Want study tips sent straight to your inbox? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

This Boy's Life

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs

Betrayal

Throughout This Boy's Life, Jack is keenly aware that other people betray him, although he does not realize that he often betrays himself. From his childhood, Jack feels betrayed by his father, even though he makes excuses for his father, throughout his adolescence. It is only when Jack is an adult that he can truly admit to the painful feelings that he has suppressed for his father. Jack, however, is also capable of trickery, as becomes evident when he takes Geoffrey's suggestion that he apply to private schools. Jack lies to his own brother that he is a star athlete and an A student, thereby betraying not only Geoffrey but himself as well. This betrayal of self and of one's past seems "the most natural thing in the world" to Jack, as he has long harbored fantasies of self-recreation.

Guilt and Self-loathing

Jack's feelings of guilt and unworthiness stem from his conflicting desire and incapability to be a hero. Jack adopts the responsibilities his father has abandoned and wants to provide for his mother by saving her from both Roy and Dwight, and also by bailing them out of their poverty and unhappiness. Jack is only a child, however, and the situation is beyond his grasp. Therefore, Jack ignores reality and fabricates his own heroics to find some degree of comfort. Jack also feels deeply guilty for his own existence, which he thinks hinders his mother from enjoying the independence she had before Jack was born.

White Paint

Before Rosemary arrives in Chinook, Dwight recruits Jack to help him paint every wall, and item in the house a stark and glaring shade of white. Typically, white is symbolic of purity, or a new beginning. When Jack and Dwight paint the house white, it does indeed mark a new beginning, but is more symbolic as a mask for what Dwight does not want Rosemary to see. Jack notes that after they have painted the piano, only the black keys show through, a foreboding vision that is indicative of the misery Dwight will cause them. Later, Dwight coats an entire Christmas tree with white spray-paint, as if to cover up for the miserable holiday to come.