Critical Analysis- A Struggle with Identity
This Boy's Life is the autobiographical account of teenager. Toby and his mother's search for financial stability and a peaceful life. Toby’s family was split down the middle as a child, leaving his father and older brother on the East Coast and, for the most part, uninvolved in Toby’s life. The story begins when Toby and his mother, Rosemary, leave her abusive boyfriend in Florida to take their chances at becoming rich on uranium mines in Utah. They are short on money, a theme that continually comes up throughout the book, but full of hope and love for each other. Unfortunately, as they arrive in Utah, they discover the uranium resources have already been bled dry and they must go to Salt Lake City where Rosemary manages to get a job as a secretary. Soon afterwards, the ex-boyfriend follows the pair to Salt Lake City and rejoins their life. His abusive behavior continues and Toby and Rosemary are forced to flee again. This time fate lands them on a bus headed for Seattle. Once in Washington, Rosemary finds a group of female friends who encourage her to start dating, eventually landing her with a relationship and later marriage with yet another abusive man, Dwight. The mother and son pair is in a constant fight for a better way to live in terms of security and stability, but their love and loyalty to each other is solid. Toby seems to show signs of emotional and behavioral disorders in his journey through adolescence. He develops many different distinct personalities at various points to try to evade the harsh realities of his life. In the beginning of the novel, he expresses an interest in changing his name. He writes, "I wanted to call myself Jack, after Jack London. I believed having his name would charge me with some of the strength and competence inherent of my idea of him.” Toby did change his name to Jack, but the strength and competence that were supposed to accompany the name never appeared. Later, when Jack is given his own gun, he spends hours dressing up in military gear, hiding behind curtains, and pretending to be a military sniper. Several years after this, Jack adopts another identity when the possibility arrives that he might escape his life with Dwight to live in Paris with an uncle. Because of this idea, he once again changes his behavior. He takes his impressions of Paris that came from American movies, in which everyone wore berets and striped jerseys and sat around smoking cigarettes while accordion music played in the background and translates them into his everyday life in Washington. Jack receives special permission to take time off from his regular school studies to complete a series of special projects on the history, culture, and national character of France, and takes up playing the harmonica so that he can honk out moony approximations of “La Vie en Rose” and the theme from Moulin Rouge to prepare himself for his new life in Paris, France. These plans for a daring escape to Paris fall through, but Jack is given new hope of fleeing his reality through regaining contact with his estranged brother, Geoffrey. Geoffrey is a Princeton student, so Jack immediately begins to assume the identity of a Princeton student. He wore the Princeton sweatshirt Geoffrey sent him everywhere, and told strangers who picked him up on the road that he was a Princeton student coming home for a visit. He even had his hair cut in a style called “The Princeton”. This experimentation with identities climaxes in Jack's applications for prep schools on the East Coast. Though his grades are average at best, and he knows his teachers would be unwilling to make the recommendations he believes he deserves, he transforms himself on paper, at least, into the perfect prep school candidate. As he types up his applications, he begins to describe the process of slipping into becoming this new person. He writes, “Now the words began to come as easily as if someone were breathing them into...
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