arthur at the Scout Gathering and feigns a masculine over-confidence to impress the boys from the Ballard troop. Arthur is the only one with whom Jack has s hared his plans to run away and it is therefore clear that he trusts Arthur implicitly. This trust becomes frightening for Jack, however, and his decision to prioritize the Ballard boys over Arthur is a manifestation of Jack's denial of their intimate rel ationship. Jack's coolness toward Arthur at the carnival forebodes what their relationship will hold in the future. Over time, this coolness will develop into a noticeable and irreparable rift.

In reality, however, Jack is not prepared for the independence that being a man entails. In trying to impress the Ballard boys, for example, Jack is conned out of the eighty dollars he has saved to run away with. For the first time, Jack is actually tryin g to realize one of his fantasies by making a serious attempt to run away from the situation he has dreamed of leaving for so long. Jack longs for the freedom he equates with adulthood and with running away, but he is clearly not ready for any of it. Jack 's impressionability and gullibility are made obvious when he is conned out of his every cent at a carnival gambling table, all to impress a group of boys he has met only hours before. Jack may have magnificent dreams, but here he learns that it takes far more to actualize and live out such elaborate fantasies.

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