Brittany P., Naila S., Abby G., and Oliver E.


This Boy's Life is an unforgettable memoir starring the young Tobias Wolff, a troubled but determined child. Separated from his father and brother, Tobias and his mother take to the road and head to Utah in 1955. Relationships develop and perish as Toby fights for his identity and respect against antagonists like his new step-father. He moves from city to city with a na�ve mother who can't make up her mind; a boy who has no role-model ends up befriending troublemakers. Wolff does an incredible job of re-creating the troubles of his childhood with various schemes, such as: stealing cars, getting into fights, forging checks, and running away to Alaska.

History of time period in which the story was set

The book began in 1955, with the main characters in search of Uranium in Utah. This boom began in 1949 and lasted well into the 1980’s. Uranium was a critical material in the United States, used to fuel atomic weapons, electrical power, and electric operation of cars, trains, and planes. The most important use was a “nuclear edge in the cold war” (Utah History). The 1960’s were the Age of Youth as the “70 million children from the post-war baby boom became teenagers and young adults” (KCLibrary). College campuses became centers of debate and protest, with kids reaching military draft service age, but not voting age causing struggle. Schools were returning to the teaching of “basic thinking skills,” which were set to fix the problems discovered in the fifties (KCLibrary). In the 2010 census, the town of Concrete, Washington had a population of 705 (Concrete); in the 1960’s-70’s, it’s very likely that the population was smaller. Seattle experience a long, sustained economic boom, partially due to the airline giant Boeing’s success in the city (Seattle). When WWII started, tens of thousands of jobs were available to the citizens of Seattle.
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History of 1989

This Boy’s Life was written in 1989. During that year, the world population was 5.190 billion and George Herbert Walker Bush was inaugurated as the 41st US President
(HistoryOrb). Unemployment in the US was at 5.3%, the Median Household Income was $28,906 (current dollars) (Info Please). Along with this, life expectancy was 75.1 years old. In global history, tens of thousands of Chinese students took over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in a rally for democracy and chaos spreads across the nation. The U.S. troops invaded Panama, seeking leader Manuel Noriega (Info Please).

History of the story’s setting/location (If there are several settings, research them all)

There were multiple locations in which this story was set, but it primarily took place on the west coast. Toby and his mother spend a lot of their time in Utah and in Washington State. In Utah, the religions are pretty much split in half between Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). (US Religious Landscape Survey) (100) Utah also has an extremely high birth rate. (Deseret News) Some major industries of Utah include: mining and salt production. (History.Utah) During the early part of the Cold War era, uranium was mined in Utah. (Utah History) This connects to the book as Jack and his mom moved to Utah in the search of uranium. Today, petroleum and copper are mined in Utah. (Net State) In Washington State, they lived in Concrete and Seattle. There were 705 people who lived in Concrete in the 2010 census along with a majority race of 91.5% white. (Spokesman Review) In Seattle, aerospace is one of the major industries. (

Biography of author

Tobias Wolff was born June 19, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Encyclopedia of World Biographies) He went to Concrete High school in Washington and The Hill School. (Encyclopedia of World Biographies)Unfortunately, Wolff was later expelled from the Hill School. (Encyclopedia of World Biographies) He served in the US Army at the time of the Vietnam War and received an English degree from Hertford College in Oxford. The Independent Wolff taught at Syracuse University and was an instructor in the graduate writing program. (The Guardian) He is a writer working with the genres of memoir and short story. (The Guardian) Wolff grew up with his mom in Florida and various locations on the west coast while his older brother, Geoffrey, grew up with his Dad. (Encyclopedia of World Biographies) Wolff now married to Catherine Dolores Spohn and has three children named Michael, Patrick, and Mary Elizabeth. (Encyclopedia of World Biographies)

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Divorce rates did not go up as high until the 1980s.In contrast to now when divorce is as popular as law and order SVU on the television. For Tobias’ mom to leave her husband during that time period was exceptionally brave of her. So in that time period Tobias had a very unconventional upbringing. Now a days to see a single parent is as normal as brushing your teeth. In the 1950’s Tobias’ mom was probably pressured to find a husband. Unfortunately having a kid was taboo so she was stuck with Dwight.


A huge motif in the book was lying. Tobias was obsessed with everyone perception of him. He would manipulate the truth and has his mother complete fooled. He wanted everyone to think that he was some cool kid, how did not care about what they thought. Even though it was the complete opposite. Even in his letters to a pen pal when he was a little was a complete fabrication. Tobias was a kleptomaniac and a psychological liar. He was obsessed with being anybody but himself

Literary Movement

We believe that "This Boy's Life's literary movement was realism with a little bit of modernism present in the story. It was realism, because it's a memoir so it had a
very detailed account with an emphasis on the truth. The story was mostly an accurate depiction of reality and had plausible, realistic situations. The characters were more important than the plot in this story as all the characters had multiple layers and changed over the story. While at some moments there was powerful emotional instances, overall the book had little emotional intensity as he described important instances that were mostly realistic and not emotional. There is an interest in cause and effect relationships of the present as every relationship Toby writes about leads to something occurring like Dwight taking money from Toby and abusing him. Unlike a normal realistic book, the book was quite subjective, but it had a base in reality.

Reflection of Society and Initial Receiving

The book reflected the importance of father figures for Toby and the pain from being in an abusive relationship. In this society, divorce was not something thought highly of so Toby's mom being divorced and having these abusive relationships with Roy and Dwight displayed their effect on Toby and his mother. Also, the story reflected different types of parenting and types of family in this time period. Like how Rosemary wouldn't discipline Toby since her father heavily disciplined her, and Chuck's parents forgiving him no matter what he did. By family types they showed the single pregnant woman that society frowned on, Dwight raising his kids as a single dad till he met Rosemary, and Tyler lost his father to war and his mother couldn't get over it. It reflected some of the horrible themes that are still present in society like people loving to witness violence and rebellion. Like when Toby and other boys had to fight in the ring when caught misbehaving by Mr. Mitchell and him stealing gas from the Welches. Also, the story showed how people are obsessed with getting into a higher class like Toby trying to do things he thinks richer people tend to do like go to private schools and other stuff. The book was well received in the beginning and until now, it has won many awards, and eventually grown so popular that it was turned into a movie.