Chuck drinks to the point of intoxication almost every night. Some nights he is happy and jolly; others, he is full of rage, and throws himself against walls, trees, and other objects. In the mornings, Chuck asks Jack what he did the night before—Jack is uncertain if Chuck is merely pretending not to be able to remember his own actions.
Chuck Bolger is yet another instance of dual identities and calculated performances of persona Jack has encountered in his youth.
Chuck and Jack live together in a converted storage shed on the Bolger’s large property. Each night, after the Bolgers go to bed, the boys sneak out, drive around town, and play poker with their friends. Sometimes when Chuck is drunk, he gives sermons about damnation which parody his father’s, and Jack can tell that Chuck truly fears being condemned. Jack is not used to people who take religion seriously, but he is aware that Mr. Bolger really wants him to get in the spirit at church. Jack finds himself tempted to surrender and participate in the “Amen Corner”—a corner of the church where people clap their hands, cry out, and sway to the music—but he always holds back.
Jack is still actively struggling to define himself—he continues choosing “outlaw” behaviors over the straight and narrow path, fearing that if he tries to be good he will fail. It is easier to be bad, and to fall into familiar patterns of cruelty and defiance, than to take a chance on truly changing himself, which risks not being able to measure up to all that is required of goodness and righteousness.
Despite Chuck’s excessive drinking and occasionally violent temperament, he is always very kind to Jack, and Jack likes him and values their friendship. Jack marvels at the fact that when Chuck is sober, he is present, kind, thoughtful, and seems “for all the world a boy at home with himself.” When “bad Chuck” comes out, though, the destructive actions he takes always blindside his family.
Chuck’s duality and competing personas seem, contrary to Jack and Dwight’s, completely out of his control. Chuck flails back and forth between his personas, seemingly not being able to choose to consciously “perform” either.
One night, while drinking and playing cards, Jack and his friends decide it might be fun to drive out to Bellingham. Chuck does not have enough gas for the trip—but says he knows where to get some. After collecting some cans and a hose, they set off across the fields towards a neighboring farm. The Welches live nearby, and send their children to school with Chuck, Jack, and the rest of their gang. Chuck siphons gas from the Welches’ cars and together the boys carry the cans back to the Bolgers’. By the time they get back they’re all so tired that they don’t even mention driving to Bellingham.
The boys’ petty theft in this passage is just as pointless as Dwight’s abuses of Jack; they work together to steal from another family, but the act is more about control and rebellion than about utility, echoing Dwight’s influence on Jack’s life.
The next morning, Mr. Bolger wakes Chuck and Jack and urges them to get dressed and come to the main house. In the kitchen, Mr. and Mrs. Bolger sit the boys down and tell them that Mr. Welch has just been by, for reasons that should be plain to the boys. Mr. Bolger asks how they could have done such a thing, and asks if they were drinking—they both admit to it. After reprimanding the boys, Mr. Bolger helps them work out a “plan of reparation,” which involves them returning the gasoline, apologizing to the Welches, and promising never to drink again.
Mr. Bolger has taken Jack in on a predetermined set of conditions—now that Jack has broken his promises to the Bolgers, it seems that there will be serious consequences in store.
Chuck and Jack drive the cans back over to the Welches’ and then bring them up to the house. Mrs. Welch opens the door. Upon seeing the boys, she tells them that she was “surprised” by their actions and never would have expected such malice from them. She tells them where to find Mr. Welch, and they go off to apologize to him, too. Chuck speaks to Mr. Welch at length, and then Mr. Welch, who has been staring at the ground, finally looks at the boys with tears in his eyes. Jack feels deeply ashamed, and as he looks around and sees the squalor of the farm and the Welches’ desperation, he realizes the gravity of what he has done.
The idea of forgiveness in the wake of abuse is something that the book hasn’t really explored. Jack hasn’t forgiven Dwight anything, but has allowed the man to get away with a lot due to his own conditioning. The Welches’ reluctance to forgive or absolve Chuck and Jack forces Jack to realize that in the real world—the world beyond Dwight’s house—abuses have consequences, and are not always looked away from or allowed to persist.
That afternoon, Mr. Bolger comes to the shed to talk to Chuck and Jack and ask if they made their apologies. Jack confesses that though he wanted to say something to Mr. Welch, he could not. Mr. Bolger resignedly tells Jack that it’s clear Jack isn’t happy or thriving in his family’s home; he says that he plans to call Rosemary that evening to make arrangements to have her come and get Jack. Jack does not argue. He can see that Mr. Bolger’s mind is made up. He feels his own mind is, too; he has decided he wants to join the army.
Jack has escaped the most miserable situation of his life, but he is still squandering his chances at redeeming, re-educating, and saving himself. When faced with Mr. Bolger’s disappointment, he begins fantasizing about escaping to the army, indulging yet another plan for getting out of his current circumstances, which are still not enough for him.
Rosemary arrives the next day. She talks with the Bolgers for a couple of hours, and then takes Jack for a drive. She tells him that she has had to beg the Bolgers to let Jack stay, and they have finally agreed, on one condition: he must work at the Welches’ farm after school in order to put things right with them. Jack says he doesn’t want to do that, but his mother ignores him. She tells Jack he has no choice—he is going to have to work for the Welches and, in addition, meet with a preacher named Father Karl—he has nowhere else to go, as Dwight won’t let Jack through his door and Rosemary has not yet found a place or a job in Seattle. Rosemary drives Jack back to the Bolgers, drops him off, and drives away fast.
Rosemary is devastated by Jack’s betrayal of Mr. Bolger—and, by proxy, of her, as she sought a place where he would be safe and be able to stay out of trouble. She is worried that her son is beyond help—and perhaps recognizes the role her own poor choices have had in influencing Jack’s. Even so, she longs to escape from looking into the face of what her son has become.
Towards the end of the week, Father Karl comes to collect Jack from the Bolgers’ and asks him to take a walk. Father Karl tells Jack his story: both of his parents, Jews, had been killed in concentration camps, and Father Karl himself had barely survived. He asks Jack what he is doing with his life, and warns him that if he keeps going the way he’s going, bad things will befall Jack. He asks Jack what he wants out of life, but Jack feels ashamed to admit that he wants money, success, and status, so he says he wants nothing. Father Karl asks Jack why he doesn’t just stop behaving badly, and Jack promises to try. Jack knows that Father Karl understands he has not “reached” Jack, because Jack is not available to be reached—he is “in hiding.”
Jack is so traumatized from all he has endured that he has gone into “hiding,” putting away the parts of himself capable of acknowledgement of what he has been through and the willingness to change. Father Karl, too, has suffered immensely, and yet his advice and pleas fall on deaf ears.
Later that week, Mr. Bolger tells Jack that the Welches have refused to accept his help—this, Mr. Bolger says, is the “ultimate punishment.” Jack is disappointed for a little while, but quickly gets over it.
Jack is self-involved, and doesn’t really care about the effects his actions have had on others, showing how he has internalized some of the negative qualities he has been trying to escape for years.