Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

The themes of Old School by Tobias Wolff include honesty, identity, and the meaning of being a writer.

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Honesty is a major theme in the novel. The narrator plagiarizes a story instead of submitting his own work to the literary competition. The weight of his actions don't seem to phase him; he doesn't express regret for stealing someone else's work or potentially damaging the reputation of his school. Instead, he seems withdrawn and it takes several years before he can look at the story as belonging to its original author. His dean, Arch Makepeace, on the other hand, has a different reaction. When the narrator is expelled, the guilt of Makepeace's own dishonesty weighs on him. He has allowed people to believe that he knew Ernest Hemingway and that he was an inspiration for a character in one of his stories. He resigns because of this, though he later returns to work at the school.

Identity is another important theme in the work. The narrator is a scholarship student with a Jewish father. He was raised Catholic, however, and doesn't have a strong connection to his Jewish heritage. One of the reasons he recognizes the story and chooses to make it his own is that the main character is Jewish. He chooses to make that identity explicit by keeping the name Levine in the story even though he changes the first name of the character. He also yearns to be recognized for his accomplishments despite having very few. That's another reason why it takes so long for him to accept that he didn't write the story; it got him close to the acclaim and status he longed for. As a scholarship student surrounded by those with more affluent backgrounds, the narrator yearned for...

(The entire section contains 465 words.)

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