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Isobelle Mannix

This Boys Life, a compelling memoir written by Tobias Wolff, explores the lifestyle of troubled
juveniles during the 1950s in America. Through his own youth, Wolff exposes moments when his
isolation greatly affects his life choices and outcomes as depicted by his interactions with others.
These decisions not only parallel his changing social values and correlate with his bouts of insecurity
but determine the experiences of his school days.
The desire for traditional conventional values to be apparent in Tobys life transforms into a state of
loneliness when at times it is realised that it cannot be achieved. Rosemary contributes to these
broken wishes by enforcing a belief that running away in order to solve personal problems or to fulfil
dreams, such as in Tobys case the wish for a nuclear family, is a mature and correct reaction to an
unsatisfied life. Additionally, the principles of fighting and anger are considerably enforced by
Dwight through his training of Toby for the smokers, which moulds Toby to believe these are
appropriate courses of action, accepted by society. This also gives Toby the notion that these values,
if enacted upon, will lead to acceptance from Dwight and a release from habitual solitude his
family in Concrete provides. In contrast, Scouts provides Toby with the importance of order,
achievement and enforced inclusion in a positive environment that allows Toby to extend his
attributes and pride himself on his progress, which leads to Geoffreys delighted approval of him.
Wolff emphasises that we transform our moral code to fit into a preferred situation and likewise to
bring forth a feeling of belonging. By adopting others standards, Toby makes this crucial decision
and obliviously gives in to the temptations of acceptance his insecurities are too weak to resist.
Stints of insecurity are made apparent to the reader that they can be a major case of why Toby feels
isolated and self-doubting. Exposed through Tobys inner reflections, the wall that separated
himself from the outside world revolves around multiple false identities being created, one on top of
the other, shielding a personality he is compelled to be ashamed of. This is made evident in Tobys
relationship with his alter-ego, Jack, who at times brings Toby into moments of reprehensible
reflection and penance. In certain segments of confession, Wolff establishes Tobys anxieties
through his youthful imagination of his biological father and the romantic reasons for his fathers
desertion. Wolff suggests their relationship to be more positive apart, for they are not capable of
seeing the others imperfections, of which the reader identifies it to be something Toby is guilty of.
However, when Toby is placed in the outside world with no familial or personal battles occurring, he
overcomes his desolate condition by deciding to adjust to whatever the social norms may be in his
particular town of residence. This is made evident by his vandalism in order to achieve status in
Seattle and in Chinook as well as his particular hairstyles deemed to be popular among his peers that
he adopts. By embracing norms, Wolff evokes the idea that we adapt to enhance our survival in the
world, as in Tobys case it is to overcome self-doubt, loneliness and loss, but also to gain a sense of
direction in life.
The various places where Toby attends school create opportunities to gain social status at the
sacrifice of favourable friendships and achievement in school. Arthur is a prime example of this, who
to Toby is a true friend that shares his wish to be free of their dead-end lives in Chinook but in their
current situation, Toby feels uncomfortable to be seen with someone considered to be a sissy by
their peers. By throwing away Arthur for Chuck, Wolff affirms Toby connects with others on their
need to escape but sees more importance in prestige through rebellion than through good grades.
Wolff characterises Toby to be capable and intelligent but tragically and obsessively focused on
becoming an identity with accompanying adoration, of which his relationship with Chuck and with
Isobelle Mannix
the Taylors in Seattle he believes provides. Toby chooses to associate with these young rebels,
though still feels uncomfortable around them, demonstrating a resistance to his friends mores
affecting his views but deciding to fabricate his outer-identity to suit instead as illustrated by his
attitudes to the Taylors behaviour and desiring to escape this but dealing with the behaviour
anyway so to not be absent of friends in Seattle. Wolff conveys a contradiction that we may reject
typical social standards and express these values will never affect us, but in order not to suffer
exclusion and abandonment, as Toby has done, we manipulate our external image now and again at
the cost of a desirable reputation.
Complete with the atmosphere of desolate circumstances and instances of poor judgments, Wolff
makes apparent through contradictory social values, insecure reflections and misinterpreted effort
in schooling that Toby endures; it is possible to become lonesome at the costs and actions of others.