This Boy’s Life

Rosemary Character Analysis

Jack’s mother, Rosemary, is a kind woman with a painful past marked by abuse since her childhood. Rosemary often treats Jack as her equal, but doesn’t always fully divulge the truth of her feelings or impulses to him. Rosemary moves from one abusive relationship to another over the course of Jack’s childhood, and often unknowingly puts her son in harm’s way as a result. Rosemary seems unable to escape the trauma of her past, and seeks out relationships with controlling men because it’s all she’s ever known. She truly loves Jack, and as soon as she actually witnesses Dwight abusing him, gets him out of Dwight’s house as soon as possible. Rosemary is feisty, emotional but withdrawn, politically active, and, in a case of a Chekhov’s gun that never quite goes off, an expert markswoman.

Rosemary Quotes in This Boy’s Life

The This Boy’s Life quotes below are all either spoken by Rosemary or refer to Rosemary. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of This Boy’s Life published in 1989.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide. While we were waiting for it to cool we heard, from somewhere above us, the bawling of an airhorn. The sound got louder and then a big truck came around the comer and shot past us into the next curve, its trailer shimmying wildly. We stared after it.

"Oh, Toby," my mother said, "he's lost his brakes."

The sound of the horn grew distant, then faded in the wind that sighed in the trees all around us.

By the time we got there, quite a few people were standing along the cliff where the truck went over. It had smashed through the guardrails and fallen hundreds of feet through empty space to the river below, where it lay on its back among the boulders. It looked pitifully small.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker), Rosemary (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 2 Quotes

I was subject to fits of feeling myself unworthy, somehow deeply at fault. It didn't take much to bring this sensation to life, along with the certainty that everybody but my mother saw through me and did not like what they saw. There was no reason for me to have this feeling. I thought I'd left it back in Florida, together with my fear of fighting and my shyness with girls, but here it was, come to meet me.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker), Rosemary
Page Number: 11-12
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

I listened from the living room. My mother argued at first but Marian overwhelmed her. This time, by God, she was going to make my mother see the light. Marian didn't have all the goods on me, but she had enough to keep her going for a while and she put her heart into it, hitting every note she knew in the song of my malfeasance.

It went on and on. I reheated upstairs to the bedroom and waited for my mother, rehearsing answers to the charges Marian had made against me. But when my mother came into the room she said nothing. She sat for a while on the edge of her bed, rubbing her eyes; then, moving slowly, she undressed to her slip and went into the bathroom and drew herself a bath, and lay in the water for a long time as she sometimes did when she got chilled coming home at night in a cold rain.

I had my answers ready but there were no questions. After my mother finished her bath she lay down and read, then fixed us dinner and read some more. She turned in early. Answers kept coming to me in the dark, proofs of my blamelessness that I knew to be false but could not stop myself from devising.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker), Rosemary, Marian
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11 Quotes

Now I saw her only when Dwight agreed to drive me down with him. He usually had reasons for leaving me behind, the paper route or schoolwork or something I had done wrong that week. But he had to bring me sometimes, and then he never let me out of his sight. He stuck close by and acted jovial. He smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder and made frequent reference to fun things we'd done together. And I played along. Watching myself with revulsion, aghast at my own falsity yet somehow helpless to stop it, I simpered back at him and laughed when he invited me to laugh and confirmed all his lying implications that we were pals and our life together a good one. Dwight did this whenever it suited his purpose, and I never let him down.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker), Dwight, Rosemary
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 16 Quotes

Whenever I was told to think about something, my mind became a desert. But this time I had no need of thought, because the answer was already there. I was my mother's son. I could not be anyone else's. When I was younger and having trouble learning to write, she sat me down at the kitchen table and covered my hand with hers and moved it through the alphabet for several nights running, and then through words and sentences until the motions assumed their own life, partly hers and partly mine. I could not, cannot, put pen to paper without having her with me. Nor swim, nor sing. I could imagine leaving her. I knew I would, someday. But to call someone else my mother was impossible.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker), Rosemary
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
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Rosemary Character Timeline in This Boy’s Life

