The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Robert spends the summer after Yale working as a custodian. While cleaning out dorms, he discovers a huge amount of “free stuff,” some of it very valuable. He also works in the medical school lab, where he researches the structure of proteins.
Robert’s post-graduate work isn’t particularly glamorous; moreover, Hobbs has established that Robert has no material reason to continue working in this capacity. The mystery of why Robert doesn’t try to find other, better-paying work is one that Hobbs will try to solve for the rest of the book.
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Robert spends the summer living with his friend Raquel Diaz, who’s stressed about her future. Robert has always had a way of getting along with platonic female friends—he gives them emotional support without making them feel uncomfortable.
Robert continues to keep in touch with his close Yale friends.
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Meanwhile, the last four years have been the hardest of Jackie’s life. She’s worked hard, and lived alone for the first time in her life. She’s also confused about what Robert plans to do with his future. However, Robert is a good son, and always leaves money for her when he visits. In these four years, life has gotten more violent in Newark. There are more gangs then ever, and homicides are at an all-time high.
Jackie makes sacrifices for the sake of her son, but in return she wants to see her son succeed as an adult. As Newark becomes more and more violent, she wants her son to move on and find success in the field he’s studied at Yale.
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Dealing weed has become more complicated for Robert, for the simple reason that he’s now a Yale graduate. He travels down to Newark, picks up weed from a supplier for a low price with the help of his “uncle” Carl, pays Carl a “kickback” for his help, and then sells it back at New Haven for much more than he paid for it. But Robert is careful to keep his Yale status a secret from this supplier, for fear of seeming like an outsider.
During college, Robert has to conceal or downplay his Yale status from his marijuana “connects.” This is because being a Yale alumnus alienates Robert from his peers, most of whom think of Yale as an alien place, practically a foreign country.
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In August 2002, Jeff visits Robert, still living at Yale. Robert tells Jeff that he’s planning on traveling to Rio in the spring. At the time, Jeff has no jobs lined up, though he aspires to write books. Eventually, he moves to New York and gets a job as a grant writer. He gets the job thanks to his brother’s business contacts.
In many ways, Jeff and Robert are equally clueless about their futures. But Jeff at least finds a stable, halfway-interesting job after college—not because he’s wonderfully talented, but because he has family connections. This might suggest that some Yale graduates succeed not simply because their educations have given them valuable skills, but because they were already affluent and well-connected before going to Yale, and continue relying on these advantages.
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Around the same time, many of Robert’s Yale friends are beginning fellowships at elite graduate programs. Many of Robert’s childhood friends, however, are still completing college or struggling to support themselves. Other of Robert’s Yale friends, such as Oswaldo Gutierrez, are living with their families, and don’t know what they want to do for a living. Robert offers Oswaldo some money, but Oswaldo refuses.
Many of Robert’s working-class Yale friends are unsure what they want to do with their lives. They have Yale degrees, but they’re still unsure how to use them. However, they stay in touch with each other, and even offer each other financial support.
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Robert has one short-term goal: launder the money he’s made dealing drugs. In reality, Robert probably doesn’t have to launder the money. He spends almost nothing, and he’s pretty unlikely to be audited. Nevertheless, he buys equipment from the Yale med school lab, and then returns the equipment for cash reimbursements. This is a highly risky way to launder his funds, especially since it could embarrass Yale med school. Perhaps knowing this, Robert doesn’t tell anyone what he’s doing, including Raquel Diaz.
For neither the first nor the last time, Robert takes ridiculous risks to launder cash that he probably doesn’t have to launder in the first place. Robert clearly knows that he’s doing something stupid, which is why he doesn’t tell his friends: but why, exactly, he chooses to con Yale remains unclear. It’s almost as if Robert enjoys the risk, and takes pleasure in doing the opposite of what a traditional Yale grad is supposed to do.
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Raquel Diaz, meanwhile, falls in love with a Yale graduate named Simon Rodriguez. Simon is about to begin medical school in New York. Five years later, Simon and Raquel will get married.
Shortly after graduating, many of Robert and Jeff’s Yale friends start doing traditional “adult” things—like getting married.
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On Valentine’s Day 2003, Robert leaves for Rio. He leaves his drugs and money with Carl, in a padlocked trunk. When he arrives in Brazil, the Copacabana is every bit as beautiful as he’d imagined. He spends his vacation dancing, drinking, swimming, and practicing Portuguese. Rio is a lot like Newark in some ways: it’s divided between upscale neighborhoods, dominated by descendants of Europeans, and impoverished neighborhoods (or favelas) dominated by descendants of native Brazilians and African slaves. Both cities have huge drug problems.
Robert loves Rio in part because it’s both familiar (in its racial inequality, for example) and different. In some ways, his trip to Rio represents the pinnacle of his achievement: he’s done well at Yale, and now he’s celebrating his successes.
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As the vacation goes on, two of Robert’s Yale friends pass through Rio and stay with him, and they all go out dancing together. Also during his trip, Robert befriends custodial workers who live in the favelas, telling his friends back home that he admires their honesty. He also experiences the wonders of Carnival, Rio’s annual world-famous party.
Much as he did at Yale, Robert makes friends with working-class people in Rio, feeling more comfortable around them than he did with many of his wealthy Yale friends.
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Robert returns to Newark in April, a few weeks earlier than planned. The reason he returns early is that he gets a call from Carl, and senses that something is wrong. In Newark, Carl takes Robert to his place, where Robert notices that his trunk has been tampered with. Robert furiously opens the trunk and sees that his savings—four years of hard, risky work—are gone. Carl mutters that he’s been in debt lately, that he feels Robert owes him, and that he intends to pay Robert back. Robert is too furious to respond.
The chapter ends on a horrible note: Robert’s friend Carl has betrayed him, stealing Robert’s money and spending it to relieve his own debts. Just like that, four years of hard work go down the drain.
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