Analysis

The word "betrayal" adopts a variety of meanings for Jack, who has been betrayed many times in his young life, particularly by his father, and feels that he can wholly trust no one but himself. Jack is careful when selecting a store at which to use his counterfeit check, searching specifically "for someone [he] can trust." By "trust," Jack means an easy target, someone sweet and unassuming like the drugstore clerk he chooses. Jack sees her standing behind the store counter and notes that "her expression [is] as open and direct as a young girl's" and that she has a "guileless, lovely face," traits that signify to Jack that she is the ideal type to prey on. When the drugstore clerk recognizes Jack's scam, he feels somehow as if she has betrayed him, even though he has been trying to take advantage of her. More specifically, Jack believes that the clerk herself knows that she has betrayed him and even feels guilty for it. Jack is highly sensitive to the clerk's feelings of guilt for turning him in to her manager, and recognizes the sorrow in her eyes and care in her voice, which seem to pull him toward her. Jack is not accustomed to such attention, and the clerk's care and concern leave him with a deep and debilitating sense of remorse.

Betrayal is also a crucial theme in the following chapter, in which Geoffrey suggests that Jack apply to private schools, and Jack lies to Geoffrey that he is a star athlete and an A- student. In lying to Geoffrey, Jack seems to convince himself that he can actually metamorphose into the outstanding person he has described to his brother, and he steeps himself in this deception when he reads Vance Packard's The Status Seekers, which instructs him on how he can "betray his origins" and infiltrate the upper class. This betrayal of self and of one's past seems "the most natural thing in the world" to Jack, who has long harbored fantasies of self-recreation. For a long time before he actually forges the application letters, Jack cannot bring himself to complete the forms, for he is afraid of owning up to reality and facing who he truly is. Jack equates realism with surrender and feels only bitterness when he is forced to see himself in realistic terms.