The Liar by Tobias Wolff

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In the short story “The Liar” by Tobias Wolff, an adolescent boy named James constantly spews out lies. He deliberately lies out of habit to prepare himself for an impending death that might not even occur. Furthermore, it’s his way of confronting his father’s death.

The cause of James’ habit or – according to his mother – illness is that it’s his approach to prepare himself for another death in his family. The lie that was written in the letter was about his mother suffering with an unknown illness. “I said that she had been coughing up blood and the doctors weren’t sure what was wrong with her.” The second lie on the bus was also about an unfortunate event where his parents “..were killed when the communists attacked.” His lies always have a significant role to do with his mother either being killed or her being on the verge of death. “’Why is it always so sad?’ asked Mother. ‘Why all the disease?’” The death of his father was unmistakably an ample moment of his teenage life, he had no way of expecting that outcome.

He may not know it but lying is also his way of coping. Unlike with his mother, James was very close to his father. The understood each other and James showed this with a joke: “’There’s a bear outside,’ said Tom intently.” Without his father’s usual creativeness around anymore it’s as if he’s taken it upon himself to replace him. It’s not like his mother would joke around with him. “We all loved puns except Mother, who didn’t get them.”

In a way it is beneficial for him as it is a way to grieve his father’s death but his mother is right about one thing. It is that he is “cheating himself”. Rather than mourning it like normal people, he did not shed one tear at his father’s funeral, instead it was directed to his habit of lying. He may not realize it but in the end, he really is just fooling himself.
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