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This Boy's Life

Tobias Wolff

Contents

Themes

Themes

Escapism Via Imagination

Throughout the novel, Jack uses his imagination as a place of refuge, which is otherwise absent from his unhappy domestic life. During his years in Chinook, Jack wants nothing more than to escape from Dwight's authority and from the preconceived notions that people there have developed of him. Jack's actual attempts to run away are unsuccessful, so he frequently retreats into figurative escapes, where imagines a better life for himself. For example, when Jack cannot go to Paris as he had hoped, he envisions himself among the city's cobbled streets, green roofs, and cafés. Similarly, Jack imagines that the successful-looking men who pass him on the street are his father coming to greet him. Jack uses his imaginative fantasies as a vehicle to escape from the misery of his home life, and it is because of these fantasies that he is able to endure.

Desire and Desperation For Self-recreation

Often, the lies that Jack tells seem all too real to him, and he even goes so far as to adopt some of them as the actual truth. This staunch faith in his own lies can also be read as Jack's belief in himself, for, despite his poor grades and record, Jack is convinced that he is actually a member of the elite. This belief is especially powerful when Jack forges letters of recommendation from his teachers, all of which are full of ebullient, exaggerated praise that Jack thinks of as true and honest. Jack studies a book called The Status Seekers that instructs him on how he can "betray his origins" and infiltrate the upper class. Jack wants to leave home not only because he is unhappy there, but also because he yearns for the opportunity to recreate in a place where he does not have a tarnished reputation. He does not believe that he is the thief and liar that Dwight claims he is, but that he is a good-hearted boy pushed by circumstances to do what he needs to escape.

Promises Made, Promises Broken

From Jack's boyhood into his late adolescence, Jack is promised fantastic gifts that never actually materialize. Because of this, he feels overlooked and disappointed. From the very beginning of the book, disappointment lies around every corner for Jack. After driving across the country in search of fortune, he and his mother learn that there is no uranium left, and continue to live in poverty. Later, Dwight promises Jack that he will participate in the turkey shoot during his Thanksgiving visit, then rescinds this promise. After Jack and Rosemary begin living with Dwight, Jack wants desperately to escape, and is thrilled when he is offered trips to both Mexico and Paris. Neither trip, however, ever materializes. The ultimate disappointment comes when Jack arrives in California, excited to spend the summer with his father and with Geoffrey. Instead of spending time with Jack, however, Jack's father leaves only one day after Jack arrives in California, and is arrested as soon as he returns.

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In Chinook, how does Jack use his imagination?
To write plays
To paint
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