The timeline below shows where the character Rosemary appears in This Boy’s Life. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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The young Tobias and his mother Rosemary are on a road trip across the Midwest when their car boils over and... (full context)
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The year is 1955, and Toby and his mother are driving from Florida to Utah to get away from a man his mother is... (full context)
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The day after the truck goes over the cliff, Rosemary and Toby arrive in Utah, but find they are months too late—the uranium boom has... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...less effeminate and more representative of the kind of boy he wants to be. His mother doesn’t like the idea, but agrees to it on one condition—that Jack attend catechism classes,... (full context)
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...that his father’s family was actually Jewish and converted to hide their religious background. Jack’s mother, however, “pleased by [his] father’s show of irritation,” decides to take her son’s side, and... (full context)
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...the feeling is unfounded, he worries that no one actually likes him, other than his mother. He especially worries that Sister James feels he is flawed and bad, and he begins... (full context)
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Each night, Jack goes home to his mother—and to Roy. Roy has followed them to Utah, and though he’s rented a room across... (full context)
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Many afternoons, Roy, with Jack in the car, drives to the building where Rosemary works, waits for her to leave and start her walk home, then follows her in... (full context)
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Back at the house, Rosemary is cooking and listening to Christmas music. Roy interrogates her about her day, and when... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...weapon is the “first condition” of the Western self-sufficiency and grit he longs to espouse. Rosemary protests, insisting the gun is not an appropriate present, but after a few days of... (full context)
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...at a squirrel and kills it. Jack hurriedly puts his gun away, and when his mother comes home, he tells her that there is a dead squirrel into the street. Together,... (full context)
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...goes over and retrieves the envelope. He reads the note inside; it is addressed to Rosemary, and asks for her to give Sister James a call. Jack burns the letter and... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...thinks about the idea of having a baby brother, and tells him that he and Rosemary are thinking of starting a family together. Jack doesn’t react much to the idea, responding... (full context)
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When Jack comes home from school, Rosemary has almost all of their things packed. She asks Jack to make sure there’s nothing... (full context)
Chapter 5
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In West Seattle, Jack and Rosemary take up residence in a boardinghouse. They spend their time wandering the streets of their... (full context)
Chapter 6
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One afternoon, Rosemary takes Jack down to the harbor to watch a mock naval battle and airshow. As... (full context)
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...house, his friend Judd makes Jack a baloney sandwich while the other man, Gil, and Rosemary watch the show from the window. As the men ask Jack questions about himself, like... (full context)
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That evening, back at the boarding house, Rosemary gets ready for a date with Gil—he has invited her out. She gets all dolled... (full context)
Chapter 7
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After a while, Marian, Kathy, and Rosemary decide to rent a house together. Rosemary finds a “scabrous eyesore” of a house in... (full context)
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Rosemary never disciplines Jack. Her father, a “great believer in the rod,” had spanked her every... (full context)
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...Kathy and Marian both receive offers of engagement from their beaus. They try to fix Rosemary up, too, but the many suitors they send her way aren’t right for her. They... (full context)
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Dwight keeps coming to call on Rosemary, though, and pays her “puppyish, fawning” attention on their dates. Jack, from what he observes... (full context)
Chapter 8
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That year, Jack and Rosemary arrive in Chinook the day before Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with Dwight and his... (full context)
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...live in is not really a house—it is a converted war barracks. After the meal, Rosemary and Dwight go out with friends while Norma, Pearl, Jack, and Skipper clean up and... (full context)
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...Day, after breakfast, Dwight packs everyone into the car and drives them all around, giving Rosemary and Jack a tour of Chinook—a company village owned by Seattle City Light. The nearest... (full context)
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...he is as surprised as Jack, but Jack can tell that the man is lying. Rosemary, who is an NRA member, asks an official if she can shoot in Jack’s place... (full context)
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Back at the house, their whole group enjoys a peaceful and calm Thanksgiving dinner; Rosemary is electrified by her win and tells stories about her and Jack’s past and their... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Rosemary arrives and, having spoken with the school nurse, asks the vice-principal how he could have... (full context)
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...principal, unsure of how to handle the situation, tries to give Jack a suspension, but Rosemary argues with this punishment, and the principal agrees to let Jack off the hook just... (full context)
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Jack listens from the other room as Marian tells Rosemary all about what a bad kid Jack is. He hears his mother trying to stick... (full context)
