The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

by

Jeffrey Hobbs

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On May 19, just one day after Robert’s death, Jeff notices that he’s received a new Facebook message. Victor Raymond informs him that Robert has passed away. Jeff is stunned.
Jeff is stunned by the news of his friend’s death—as far as he’s concerned, Robert is working an executive job at the Newark Airport and preparing for graduate school.
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In the coming days, Jeff proceeds with the surreal, painful experience of informing his Yale friends that one of their classmates has been murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Most of his friends are shocked. They interpret the tragedy in predictable and offensively simplistic ways: “potential squandered,” “the allure of thug life,” etc.
Jeff finds the immediate reactions to Robert’s death simplistic, and therefore offensive. Over the course of his book, Hobbs has chosen to offer a more nuanced account of Robert’s life, one that acknowledges both his incredible achievements and his tragic failures; his victimhood and his role in bringing about his own death.
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The night before Robert’s funeral, Jeff and some Yale friends go out drinking. The next day, tired and hung over, they make their ways to St. Mary’s Church. Robert recognizes many faces—Yale graduates who are now doctors and lawyers and bankers. There is one common theme in these people’s lives: “Nobody was fulfilling the dreams harbored on graduation day.”
Hobbs pauses to note the mood of cynicism and failure among his old Yale friends—nobody has achieved what they’d dreamed of doing at the age of twenty-one. In this sense, Robert was very different from his Yale friends: instead of trying to achieve his dreams (and inevitably compromising on these dreams), he held off on trying to realize his dreams at all, and sold drugs in the meantime, a choice that led to his tragic murder.
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Jeff and some of his friends speak briefly about how they knew Robert. Jeff mentions being Robert’s roommate, and how much he enjoyed Robert’s big grin. Raquel Diaz gives a long eulogy about Robert’s kindness and supportiveness. Robert is buried in Rosedale Cemetery, next to his father’s plot. Afterwards, everyone drives to St. Benedict’s for a luncheon. Finally, the guests go to a bar called A.S.H. that Robert liked. Jeff notices Oswaldo looking grim. Later, Oswaldo tells Jeff his opinion of Robert: “So fucking smart, but so fucking dumb.”
The funeral captures the alluring, fascinating, and frustrating sides of Robert’s character. He’s an incredibly charismatic, brilliant, likeable guy, and yet he makes many frustrating and foolish decisions. It would be easy to say that Robert is the victim of poverty, oppression, and circumstance—and it would be equally easy to say that Robert brought this on himself. The truth, as Hobbs has tried to suggest over the course of his book, is probably somewhere in between. Oswaldo’s pithy statement is thus a remarkably concise description of Robert’s multifaceted character.
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Jackie has requested that Robert’s high school friends, including Julius and Drew (Curtis is still in prison) stay away from the funeral. Julius is furious, but he agrees. They hold their own private ceremony for Robert. During the ceremony, they talk about the night of the shooting. It’s not clear if the men came to the house intending to kill Robert—it’s possible that Robert tried to overpower the men, leading to his murder. They also note that Robert made no sound after being shot—almost as if he was trying to conceal his own pain to protect his friends, just as he’d done in life.
Jackie seems to be furious with Robert’s old friends, and even seems to blame them for his death (when, in reality, it was Robert who led and organized most of the group’s drug deals). Whether or not it’s true that Robert concealed his pain in order to save his friends, there can be no doubt that Robert was highly adept at hiding his feelings—and at various times this quality was the source of both success and disappointment in his life.
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When the local paper posts an online story about Robert’s murder, the comments section is insensitive and hotly divided. Some people express sympathy for Robert, while others fault him for squandering his elite degree.
Again, the reaction to Robert’s death appears to be polarized between those who regard him as a victim and those who regard him as wholly responsible for his own misfortune.
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Charles Cawley hears of Robert’s death, and is immediately shocked, saddened, and angry. He thinks about the choices Robert made in his life, and how they led him to his death. Then he realizes that “not all [the choices] had been his to make.”
Cawley never knew Robert particularly well, but he gets at a point that Hobbs appears to agree with: Robert is responsible for some of the choices in his life, but not all of them. Put another way, Robert is a victim of poverty, racism, and an absent father, but also a rational, adult actor who makes some bad decisions with tragic consequences.
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Raquel tries to raise money for Jackie’s funeral expenses. To her fury, many of the elite Yale students who bought weed from Robert ignore her or refuse to donate money due to the nature of Robert’s death.
Raquel is angry with the hypocrisy of Robert’s Yale classmates: people who encouraged Robert’s drug dealing by buying his product and now sanctimoniously judge him for selling marijuana back in Newark.
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In the years following Robert’s death, very little changes in Newark. Drugs are sold throughout Robert’s old neighborhood, and crime continues to ravage the community. St. Benedict’s continues to do all it can for children from impoverished families, sending many of them to good schools. Jackie continues working.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Robert’s murder is that it’s only one death out of many in the city of Newark. Crime remains ubiquitous in the area, devastating countless families like Jackie’s. In the face of all this tragedy, however, Jackie continues working, and life moves on.
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On what would have been Robert’s thirty-first birthday, Raquel and Rene visit Jackie. They provide her with nearly five thousand dollars in donations—almost enough to cover Robert’s funeral expenses. Later that day, Robert’s friends and family gather at one of Robert’s favorite bars. That night, Jackie cries at the sight of the birthday cake Robert’s friends have baked in his memory.
Robert’s friends get together to honor his memory—a celebration that proves emotionally overwhelming for Jackie. Jackie has worked hard to support her child, and yet in the end, he dies in a drug deal gone wrong—just as she feared he might one day be killed.
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Late that night, Robert’s old friends gather together and release tiny paper lanterns into the night. The lanterns float off into the distance, and Robert’s friends watch them disappear. They wonder how long it will be before the flames flicker out—and where each one will fall.
The book ends with a sad, symbolic image: lanterns burning out. These lanterns seem to symbolize the meteoric life of Robert Peace: Robert “burned bright” while he was alive, but burned out all too soon. The lanterns could also be said to symbolize the lives of other young people growing up in various troubled situations: nobody knows how much they’ll accomplish in life, or even how long those lives will last.
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