This Boy’s Life

This Boy’s Life Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One afternoon, rifling through his mother’s things while she’s out, Jack finds a letter to her from his uncle, who lives in Paris. That night, Jack writes his uncle a long letter, painting a “nightmare picture” of his and Rosemary’s lives in Chinook. He does accurately detail Dwight’s abuse—he exaggerates, getting carried away with his own story. At the end of the letter, he begs his uncle to bring him and Rosemary to live in Paris.
Jack’s old impulses towards storytelling serve him well here—though he has been known to exaggerate (or just plain invent) stories of his life in the past, here he only goes a tad overboard as he describes the misery he and his mother are being forced to endure, doing so to enhance rather than invalidate his claims.
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One afternoon, weeks later, Rosemary catches Jack at the front door as he’s coming back from his paper route and asks him to take a walk with her. As they set off, she asks him what in the world he wrote to her brother and how he got the address—Jack confesses to taking the letter from her bureau. Rosemary hands Jack a new letter from his uncle, expressing “shock and sympathy” at how bad things are Chinook and yet stating that there’s not enough room for both Jack and Rosemary to come live with them.
Rosemary is never cruel towards Jack, even when he’s gone behind her back to do something—she takes his claims and ideas seriously, and sees him as an ally rather than as a thing to be controlled.
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Jack’s uncle, however, makes an interesting proposal: he wants Jack to consider coming to Paris by himself to live with their family for a year, while Rosemary leaves Dwight and finds work stateside. Rosemary asks Jack what he thinks about the plan, and he says it sounds all right. They are both grinning at one another as they return to the house.
Rosemary loves Jack so much that she herself is elated at the prospect of his getting out of Chinook—even if it means that she will have to stay behind and continue to endure Dwight’s abuses.
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They tell Dwight about the idea of Jack going to Paris, and Dwight is “all for [it.]” Pearl, meanwhile, is insanely jealous. Jack begins telling his friends at school about his impending year abroad, and even manages to take time off his regular studies to work on some “special projects” about French art, history, and culture.
It turns out that Dwight is just as excited by the idea that Jack could go away from Chinook as Jack himself is. Dwight seems to want Jack out of his hair, as he sees the boy as a nuisance and a threat to his relationship with Rosemary. 
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As the start of the summer and Jack’s date of departure nears, another letter comes from Jack’s uncle in Paris—it states that he has reconsidered his original idea. It doesn’t make sense to go to all the trouble, he says, of uprooting Jack’s life for just a year in Paris; by the time he acclimates and learns some of the language, it’ll be time to go home. Instead, they offer to adopt Jack formally and permanently and allow him to live with them for five years, until he finishes high school.
The original offer made by Jack’s uncle is rescinded here, but a new one is made in its place. It seems like a great opportunity for Jack, who would be able to escape Dwight’s clutches permanently and indulge his own fantasies of living abroad with a new family and making a new life for himself.
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Jack is disheartened, but Rosemary urges Jack to seriously consider his uncle’s generous offer. Jack is concerned about having to change his name and give up who he is, but his mother insists the decision is his. Dwight, meanwhile, unleashes “a frenzy of coaxing and bullying and opinion-dispensing,” delighted, seemingly, at the thought of getting rid of Jack forever. Dwight tells Jack he’d better think fast and make up his mind.
Jack encounters a serious moral conundrum—but all Dwight can fixate on is his newfound (or perhaps just newly-voiced) goal of getting Jack out of the house.
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Jack knows, however, that there is nothing to think about—he is his mother’s son, and cannot be anyone else’s. He feels this on an instinctual level, and also intuits that his mother, deep down, does not want him to go. Later in life, he will learn that this was true—though she will admit that she dreamed of fleeing their situation constantly.
Jack has struggled to define himself and his identity throughout the book—but in this situation, he is firm in who he is, and knows that he cannot be disloyal to his identity as his mother’s son.
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Related Quotes
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A few days after the letter, Jack announces at dinner one night that he’s not going to Paris. Dwight insists that Jack must go. When Jack says he doesn’t want to change his name, Dwight points out that Jack has already changed his first name and “might as well” change his last name, too. Rosemary interjects, begging Dwight to stop badgering Jack.
This passage makes it clear just how desperately Dwight wants Jack out of the house—he is pulling out all the stops and using any excuse he can in order to try to control and manipulate his stepson.
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