Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In This Boy’s Life, Wolff offers a detailed, highly subjective portrait of himself and his family from the time that he was ten until he leaves for boarding school at fifteen. He develops a portrait of himself as someone with a passion for self-invention, beginning with his decision to change his name to “Jack,” upon his arrival in a new town with his mother, Rosemary, in 1955. However, his new name does not appease the nagging sense of unworthiness he carries with him everywhere nor his tendency to invent stories about himself. Jack’s existence is complicated by his mother’s love life. First, he is subjected to her jealous boyfriend, Roy, who appears to young Jack as a “man’s man.” Roy buys him a rifle and teaches him to shoot. The gun proves to be a dangerous temptation to the lonely young boy, who likes to aim it out the window and once shoots a squirrel. When Rosemary decides that they are going to leave Roy and travel to a new town, Jack insists on taking the rifle with him, to his mother’s displeasure. His attachment to the gun foreshadows his attraction to certain kinds of risky and even antisocial behavior, which continue once the duo move to Seattle and Rosemary embarks on another tempestuous relationship.
A few months after arriving in Seattle, Rosemary begins to date Dwight, a mechanic with three teenagers of his own, who lives three hours north in the town of Chinook. Despite her mild reservations and Jack’s strong...
(The entire section is 814 words.)
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