Jack meets a new boy who lives in the village of Chinook—Arthur Gayle is the “uncoolest boy in the sixth grade.” Arthur is a sissy—his movements and affectations are effeminate, and every time Jack gets into a confrontation with Arthur, he comes away “smarting” from Arthur’s words, not his physical blows. Jack can tell that Arthur wants something from him—friendship—and indeed Jack feels that he recognizes Arthur as someone who is supposed to be his friend. He’s nervous, however, about what being friends with Arthur in earnest would do to his reputation.
In this passage, Jack comes up against a situation which has the potential to define the kind of boy and man he will come to be. He likes Arthur, but is afraid of what others will think of their friendship, and allows this to interfere with his own desire for friendship.
One spring day, Arthur approaches Jack in the street out front of his house and teases him for his yellow-looking hands, stained by the chestnut husks. Though part of Jack wants to let the insult go, and though Arthur is bigger than him, he comes right back at Arthur, calling him “Fatso.” As their insults escalate, Jack calls Arthur a sissy, and Arthur begins physically attacking him. The two fight and tussle as Arthur demands Jack “take it back,” and eventually Jack relents. When Jack goes back inside, Pearl warns him that he’s going to be in trouble.
Arthur is clearly sensitive about being called a sissy—as Jack stoops to the lowest of lows in order to try and assert his dominance over Arthur, he is unknowingly engaging in a frighteningly Dwight-like behavior.
Rosemary helps Jack take a shower and clean his cuts and bruises. Pearl urges Rosemary to tell Dwight about Jack’s fight—Rosemary exhaustedly suggests Pearl tell him herself. Rosemary and Dwight have not been getting along ever since they returned two days early from their honeymoon, sullen and grim. For weeks, she has slept late and spent all her time lounging in her bathrobe, but has just recently begun to try in earnest to make a life in Chinook by joining the PTA and the rifle club. She has tried to make everyone feel like more of a “family,” but Jack feels her efforts are useless—a “real family” as troubled as theirs would never try to spend so much time together.
Things in Chinook are clearly not going well for Rosemary, either. She wants very badly for everyone to be united like a real family and care for one another, but has grossly misinterpreted the situation she’s gotten herself into, and now finds herself powerless to influence anyone around her—least of all Dwight, who is no longer hiding behind his affable, oafish false persona.
When Dwight comes home from work that evening, he comes straight to Jack’s door, and Jack worries he’ll be in trouble. Instead, Dwight is cheery, and wants to hear all the details of the fight. Jack exaggerates, and Dwight delights in hearing about Jack sticking it to Arthur Gayle. That night at dinner, Dwight tells everyone his own stories of violent schoolyard fights from his youth, and after the meal, takes Jack to the utility room to show him some “moves.”
Dwight is not upset to hear that Jack got in a fight and beat up a “sissy”—rather, he’s proud. This shows just how cruel and violent he is—he cheers on these behaviors when they crop up involuntarily in Jack. Dwight perhaps feels he still has a chance to mold Jack into the kind of boy he thinks he should be.
One afternoon that summer, Jack runs into Arthur on the street during his paper route. They approach each other nervously—they have not spoken since their fight. Arthur has his dog with him, and introduces her to Jack as Pepper. He tells some jokes about Pepper, and the two laugh good-naturedly—from there, they embark upon a friendship.
Despite Dwight’s influence, Jack at last decides to forget about everyone else’s opinions and make friends with Arthur—he is beginning, slowly, to define himself by his choices bit by bit.