This Boy’s Life

This Boy’s Life Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One night, when Jack gets home from school, there is a big, ugly, mangy dog in the utility rom. It growls as Jack approaches. Jack sneaks past it and tells Dwight, who is waiting in the other room. Dwight tells Jack that he has gotten the dog—whose name is Champion—just for Jack; Jack has wanted a dog for a long time. Jack, however, insists that this kind of dog is not the one he wants. Dwight tells Jack it’s too bad; it’s Jack, after all, who paid for him. Jack goes upstairs to discover that his Winchester is gone—Dwight has sold it and purchased the dog with the money from it. Jack is upset, but Dwight accuses Jack of being ungrateful for the gift of a “valuable hunting dog.”
Dwight continues to abuse and manipulate Jack through new and insidious routes. He sells one of Jack’s prized possessions in order to get something that Jack doesn’t want. Dwight is disguising his own desire for a hunting dog by couching it in an invented desire of Jack’s. Dwight is attempting to gaslight his stepson, but Jack has grown stronger, and realizes what is going on.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
Dwight and Jack take Champion out hunting at a gravel quarry where some skinny ducks are known to congregate. Dwight is a poor hunter, and his lack of success on hunting trips always makes him angry. He takes potshots at rodents and endangered eagles, but never manages to shoot any real game, and he blames his failure on his equipment. As they set off for the quarry, Jack realizes that though Dwight bought Champion “for” Jack, Dwight really plans just to use the dog to improve his hunting game. At the quarry, Champion proves a miserable hunting dog, and Dwight only manages to shoot one duck. At the sound of gunshots, Champion runs back to the car and hides underneath it; on the drive home, he urinates and defecates all over the backseat of the car.
Dwight’s miserable attempt at bolstering his own hunting prowess backfires. He used deceit and theft in order to take from Jack and do something for himself, but now, he finds that his attempts to secure something selfishly have ended in disaster. Champion is a terrible hunting dog—and clearly weak and poorly-trained to boot—and now Dwight must live with the consequences he has brought upon himself.
Themes
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
Champion and Jack have an uneasy relationship at first, but soon Champion will hardly leave Jack’s side, and barks any time he leaves the house. This causes Jack some trouble, as ever since he started high school, Jack has been sneaking out at nights to take the car for joyrides. Now, any time Jack wants to sneak out, he has to bring Champion with him so as not to wake the whole house.
Jack takes a reluctant interest in the dog more out of necessity than desire. Jack’s fantasies of escape have led him to start joyriding in Dwight’s car—perhaps as a way of both satiating his own escapist fantasies and slyly getting back at Dwight by taking something that’s his.
Themes
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
On one of these middle of the night drives, Jack gets the car stuck in a ditch. Realizing he can’t get it out, he and Champion begin the long walk back towards home at three o’clock in the morning. As Jack walks down the road, he feels as if his body belongs to someone else; he sings to himself on the way home in order to comfort himself. Halfway to Chinook, a car comes down the road, and after the man driving reluctantly agrees to take Champion along for the drive, Jack hitchhikes home with him.
Jack is able to drive the car well enough to take it joyriding, but when he actually encounters trouble, he abandons the vehicle, heads home, and prays that the worst won’t come his way. His attempts to teach himself to drive—and to get back at Dwight—may have just backfired in a terrible way.
Themes
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Get the entire This Boy’s Life LitChart as a printable PDF.
This boy s life.pdf.medium
The next morning, Jack says he doesn’t feel good, and Rosemary allows him to stay home sick for the day. After lunch, Dwight comes to Jack’s room and leans in the doorway. Dwight took Champion out with him that morning, and while at the grocery, ran into the man who’d given Jack and the dog a ride in the middle of the night. The man spilled the beans, and Jack’s joyriding has been discovered. Dwight attacks Jack, and though Jack fights back, Dwight beats the boy badly.
Dwight discovers Jack’s deception and retaliates physically. His abuse of Jack has always been more psychological and insidious, but in this passage, things take a definite—and, ultimately, irreversible—turn for the worse.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
Champion begins killing neighborhood cats, and, after he mangles one in front of a little girl, Dwight is forced to take Champion out to the woods and shoot him. Jack knows what Dwight is doing when he takes Champion away, but doesn’t accompany him. From then on, any time Jack does something wrong, his mother—joking darkly—says to him, “’Why don’t you take a little ride with Dwight?’”
This passage illustrates that Rosemary doesn’t—or refuses to let herself—understand the gravity of what Dwight is doing to Jack. She jokes about Dwight’s cruel temperament and violent streak, not realizing the effect her taunts must have on her son.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon