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“This Boy’s Life” a Story by Tobias Wolff

‘This boy’s life ‘written by Tobias Wolf is a story about Toby Wolf a young man who is left to live life on his own as the people around him are too preoccupied or too self-centered to pay any attention to him. His mother is a self-centered woman who gets involved with men with violent behaviors who don’t pay any attention to Toby.

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His very rich father lives with Toby’s brother and doesn’t show any interest in him and as a result, Toby is left alone and this greatly affects him. He finds refuge in the comfort of his fantasies as he cannot meet the things he desires in life.

He wishes to impress his mother together with the people around him though he does not make any effort to meet this. Though the fantasies are only imagined, they offer some sort of comfort to Jack and he believes that his dreams will come true someday.

The essay ‘cultural Baggage’ by Barbara Ehrenreich, on the other hand, is an essay about the author’s search for cultural identity. The assumption that she made is about the reasons why people choose to adhere to particular religious or ethnic heritage and she is trying to find her own identity. Barbara Ehrenreich becomes ashamed when it becomes clear that she does not have a cultural identity. When an acquaintance asks her about the origin of her people, she replies that she has none.

This fact continues to haunt her as she desires to have a cultural identity that she will show with. She is confused and does not know whether she has a cultural background or not. This appears when she says there had been several dead ends in the family tree due to adoptions, missing records, failing memories, and the like and she rhetorically wonders whether she did not have a heritage or that she was rejecting her heritage due to her out of Anglo-Celtic self-hatred.

The two authors in ‘This boy’s life’ and the ‘Cultural baggage’ both illustrate the theme of self-identity as the characters fight to discover themselves. In “This boy’s life”, the theme of self-identity is an issue that is broadly dealt with by the author. Toby’s parents got divorced when Toby was very young and this resulted in the family is divided into two. Toby lives with the mother while the father goes to live with his brother ( Wolff 3).

This has a devastating effect on Toby’s life as he does not have a father figure to look up to. As a result, he feels powerless to something he must face hence becoming conditioned to it. He associates with people who instead of helping him, work to further break and undermine his self-confidence an exam. Furthermore, the people he associates with because of lack of mentorship from his parents’ results to him associating himself with bad people, and he even desires like them.

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This is similar to what Barbara in “Cultural baggage” goes through. She doesn’t know anything about her ethnic and religious backgrounds. This is because her family doesn’t uphold any cultural show and discourages their children from adopting any culture. This results in her confusion over what and who she should show with.

She says that her mother never introduced her to any domestic procedure on how her predecessors did things. This was because her mother despised things of the past as she regards the as backward and barbaric. She further tells us that her parents generally regarded new things as better than old ones and they, as a result, discouraged the children from adopting any cultural identity (Ehrenreich 1).

In “This boy’s life”, the theme of self-identity becomes illustrated as Toby constantly struggles to find out who he thinks he is and what or who he wants to become. Toby and his mother Rosemary are constantly on the move which makes it hard for him to identify where he comes from and who he is. He is trying to find a sense of belonging and as he does so, he gets into trouble.

Toby’s life is chaotic and characterized by frequent movements which make it extremely hard for him to know who he is. Even when he and his mother finally settle down, Toby finds the environment unfriendly and not conducive for his personal development and he turns out to a confused young man. As a result of being abandoned by his father, Jack craves for power and control so that he can protect his mother. This is because he and his mother have undergone many instances of violence in the hands of his stepfathers and when Roy gives him a Winchester rifle, he gets overjoyed. The riffle passion gives him a lot of ecstasy because of the little authority he now has.

Because of his lack of love in Jack’s life, he gets infatuated when he meets Annette since he cannot express himself to her; he resorts to the escapades that his imagination provides. He fantasizes about Annette’s love and just as he does for his mother and the father’s love. Jack is very close to his mother and their relationship is that of parent to child. In this case, however, Jack acts as the parent for his mother, consoling her when she is hurt by her relationships. In a way, this leads to Jack maturing earlier than children would.

Jack in his attempt to recreate himself studied a book called “The status seekers”. This book guides him on how his origins can become betrayed so that one can infiltrate the upper-class.

He desires to leave home so that he can go to a place where his reputation is not damaged like the way it is in Chinook. He plans to run away from home so that he can go to a place where he will experience love and acceptance. His feelings arise because of his lack of love in his life which has led to continually seek his self-identity.

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He has devised a way of escaping reality by telling lies to him and others. It is well-known that Jack has poor grades in school but he forges recommendation letters so that people can think that he is bright. His struggles with himself are clear when he changes his name from Toby to Jack London.

Jack dreams of becoming a successful young man to help his mother who lives in poverty. He, therefore, sees the change of his name as significant and symbolic of his self-transformation. He chose the name Jack London after the famous noble admirable and brave author Toby sees as his idol. He thinks that by changing his name he becomes more like the real Jack London and even possesses his characters.

His wishes and hopes for success are because he fears that he is going to fail his mother like the way his father had done. His earlier feelings of unworthiness after being abandoned also motivate his visions of becoming a hero to help his mother.

In ‘Cultural baggage’ the author faces self-identity issues as she has no cultural identity. Barbara desires to have an ethnic and religious heritage which she can show with. She has been subjected to many incidences that make her wish more to have a cultural identity.

She says that throughout the sixties and seventies she had watched one group after another stand-up and proudly reclaim their roots while she just sank back ever deeper into her seat. She thinks that by marrying a man with Eastern European-Jewish ancestry she would enable her to acquire this. She even subjects her children to do things she considers cultural to acquire an ethnic and religious background like forcing them to partake of the Jewish Passover feast.

The theme of self-identity is further illustrated by the fact that Toby does not have much impression about his father. The family separated after Toby’s father and mother divorced. As a result, Toby goes to live with his mother while the brother goes to live with his father.

He does not have an example to follow and this results in him associating himself with bad company. Therefore Toby changing his personalities many times depends on which kind of person he wants to become. Since he lives with his mother Toby has to fight for identity and self-respect from his stepfathers who are hostile towards him.

This further contributes to Jack’s feelings of guilt and unworthiness which are a result of his failure to protect his mother and give for her. He had to live with both Roy and Dwight who mistreat him and his mother. Though he is still just a child jack had to deal with all these problems.

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To escape all these jack escapes into the world of fantasy where he can find some comfort. All the happenings in his life make him feel guilty about his existence and he, therefore, loathes his life which he believes hinders his mother from enjoying her life and freedom.

In ‘Cultural baggage’, the author dislikes the fact that she has no cultural identity. She detests the fact that her parents did not teach her about her cultural roots which result in her everlasting search for self-identification.

The two authors in addressing the theme of self-identity in both texts were quite successful in bringing it to the reader’s attention. They have also highlighted some of the problems that self-identity issues can bring and through this theme, the two authors manage to communicate to the readers know means it is for parents to play their role in the upbringing of their children.

The two texts are very relevant in today’s world characterized by many couples divorcing hence causing trauma to their children. It also shows cultural identity importance in influencing people’s lives. Furthermore, as the story becomes narrated, the plot gets developed through the themes in the texts which help the story to grow.

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Cultural Baggage.” New York Times, 1992.Print

Wolff, Tobias. This Boy’s Life, New York, Grove Press: 1st Grove Press Ed edition. 2000. Print

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