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This Boy's Life

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Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title This Boy's Life

author Tobias Wolff

genre Memoir

language English

time and place written mid to late 1980s, New York

date of first publication 1989

publisher The Atlantic Monthly Press

narrator Toby "Jack" Wolff

point of view The narrator speaks in the first person, and creates an entirely subjective description of characters and events, frequently expressing personal judgment and bias.

tone Jack's narration is consistently subjective and is often informal by means of colloquialisms, slang, and humor.

tense Distant past; Jack is describing his childhood and adolescence as a middle-aged adult

setting (time) A period of about ten years from 1955 to 1965.

setting (place) The story begins en route from Florida to Utah, then moves to Washington state, first to Seattle, and then to Chinook.

protagonist Toby "Jack" Wolff

major conflict Jack continually struggles against Dwight's cruelty.

rising action Jack is accepted to the Hill School and plans to leave Chinook in the fall; he begins to stand up for himself to Dwight

climax Dwight injures Jack over an empty jar of mustard, and Rosemary decides that Jack will move out, and that she will finally leave Dwight.

falling action Jack stays with Chuck Bolger and his family and readies himself for school at Hill.

themes Escapism via Imagination; Desire and Desperation for Self-recreation; Promises Made, Promises Broken

motifs Betrayal; Guilt and Self-loathing; White Paint

symbols Jack's Winchester .22 Rifle; Dying Salmon; Moldy Beaver

foreshadowing Jack's exaggerated portrayals of himself in his letters to Alice and Annette foretell his continuous and profound desire to use writing to transcend his circumstances.