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This Boys Life

Updated January 25, 2019
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This Boy’s Life # # This Boy’s Life In both the film and the book This Boy’s Life Tobias Wolff is surrounded by bad role models and terrible father figures.

Wolff and his mother are constantly looking for the complete family life and find themselves in a series of bad situations on their quest. In the book Toby’s relationship with his mother Rosemary is illustrated in a clear and deeper manner but the movie just didn’t seem to focus on it enough. This paper will evaluate the portrayal of Toby’s relationship with his mother and the men in their lives as told in the memoir and the film. The relationship that Toby has with his mother is a very strong bond. That is evident in the film and the book.

But what Toby lacks in both versions of this story is a good father figure, which his mother seems to be always on a journey to find for him. Early in the book Toby has several misadventures with bad influences, whether they are friends or father-like figures. Roy seems to be one of the first influences to really catch the reader’s eye. He follows Toby and his mother all the way to Utah from Florida mostly just to be with Rosemary. Roy uses Toby to get to Rosemary in many ways, for example when he buys Toby the rifle or when he takes him to spy on Rosemary at work and follow her home.

Roy makes this seem like it is a game to Toby and befriends him this way. This portrayal of Roy is very well done in the film, too. To me this is a very important part of the story in general, because after you read the book and see the film, almost all the men who come into Toby’s life treat him in some way like Roy treats him. Anything it took to get to his mother seems to be the theme of the story.

This behavior would have a very traumatizing effect on any young child at that time in their life, but with the influence Toby’s mother has on him he is always trying to find a way out of bad situations. Another example to this theme would be the chapter in the book when Toby and his mother go to Alkai Point to watch the mock naval battle and they run into the two men. They had left Roy not long before that and moved to Seattle so they could escape him again. This must have worked, finally, because Roy does not try to find them for the rest of the story. This chapter is not used in the film and probably could have been omitted from the book, but it described even more the willingness of Rosemary to fall into any relationship that came her way.

Toby seems to be jealous of these men giving his mother their attention and when they notice this they channel most of their attention on him. As the reader you automatically know what these guys are after, not the love for a boy or his favorite hobbies, but after the mother who just happens to be with him. And by acting like they are interested in Toby, they deceive Rosemary into thinking they are just nice guys. Eventually Rosemary gives in and meets with them that night and the outcome is very similar to her relationship with Roy. She comes home crying, feeling used, and taken advantage of. Moving forward very quickly, like the movie does.

Rosemary is very quick to find someone new to be involved with, in comes Dwight. Dwight’s character is portrayed very well in both the film and the book. Toby still does not have a father figure in his life and you can sense Rosemary’s urgency about getting one for him. Toby has now become a real troublemaker at school and on the streets. Wolff describes times when he and his friends would slam bikes into cars and steal and cause various problems. These are normal things for kids to do but some of those instances may have been a little extreme.

Rosemary does not feel that Toby is a bad kid, even though she hears that he is a troublemaker, but she desperately wants him to have a father figure in his life. She is reluctant at first that Dwight would be the one to fill the void for Toby. So she sends him to live with Dwight and his kids in Chinook. I really like the book’s description of the thoughts that Toby has about packing up again and starting over. He feels that he can be a whole new person that everyone likes and looks up to.

Toby felt that people like Marion and his principle already had bad ideas about him and that he never had a chance in Seattle. We know as readers and viewers that he was sort of a bad kid that just came from a broken family. Life with Dwight proves right away to be a terrible situation for Toby when Dwight starts putting him down on the car ride. This scene of the car ride is done very well in both the film and the book and is a very emotional turning point in Toby’s life.

He is not going to be living in a care free and easy going a way as he has in the past. Almost right away Dwight has several chores for him to do and a paper route to keep him busy after school. This proves to still be not enough for Toby because he finds a bad crowd to make friends with. Eventually Rosemary does marry Dwight and she moves to Chinook to finally make a complete family.

This is the strongest part of the film. The scene when Dwight and Rosemary are having sex is a really good account of why the two are not getting along, which the book does not go into describing to well. Dwight is very stern in letting Rosemary know that he is the man in the house and what he says goes. The book, however, gives many more accounts about the things that go on between Toby and Dwight, and the movie just makes these scenes more violent than what really happened. This is of course so the viewer does not get board with what has really happened between the two of them. Another part of the book that I personally enjoyed that was not in the film was when Toby found the old letters in his mother’s drawer from her brother.

The reason this was an important part of the whole story for me was that it showed that Toby was willing to do anything to get away from Dwight. The film only told one part of the story that I feel needed to be told. The reason Wolff grabs the reader in the way he does is because he tells several examples of ways he tried to get away from his abusive stepfather. Toby didn’t just try to get away from Dwight by applying to prep schools, like the film shows, he called his brother Geoffrey and tried to live with him at Princeton.

He even called his neglecting father and wanted to stay with him in California. He stole money from his paper route customers and was going to run away to Alaska. Toby also lived with Chuck Bolger and his family until he got accepted to the Hill school. All these accounts of Toby looking desperately for an escape were told in great detail by Wolff in an excellent way. He reels the reader in and leaves them anticipating the next outstanding account of his abusive life. Another reader sums up this story by saying, “If ever you’ve wondered what it’s like to be an adolescent boy caught between an irresponsible father and an abusive stepfather, here’s your chance.

In reading this book you become the boy and see life through his eyes. You live the consequences of a well- meaning mother who makes predictably poor choices in the men in her life. These choices leave her son adrift, confused and rebellious, unsure of where he belongs. He sets out to be a wise guy, masking the uncertainty he feels.

His stepfather, Dwight, masking his own demons and insecurities, also sets out on a mission to drive Toby down to his level. It’s to Toby’s credit that he doesn’t want to stay down and that’s enough of an edge. Instinctively using the creative license of his absent father, he finds a tenuous way out–enough of a break to set him on a better path.” (Salavarria) Of course the film could not add all these things that I feel make it weaker than the book. It would have become a short television series or something like that if all these things were added. The story had a very long list of characters and became very involved at some points, but I think this made the book interesting to more than one audience.

Some parts of Toby’s life were very comical and fun, some parts left you on the edge of your seat, making you wander why he did some of the more consequential things that he did. In closing I feel that the book did a much better job than the film of illustrating the life of Wolff. The book made Toby’s relationship with his mother and the men that were in their life much more dramatic. Book Reports.

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This Boys Life. (2019, Jan 25). Retrieved from