This Boy’s Life

This Boy’s Life Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In West Seattle, Jack and Rosemary take up residence in a boardinghouse. They spend their time wandering the streets of their new city, pointing out nice houses and dreaming of living in them one day. Their actual room at the boardinghouse is small and mildewy. Rosemary befriends two women there—a pregnant woman named Kathy, who seems to be on her own, and the housekeeper, Marian, a large and boisterous woman. Jack and Marian dislike one another—she believes he is a troublemaker, and Jack resents her for thinking so.
Jack dislikes Marian because he knows that she sees through his act and understands what kind of kid he really is. Jack is, as the previous chapters have shown, petrified of encountering the truth about himself, or showing it off to anyone else. Marian should represent a way towards truth and acceptance, but instead she comes to represent, for Jack, a threat.
Themes
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Jack makes two friends in school, Terry Taylor and Terry Silver. All three boys have single mothers, and they spend their afternoons stealing cigarettes, bumming about town, and staring in the windows of pawn shops at guns and televisions which play documentaries about the Second World War and the dangers of fascism. Terry Silver, who is a clever but cruel child, owns a Nazi armband that he made himself and often prank calls people with Jewish-sounding last names to speak to them in fake German. He treats the other Terry and Jack like his lackeys, and the three of them together spend a lot of time practicing “looking cool.” Despite all their efforts to comb their hair just right and wear their pants slung low, all three boys are plagued by inescapable “uncoolness.”
Jack’s new friends aren’t just bad kids—they’re actually cruel, and relish seeing other people suffer at their hands. They don’t equate coolness with cruelty, per se, but it’s clear that because of this friendship, the two will, for Jack, forever be inextricably intertwined.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Many afternoons, the boys watch The Mickey Mouse Club on television and lust after one of the beautiful cast members, Annette. Jack begins writing fan letters to Annette in the same vein as his letters to Alice, describing his wild and adventurous life with his father, a captain who owns a fleet of fishing boats. When his letters receive lukewarm responses, Jack’s fantasies of Annette veer towards the violent, and he imagines being injured in a terrible accident, which Annette witnesses, and is so moved she decides to help nurse Jack back to health.
Jack, still unhappy with his life and uncertain of who he is, continues spending his time fantasizing through stories and letters—as his fantasies become more violent and self-deprecating, though, it becomes clear that his fantasies and explorations of other identities are perhaps doing more harm than good.
Themes
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Some afternoons, after The Mickey Mouse Club, the boys go up on the roof of Silver’s apartment building and throw eggs down at passing cars on the street below. The boys often hurl insults along with eggs—one afternoon, they pelt a cool teenager in a Thunderbird with eggs while Terry Silver screams “Yid!” at him again and again.
Terry Silver’s antisemitism and blatant cruelty foreshadow the kinds of friendships that Jack will continue to seek out almost against his will as his adolescence marches on—mirroring the ways in which Rosemary selects her ill-fated romantic partners.
Themes
Abuse Theme Icon
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