This Boy’s Life

This Boy’s Life Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jack has not seen his brother Geoffrey in six years and hasn’t heard from him since he and Rosemary left Salt Lake. In his second year at Concrete High, however, Jack receives a letter and a Princeton sweatshirt from Geoffrey and begins fantasizing about becoming a student at Princeton himself. He decides that he wants to hitchhike his way to Princeton and go live with Geoffrey, but has no money for the trip; he decides to forge a check in order to secure a little cash.
Jack is desperate for a way out of Chinook, and when he reconnects with his brother Geoffrey, he adopts yet another escapist fantasy of Princeton, and elite education more generally, as a way out of his present circumstances.
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On a Scouting trip to Bellingham, Jack sneaks away from the group and goes into a bank where he tears a check out of a convenience checkbook. He waits in line for a while, then pretends to have forgotten something, and leaves with the check in hand. He goes to the public library and takes out a card under a fake name; he is surprised how easy it is to deceive people both at the bank and the library. After walking up and down the streets for a while, Jack goes into a corner drugstore. He sees a gray-haired woman behind the back counter with a “guileless, lovely face,” and decides to use her in his scam.
Jack continues conflating deception and the adoption of false personas with a way to tell a good enough story about himself so that he can finally achieve the escape he’s so desperate for.
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Jack brings some magazines, aftershave, and other assorted things up to the register, where the woman adds up his bill. He reaches into his back pocket, pretending to grope for a wallet, but then pretends he has forgotten it at home. He asks if she accepts checks, and makes the one he stole from the bank out for fifty dollars.
Jack has become good—if not great—at deceiving people, and the calculation and manipulation that goes into his various poses and disguises continues to grow with each new scam.
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The clerk asks if Jack has any identification; he produces his library card. When she asks for his address, though, he completely blanks on the fake address he gave the librarian. The clerk calls her manager over; she hands him the check and tells him to “take care of it.” The manager walks off, and while he’s in the back, the clerk tries to engage Jack in conversation. He notices her trembling, though, and realizes that they are going to call the police. Jack hurries out of the store, while the clerk calls out to him using his fake name—Thomas. 
Jack becomes too lost in his own fantasy, however, to keep one foot outside of it long enough for it to succeed. He can tell that the woman behind the counter doesn’t want to turn him in, and yet has been forced to call his bluff and expose his false identity.
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Jack runs down the street and away from the drug store. He ducks into a nearby diner, where he changes into his Scout uniform. As he does, he looks at his many badges; only one badge stands between him and becoming an Eagle Scout. Though he has completed all of the requirements for the badge, Dwight refuses to send in Jack’s papers; Dwight doesn’t believe that Jack deserves to be an Eagle Scout.
The revelation that Dwight put Jack into scouts as a young boy only to keep him from achieving the dreams Jack developed is just another stunning cruelty in the litany of slights and abuses Jack has been forced to endure.
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Outside, Jack can see a police car parked in front of the drug store. He hurries up the street to the hotel where the Scout banquet is to take place, and, once there, helps out an acquaintance from another troop by serving as a greeter at the door, welcoming people and checking their names off a list. After a while, Jack looks up and sees the woman from the drug store; he has removed the disguise he wore into the store, though, and she doesn’t seem to recognize him. Jack greets the woman, and another scout gives her a name badge; she heads into the banquet as Jack watches.
This passage—and the fact that the woman from the drugstore doesn’t recognize Jack—suggests that perhaps he is very good at being a chameleon and adopting new identities, fooling people into believing he’s someone other than who he is with just his attitude and affect.
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