This Boy’s Life

This Boy’s Life Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dwight’s favorite thing to watch on TV is the Lawrence Welk show. He is a huge fan of the conductor and owns several of his records. Dwight once played saxophone, and sometimes, when swept up in the music on the show, will get his own sax out and play along with the bandstand.
Dwight is so insecure that he can’t even enjoy benign entertainment without having to prove his own musical prowess, too—though he’s clearly had no success as a musician.
Themes
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
After Norma graduates from high school, she moves down to Seattle where she works in an office and takes up with a man named Kenneth—though she often calls Rosemary for advice, as she misses her old boyfriend Bobby terribly. Kenneth is ambitious and successful, but nobody likes him; he is opinionated, religious, and obnoxious. One day, though, Norma calls to announce that she has decided to marry Kenneth, and wants to bring him home for Christmas to meet the family.
Norma—like Rosemary—has developed unhealthy patterns in her relationships due to past abuse. Norma, having grown up in Dwight’s house and under Dwight’s thumb, now makes poor choices in her own romantic life, because the only model for relationships she’s ever had involves abuse, misery, and subjugation.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
Dwight gets excited about Norma’s impending visit, and decides to spray paint a Christmas tree white to match the rest of the house. The paint, though, dries the needles out and causes them to fall off while the family tries to hang ornaments on its boughs, and by the time Norma and Skipper arrive from Seattle—Kenneth is coming up the following day—the tree is half-bare. That night, Bobby comes over and takes Norma out for a while. Jack is in bed by the time she comes back, crying loudly to Pearl and Rosemary in the kitchen.
Just as Dwight painted the house over in white before Rosemary’s arrival, he now spray-paints the Christmas tree white, symbolically demonstrating how much worse things have gotten and how much more there is to cover up—but as the Christmas tree sheds its needles, it becomes clear that some things can’t just be painted over.
Themes
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
The next day, Kenneth arrives and everyone hates him. He is fussy and pompous and complains about everything. He French-kisses Norma in full view of her family and refuses to drink, comparing alcohol to heroin. Norma sits mute on the sofa while Kenneth embarrasses himself—and her—again and again, and eventually she stands up and urges him to go with her for a drive around town.
Norma has chosen a partner who doesn’t seem to be as cruel as her father, but is certainly as fatuous and embarrassing.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
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Everyone can see that Norma doesn’t really love Kenneth, but she goes on to marry him, anyway. The older Tobias writes that, over the years, the light and happiness in Norma went out, and she became drawn, haggard, and addicted to cigarettes.
This passage shows how the cycles of abuse and subjugation Norma has learned throughout her childhood repeat again and again.
Themes
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
On Christmas Eve, the family sits around the TV watching the Lawrence Welk show. When a group of singing sisters performs “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” Dwight nudges Jack and asks him to follow him. He takes Jack towards the attic and announces it’s time to at last eat the chestnuts Jack worked so hard to shuck. They climb up into the attic and make their way towards the boxes of chestnuts, only to find that the boxes have bloomed with mold and grown completely covered in fungus.
Upstairs in the attic, the chestnuts have moldered. This shows just how pointless and useless all the hard work Jack did ultimately was. Shucking the chestnuts was only ever a way for Dwight to exert control over Jack and make him miserable.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Also rotting in the attic is the carcass of the beaver Dwight killed with his car; only a “pulp” covered with thin strings of mold remains. Dwight doesn’t say anything, and the two wordlessly leave the attic. Dwight sits back down in front of the TV, picks up his saxophone, and begins silently playing along with the Lawrence Welk orchestra.
The decaying beaver carcass, up in the attic along with the rotting chestnuts, reflects just how decayed and unrecognizable Jack’s relationship with Dwight and with himself has become.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon