This Boy’s Life

The Rifle Symbol Icon

While Jack and Rosemary are still living in Utah, Rosemary’s abusive boyfriend Roy—who has stalked Rosemary and Jack to Utah from Florida, refusing to give up his grip on them—gifts Jack a Winchester. 22 rifle just after Easter. Jack has longed for the rifle for a while—he sees it as “the first condition of self-sufficiency and of being a real Westerner” and feels the rifle “complete[s]” him. Despite Rosemary’s protestations, Roy purchases the rifle for Jack to practice his shooting. The rifle, then, is a symbol of the larger way in which abuse and manipulation works. Having been traumatized by watching his mother being stalked, abused, and cowed into staying in a toxic relationship, Jack feels the only way to be complete and self-sufficient is to possess a firearm, a means to violence. Roy, despite knowing the rifle’s lethal potential, gives it to Jack as a way of attempting to cement the boy’s attachment to him and frame himself as a benevolent force in his life rather than what he actually is: a manipulative abuser who wants total control over both Rosemary and Jack.

The Rifle Quotes in This Boy’s Life

The This Boy’s Life quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Rifle. 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 3 Quotes

Roy stored his ammunition in a metal box he kept hidden in the closet. As with everything else hidden in the apartment, I knew exactly where to find it. There was a layer of loose .22 rounds on the bottom of the box under shells of bigger caliber, dropped there by the handful the way men drop pennies on their dressers at night. I took some and put them in a hiding place of my own. With these I started loading up the rifle. Hammer cocked, a round in the chamber, finger resting lightly on the trigger, I drew a bead on whoever walked by—women pushing strollers, children, garbage collectors laughing and calling to each other, anyone—and as they passed under my window I sometimes had to bite my lip to keep from laughing in the ecstasy of my power over them, and at their absurd and innocent belief that they were safe.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker), Roy
Related Symbols: The Rifle
Page Number: 25
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Though I avoided the apartment, I could not shake the idea that sooner or later I would get the rifle out again. All my images of myself as I wished to be were images of myself armed. Because I did not know who I was, any image of myself, no matter how grotesque, had power over me. This much I understand now. But the man can give no help to the boy, not in this matter nor in those that follow. The boy moves always out of reach.

Related Characters: Jack / Tobias (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Rifle
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Rifle Symbol Timeline in This Boy’s Life

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Rifle appears in This Boy’s Life. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Abuse Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Just after Easter, Roy gives Jack a present: a Winchester .22 rifle. Roy had carried it as a boy, and he now passes it on... (full context)
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Jack cleans the rifle, then puts it together and marches around the apartment with it, then dons one of... (full context)
Abuse Theme Icon
Jack loads the gun with ammo—he knows where Roy’s hiding place is—and continues playing sniper at the front window.... (full context)
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
...the open window, Jack, shoots 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... (full context)
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
...his friends, he cannot “shake the idea” that sooner or later he will get the rifle out again. All his images of himself as he wishes to be are armed. Because... (full context)
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
As the days go by, Jack begins taking out the rifle, cleaning it, and playing with it again without loading it. One afternoon, playing with his... (full context)
Chapter 4
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
...they’re going somewhere, and she replies that they’re going to Seattle—without Roy. Jack retrieves his rifle; Rosemary says it can’t come with them, but Jack insists, and she adds it to... (full context)
Chapter 8
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
...fun of the trip to Chinook for Jack is the chance to participate in the rifle club’s turkey shoot. Dwight essentially bribed Jack into coming by telling him he could bring... (full context)
Chapter 15
Storytelling and Escapism Theme Icon
Identity and Performance Theme Icon
Abuse Theme Icon
...can hear Dwight and his mother fighting in the next room, he takes out his Winchester and assembles it. Rosemary is not the only one subject to Dwight’s violent taunts—he often... (full context)
Chapter 19
Abuse Theme Icon
...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... (full context)