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That weekend, Dwight comes to visit. After he leaves, Rosemary tells Jack that Dwight has made a proposal, which she feels “bound to consider.” Dwight... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Jack misses his mother, who, in the weeks since Christmas, has still refused to give Dwight a firm answer... (full context)
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In March, Rosemary finally gives Dwight a date for when she’ll move up to Chinook. Dwight immediately begins... (full context)
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Rosemary tries one last time to impress upon Jack that it isn’t too late to change... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Rosemary helps Jack take a shower and clean his cuts and bruises. Pearl urges Rosemary to... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Rosemary, meanwhile, is excelling in the rifle club and having a grand time, making all kinds... (full context)
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...shooting matches in other towns, Dwight makes Jack and Pearl come along with him and Rosemary. After each match Rosemary wins, Dwight becomes sullen and cruel, and on the drive back... (full context)
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...even fantasizes about killing the man, and sometimes, when he can hear Dwight and his mother fighting in the next room, he takes out his Winchester and assembles it. Rosemary is... (full context)
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One evening, after Rosemary wins a rifle match and she and Dwight go into the tavern to drink, Pearl... (full context)
Chapter 16
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One afternoon, rifling through his mother’s things while she’s out, Jack finds a letter to her from his uncle, who lives... (full context)
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One afternoon, weeks later, Rosemary catches Jack at the front door as he’s coming back from his paper route and... (full context)
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...consider coming to Paris by himself to live with their family for a year, while Rosemary leaves Dwight and finds work stateside. Rosemary asks Jack what he thinks about the plan,... (full context)
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Jack is disheartened, but Rosemary urges Jack to seriously consider his uncle’s generous offer. Jack is concerned about having to... (full context)
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Jack knows, however, that there is nothing to think about—he is his mother’s son, and cannot be anyone else’s. He feels this on an instinctual level, and also... (full context)
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...has already changed his first name and “might as well” change his last name, too. Rosemary interjects, begging Dwight to stop badgering Jack. (full context)
Chapter 17
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...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,... (full context)
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...Jack is in bed by the time she comes back, crying loudly to Pearl and Rosemary in the kitchen. (full context)
Chapter 18
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...money to run away to Alaska under an assumed name. He plans to send for Rosemary once he’s gotten settled there, and spends a lot of time fantasizing about the tearful... (full context)
Chapter 19
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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... (full context)
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...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?’” (full context)
Chapter 20
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...the night sleeping in the woods. The following morning when he returns home, Dwight and Rosemary ask him where he’s been. When he replies that he got drunk and fell off... (full context)
Chapter 22
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It’s not just a tough time for Jack—Rosemary, too, is also suffering at Dwight’s hands. Having returned from a fun jaunt campaigning for... (full context)
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...and Community Service, Jack knows that he’ll never be admitted. He lies and tells his mother that he has sent the forms off—he tells himself that he is being “realistic,” but... (full context)
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...the summer with him and Geoffrey. Jack’s father confides in him that he wants for Rosemary to come, too, so that they can all be a family again. Before hanging up,... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...When he comes to his senses, he is sitting on the couch drenched in sweat. Rosemary comforts Jack and tells him that it’s “all over;” she promises Jack that they are... (full context)
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Rosemary talks to Chuck Bolger’s parents, and they agree to take Jack in for a few... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...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... (full context)
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Rosemary arrives the next day. She talks with the Bolgers for a couple of hours, and... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...cries himself to sleep. Jack wishes he could comfort him like he used to comfort Rosemary, but he knows there’s nothing he can do. (full context)
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Rosemary comes to pick Jack up from school one afternoon and takes him out for a... (full context)
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Jack and Rosemary discuss Dwight. Rosemary says that she doesn’t understand why Dwight even wants her to stick... (full context)
Chapter 28
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After Rosemary leaves for Seattle, Pearl becomes despondent. Jack often sits with her at school lunch, and... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...stories of the women he’s dallying with there. Seeing “which way the wind [is] blowing,” Rosemary decides not to join the boys in La Jolla. (full context)
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That fall, Jack goes off to school, and Rosemary follows him East, taking a job in Washington, D.C. Over the Christmas holidays, while Jack... (full context)