The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

by

Jeffrey Hobbs

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Shortly after the events of the previous chapter, Robert approaches Coach Ridley about joining the faculty at St. Benedict’s. The summer of 2003 has been hard for Robert: he has no money and no job. He’s moved back in with his mother, and depends on her. Robert’s friends all have stable jobs—while Robert, who’s worked harder than any of them, does not.
Robert has experienced a major setback: he’s lost all the money he made selling drugs at Yale, not just because of Carl’s dishonesty but because of his own naiveté.
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Friar Leahy has been paying close attention to Robert since Robert has come back to Newark. Because of his experience as a teacher, he’s not too surprised that Robert had fallen on hard times. He remembers a black student from years ago, who earned a Rhodes Scholarship. Outrageously, the student wasn’t able to find work after finishing his program. Eventually, the student committed suicide. Leahy offers Robert a job teaching biology, and Robert reluctantly accepts. He also coaches water polo.
Friar Leahy is clearly a concerned, compassionate man. He genuinely wants Robert to succeed in life—furthermore, unlike many of Robert’s friends and mentors, he’s realistic about the pressures of success and the opportunities available to black, working-class Yale graduates. Therefore, he gives Robert as much help as he can give.
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One night, Robert is relaxing with his friends, including Julius and Tavarus, in a friend-of-a-friend’s house. The host confronts Robert about having gone to Yale, and orders Robert to get out. Robert and the host begin yelling at each other. Soon, they begin hitting each other. Tavarus and Julius break up the fight, and Tavarus tells Robert that he can’t fight like that. At a time when most of Robert’s classmates treat their Yale status as a badge of honor, Robert hides his.
Robert is clearly frustrated with his situation in life, and takes out his frustration on his Newark peers. Robert is “neither here nor there”—he’s something of an outsider both among his Newark friends and his Yale classmates. His attempts at fronting don’t prove as successful as they did in high school.
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Related Quotes
That summer, Jeff emails Robert, but the email bounces back. He calls his old house on Chapman street, but gets no answer. Jeff realizes that he has no way of contacting his friend. Eventually, Ty emails Jeff Robert’s new number. Jeff calls Robert, and Robert explains that he’s been teaching high school. Robert seems a little distant, and Jeff assumes that, just as Robert is fading from his mind, he’s fading from Robert’s.
Jeff claims that he keeps in touch with Robert but doesn’t think about Robert all that often. This raises some questions about how close Jeff and Robert were in the first place: it’s not as if Jeff knows much about Robert’s life, perhaps explaining why he’s not motivated to talk to Robert all that often.
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Jeff doesn't realize that, just a few days before he calls Robert, one of Robert’s weed suppliers pulls a gun on him during a price negotiation. Robert realizes that he’s gotten too complacent at Yale—he’s used to people paying him whatever he asks for. He decides to stop dealing drugs. He also seems to forgive Carl for taking his money, saying, “You can’t blame a dog for eating up a steak if you leave the steak on the floor.”
Robert gets a frightening reminder that he’s not at Yale anymore. He seems to be coming to accept his situation, even forgiving Carl. This is indicative of Robert’s incredible self-control and sense of responsibility; instead of staying angry, he forces himself to move on.
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Robert is a good teacher at St. Benedict’s. He has no problem telling students when they’re being lazy, and often motivates them to succeed. He doesn’t broadcast his Yale degree but instead focuses on teaching his students good study habits. On one occasion, Robert tells a student to “shut the fuck up,” and the student’s mother complains. Robert apologizes, but he’s irritated—he’s sure he’s done the right thing.
Robert is a good leader, partly because he’s capable of being tough with his students when he needs to be. He pushes his students to succeed in a way that other, milder teachers wouldn’t. However, Robert can be hardheaded and reluctant to back down—never good qualities for a teacher to have.
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Robert buys a house for himself near Chapman Street. Jackie is confused: Robert is making even less money than she makes, and she expects him to spend his savings on his family. Robert takes care of his aging grandparents, cooking for them and leaving them a few hundred dollars a month. He insists that his purchase is an investment—he’ll rent out the house to people. Jackie finds Robert’s decision unwise, but she knows she can no longer control what her son does.
Robert continues to care for his mother and grandparents, and yet in other ways seems to be pushing away from them. His business plans seem impractical and misguided, but he’s at a point in his life where nobody can stop him from doing what he wants to do.
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Oswaldo Gutierrez comes down to Newark to help Robert fix up his new house. The house is old and dilapidated, but Robert seems proud to be living there. Privately, Oswaldo thinks Robert is foolish to imagine that he’s going to make a profit renting out this property. But he helps Robert repair the house.
One of the key themes of this chapter is that Robert’s friends and family know he’s making mistakes, but don’t say anything. Robert has always been so confident and self-assured that the people in his life have learned not to give him advice.
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Robert contacts his old friend Hrvoje, who played water polo for the University of Vermont. They get together on weekends to play water polo. Before playing, Robert always goes to visit Skeet. Skeet and Robert continue to search for a way to get Skeet out of jail. Ingeniously, Robert finds that the judge in Skeet’s 1999 trial misquoted a standard of review—an error which could lead to a mistrial. Furthermore, Skeet has been a model inmate. Robert begins to use this to draft an appeal.
Robert keeps in touch with his friends and his family. He continues to love his father deeply and wants to remain attached to him, hence the fact that he continues to devote a lot of time to drafting an appeal.
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In the winter of 2005, Skeet begins to notice that Robert asks him for advice. Robert is keeping tenants in his house, and he finds it hard to extract rent from them. Meanwhile, Skeet has begun to feel tired. However, he doesn’t visit the prison doctor.
Skeet is one of the few people whom Robert feels comfortable asking for advice. But the passage foreshadows the impending tragedy in Skeet’s already tragic life.
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In 2005, Jeff is happily engaged to a woman named Rebecca. He and his fiancé visit the Penn Relays, a popular sporting event in Philadelphia, and meet up with Robert, Ty Cantey, and some other Yale friends. Jeff notices that both of his roommates seem worn-out by their jobs and studies. In private, Robert tells Rebecca, almost gravely, “You picked a good one.”
The years immediately following graduation are hard for almost all of Jeff’s friends: they’ve been succeeding for so many uninterrupted years that the prospect of real adult challenges fills them with anxiety. Jeff and Robert apparently continue to respect one another, explaining Robert’s comments to Rebecca.
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Jeff and his Yale friends are adults, faced with all the joys and frustrations of their mid-twenties. Their lives are changing quickly. Strangely, though, Robert’s life seems not to be changing at all. He still lives in Newark, hangs out with friends from high school, and goes to St. Benedict’s five days a week. That summer, however, Robert experiences a major change when Skeet collapses in prison.
At the time, it seemed as if Yale would give Robert a chance to reinvent himself. And yet, it would now seem, Robert hasn’t reinvented himself at all: he’s the same person he always was, and hasn’t escaped his environment at all. The chapter ends on another cliffhanger, hinting at another tragedy in Robert’s life.
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