The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

by

Jeffrey Hobbs

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s the winter of Robert’s sophomore year. The second half of freshman year has been uneventful: Jeff and his roommates have slowly come to think of Yale as their home. Robert and Zina have broken up, and Robert has begun working in a dining hall. That summer, Jeff has gone back home to work at a school for people with mental disabilities, and Robert has stayed at Yale to work on the custodial staff. Skeet’s post-conviction appeal has been overturned, meaning that Skeet is back in jail for good. Jeff is unaware of any of this. Meanwhile, Robert’s dorm room has become a “safe haven” for stoners.
Hobbs crams a lot of information into this opening section—so much so that his claim that the intervening time has been “uneventful” could be ironic. Robert has begun selling much more marijuana. Even more importantly, his father is back in jail for good. This suggests that Robert has endured a major disappointment.
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One night, Jeff wanders into the room and greets Robert. Robert mutters, “I just hate all these entitled motherfuckers.” Robert later explains to Jeff the incident that set him off. In the dining hall, where Robert works, a group of “crew kids” (most of them, more likely than not, from wealthy families) got up to leave without busing their trays. Robert politely asked them to take care of their trays. In response, the athletes claimed they were in a rush and had to go. None of them made eye contact with him. Jeff can’t think of anything to say, so he just replies, “That sucks, dude.”
Robert continues to experience prejudice and discrimination along racial and class lines. The entitled students seem to treat him as if he’s barely human—certainly not a fellow student and equal. Although Jeff is sympathetic to Robert’s situation, he doesn’t know what to say (it’s also possible that Robert is implicitly criticizing Jeff, since Jeff is an affluent white Yale student, too). Although Robert and Jeff seem to be friends, they still find it difficult to understand each other’s experiences.
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Robert no longer makes a secret of his drug dealing. He sells weed from his room, which he still shares with Jeff (the four of them have agreed to stay together after freshman year). However, Ty has a serious girlfriend, and Dan Murray spends most of his time with “a popular crowd,” meaning that Jeff and Robert spend far more time in the dorm room than Dan or Ty. Jeff and Robert don’t talk often, but Robert tells Jeff that he likes Jeff’s laid-back nature.
Robert and Jeff have a peculiar friendship. They don’t talk to each other very much, and Jeff knows next to nothing about Robert’s life outside of Yale. However, they seem to respect one another in a way that transcends their experience, race, or class (at least in Hobbs’s portrayal of their friendship).
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Jeff excels on the track team, meaning that he doesn’t smoke marijuana. He’s not a stoner, but he’s not entirely comfortable with the athletic crowd, either. He spends many of his weekends at the Af-Am House, where he’s often a source of amusement for black students who live there.
Jeff remains highly conflicted about his identity—he doesn’t really fit in with any crowd.
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Get the entire The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace LitChart as a printable PDF.
In general, Robert has many friends at Yale. He’s seems to enjoy meeting new people. Many of his closest friends are black or Puerto Rican, and struggle with the social atmosphere at Yale; they respect Robert for supporting them and giving them a chance to vent. One important friend for Robert is Raquel Diaz, a Puerto Rican woman who treats Robert like an older brother, and often “vents” to him about her frustrations with spoiled students.
Although Robert has disagreements with Yale culture in general, he gets along well with many Yale students. He’s a good listener and a calming presence, meaning that he tends to have lots of close, trusting friendships.
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During sophomore year, Robert “saves” Jeff twice. The first time, Jeff gets in a fistfight with a big, drunk Yale student. Then, suddenly, the student backs off. Jeff turns and sees Robert standing next to him—somehow, his presence is enough to frighten the student. The second time Robert saves Jeff takes place after Jeff begins dating a woman. After she breaks up with him, Jeff becomes depressed. One night, he drafts a long, rambling email to the woman. Just as he’s about to send it, Robert says, “You want to share your feelings with someone? Share them with me.” Robert listens carefully as Jeff talks about his relationship. (In the end, Jeff sends the email, anyway, and, of course, it “did not accomplish what it had been designed to.”)
Two things to notice here. First, it’s suggested that Robert’s presence as a large, intimidating black man is what scares off the other student, reinforcing some of Robert’s claims about the prejudicial culture at Yale. Second, Robert and Jeff seem to have gotten more comfortable opening up to one another—and yet it is Jeff who opens up to Robert, not the other way around. Jeff still knows remarkably little about his roommate’s feelings, ambitions, and background.
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Robert begins to study Molecular Biophysics and Biology, one of the hardest majors at Yale. He also joins the water polo team. He gets A’s, seemingly without trying too hard, and smokes lots of weed. He and a close friend, Oswaldo Gutierrez, start a science club. He later begins working at the Yale Medical School. As time goes on, he becomes more comfortable with his Yale life. He continues selling lots of marijuana, and—Jeff guesses—making lots of money. Jeff assumes that he’s sending money to his mother, or saving for graduate school.
In the past, Robert has excelled at fitting in in different crowds. At Yale, he perfects his abilities, succeeding in the classroom, as an athlete, and as a drug dealer. By the same token, this means fitting in with very different kinds of people (athletes, science majors, and rebellious stoners).
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Although Oswaldo is one of Robert’s best friends, he doesn’t approve of Robert’s drug dealing. He criticizes Robert for selling out of his dorm room, and warns that he’ll be caught. Robert sometimes hosts his old friends Victor, Tavarus, and Julius. Jeff likes these friends, although he often finds it difficult to talk to them about their lives.
Oswaldo is one of the first students to warn Robert about his drug selling. Notice, also, that Jeff finds it very difficult to connect with Robert’s friends, largely because there’s very little “experiential overlap” between them.
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One night sophomore year, Robert comes back to his dorm, along with Victor, with a big welt on his forehead. Robert explains that somebody hit him and ran away, probably because he thought Robert was somebody else. Jeff impulsively says that they should go “find the guy.” Robert agrees, and they all pile into Victor’s car. Even though it’s obvious they’re never going to find the culprit, they drive around for hours.
It’s never explained how Robert gets the welt on his head. More important to notice are the unspoken “rules of toughness” that run through this passage. Even though it’s transparently obvious that Robert and his friends aren’t going to “find the guy,” they refuse to back down until they’ve been driving for hours, because doing so would be a sign of weakness.
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Junior year, Jeff, Ty, and Robert have moved off campus to live in their own apartment. Tavarus and Julius come to visit Robert during Af-Am Week. Tavarus has dropped out of college, and Julius hasn’t been working due to injuries. One night, Robert invites a few friends to an apartment party. “A few friends” turns out to mean dozens of people, only a couple of whom Jeff knows. Jeff begins to get uncomfortable, and decides to leave. The next day, Jeff finds out that the police showed up. Nevertheless, Robert seems happy to have thrown a big party.
Robert’s social life becomes wilder, and Robert seems to take great pride in being friends with so many people. However, the passage foreshadows some of the difficulties that Robert will have later on in life, since the party ends with the police showing up.
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As Robert goes through college, he falls in love with travel. He goes to Costa Rica after his sophomore year, and henceforth begins planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro. But as he comes to the end of his undergraduate career, the administration summons him to discuss “the drugs he’d been selling.”
Robert is exceptionally curious about the outside world, and wants to explore as much of it as possible. The chapter ends on a cliffhanger—what will the Yale administration do about Robert’s drug dealing?
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