Old School

by

Tobias Wolff

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Purcell (“Little Jeff”) Character Analysis

Purcell is one of the narrator’s closest friends and Big Jeff’s cousin. Purcell and Big Jeff are both named Jeff Purcell, so most of the students call him “Little Jeff” because he is smaller than Big Jeff. He hates this name, however, so the narrator calls him Purcell out of courtesy. Purcell is on the editorial board of the school’s literary review, Troubadour, alongside the narrator. Later in the school year, he stops going to chapel, arguing that he doesn’t believe in God, but he ultimately caves in and continues to go so that he won’t be expelled. Like the narrator, Purcell loves Ernest Hemingway—and when Hemingway selects the narrator’s story as the winner of a writing competition, Purcell gives the narrator a first edition copy of Hemingway’s In Our Time. Despite their close friendship, the narrator is often envious of Purcell because of his wealthy background.
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Purcell (“Little Jeff”) Character Timeline in Old School

The timeline below shows where the character Purcell (“Little Jeff”) appears in Old School. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Class Picture
Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
...is a contender: his stories and poems are eventful and full of good detail. Jeff Purcell—“Little Jeff”—is also a contender. He is nicknamed this way because he has a cousin who... (full context)
Chapter 2: On Fire
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
Education, Failure, and Growth Theme Icon
...house roof and exploded. At dinner, Big Jeff becomes a celebrity for the fire. Later, Purcell tells the narrator that he wishes they kicked Big Jeff out: it bothers him that... (full context)
Chapter 3: Frost
The Power of Literature Theme Icon
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
...was the headmaster who persuaded Robert Frost to visit; Frost was his teacher. After dinner, Purcell chats with the narrator and reveals his astonishment at the fact that George’s poem was... (full context)
Chapter 4: Übermensch
The Power of Literature Theme Icon
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
Education, Failure, and Growth Theme Icon
...them. On the afternoon that Grandjohn and Patty leave, another student tells the narrator that Purcell won the audience with Ayn Rand. When the narrator is discharged from the infirmary, he... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Forked Tongue
Honesty and Honor Theme Icon
Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Soon after, Purcell starts to cut daily chapel, saying that he doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t want... (full context)
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
Another thing stokes the narrator’s frustration: the stir over Hemingway is growing feverish, and Purcell loves Hemingway’s work. But, the narrator knows that (like himself) Purcell doesn’t want to be... (full context)
Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
The narrator acknowledges that he may be looking for bad motives in Purcell because he himself is so duplicitous. He was recently awarded a full scholarship to Columbia... (full context)
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
...its promiscuity. Rain wrote to the narrator to ask him to the dance. Additionally, if Purcell continues to skip chapel he will be kicked out on Saturday, and the narrator won’t... (full context)
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
On Friday, Big Jeff announces that if Purcell got kicked out, he would leave too. This doesn’t make much sense to the narrator,... (full context)
Competition, Masculinity, and Pride Theme Icon
Purcell attends chapel on Saturday afternoon. The narrator surmises that he didn’t want Big Jeff to... (full context)
Chapter 7: When in Disgrace with Fortune
Honesty and Honor Theme Icon
Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
...people thought he’d been holding back, and now they understand a little more about him. Purcell also gives him a first edition copy of In Our Time. Bill is angry with... (full context)