Maternal Obligations - A Paper Written on Tobias Wolff's Memoir This Boy's Life

Maternal Obligations - A Paper Written on Tobias Wolff's Memoir This Boy's Life

Herbert Ward once said “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” In Tobias Wolff’s memoir, This Boy’s Life, Rosemary Wolff’s childhood causes her own parenting skills to suffer and reflect her past. This failure is much more evident in the novel than in the film. Rosemary is a loving mother to her child Tobie, but her abusive childhood causes her to live a life where she shadows her mother’s qualities and choices in men. This undermines her ability to assert authority over her son, and provide a suitable environment for him to live in, portraying her as a bad mother.

Rosemary Wolff is portrayed as an important figure to her son Tobie, and has only good intentions for her him. She understands him. Toby realizes this, and loves her in return."Everybody but my mother saw through me." However, her good intentions and love for her son do not make Rosemary a `proper` or `good` mother figure. Her attitude towards him distorts her logic, and because of this she makes judgments that are provoked by her emotional state, and creates misleading ideas that are damaging to Tobie, regardless of her true and good intentions. Rosemary thinks that she is providing Toby with a stable and loving home when she marries Dwight, but in fact, she is doing the exact opposite. Trying to escape from her childhood results Rosemary being passive and without authority. She feels that by not reprimanding Toby and setting boundaries that she is doing well by him because she is not acting like her father. All her good intentions are clouded by her inability to escape her past and they end up harming her and her son.

Many women say that they will be nothing like their own mother when they grow up. As a response mothers often tell their daughters that they will in fact be a reflection of them, and will in fact end up with a man similar to their own father. This concept is strongly portrayed in the novel This Boy’s Life but not as much in the film. During the course of the memoir we learn about Rosemary`s childhood. Born to an abusive father and passive mother, Rosemary was bound to reflect some of her family’s past in her own life. While her father abused her mother and herself; her mother allowed this violence and didn’t respond to it. She let her husband walk all over her for the entire length of their marriage. Rosemary is a reflection of her mother. Although Rosemary is mindful not to treat her children like her father did, she is attracted to men who use violence to assert their authority and power. She is passive like her mother, and takes the abuse from the men she dates who are in fact just like her father. The best example is Rosemary marrying Dwight. Dwight is cruel, and only has one goal, to humiliate and corrupt anyone and everyone. In the film, Dwight is very stern in letting Rosemary know that he is the man in the house and strict about making sure that what he says goes. "This is my house and I get the say!" is Dwight’s mantra in the novel. In the book, there are many more situations that describe this. The abuse of Dwight to Toby is consistent and methodical. He is constantly verbally abusive towards Toby, putting him down and berating him every at every opportunity. In the movie, however, the abuse is much more violent and physical than that portrayed in the novel. Perhaps this is for dramatic effect; however it does change the view of the dynamics between Dwight and Toby. The worst of Dwight's violence is focussed on Tobie, just like Rosemary`s father was exceptionally cruel to her. Toby therefore had no choice but to remain helpless by Dwight's persistent authority over him. The movie simply makes the scenes between Dwight, Tobie and Rosemary much more violent than what really happened in the novel, yet it does not change the story.

Rosemary refusal to punish Jack and to set boundaries that are necessary for a teenager is a result of her failure to establish and assert herself as an authority figure. She constantly restrains herself from physically or verbally reprimanding her son, more apparently in the novel. In the movie, though we see the actual situations where Rosemary does not set boundaries for Toby, in the novel her struggle is more obvious. Rosemary introduces Toby to violence when she allows him to keep the Winchester .22 rifle that Roy sent him as a gift. Although at first, Rosemary tells her son that he cannot keep the weapon; her passivity comes into play after Toby complains for days. She eventually allows him to keep it. Her struggle is very obvious in the book; however, she does give in. In the film, it was actually a few seconds before she changed her mind to allow him to keep the riffle. She gives much less thought to the idea in the film than in the movie. She doesn’t seem to `care` as much in the film, and seems more self centered than she actually is in the memoir. We see her inability to set boundaries in both mediums; however, her personal struggle with this issue is clearer in the memoir. Toby’s exposure to this violent weapon, and his lack of guidance from his mother, causes him to involve himself in violence. An example of this is when he fights Arthur Gale. It turns out to be a fist fight where Arthur “can’t see out of one eye." As a mother, Rosemary should have realised that a child owning a riffle can only bring violent behaviour. Rosemary’s actions are the direct consequence of her own abusive childhood. She is deeply scarred by the violence and cruelty that she experienced from her father. While her feelings are justified, it is they are extremely harmful to Tobie as he is growing up with no sense of discipline and with a propensity towards violence.

Although is it shown in the film how Toby involved himself with a bad crowd, and began to smoke, and cause trouble as a result of the way Rosemary is parenting him; the memoir gives much more description and different circumstances to demonstrate this behaviour. Toby’s lack of discipline due to Rosemary’s refusal to reprimand him and set boundaries is very apparent when Toby is an accomplice in stealing gasoline from Mr. Welch. Rosemary does not discipline him or insist on his giving his apology. Shed begs for his explanation as to why and deals with the problem by accepting the Bolger’s invitation to take in Toby. The movie does not show this entire situation, nor many other instances of Toby getting into trouble. It also leaves out the scene where Rosemary allows the Bolgers to take him in. It is for this reason that this flaw in Rosemary as a mother and its repercussions is more apparent in the book.

Rosemary constantly runs away from all of her difficulties, whether they are caused by Toby or violent men. She cannot cope with situations. She doesn’t realise that while she is running away to find a better life for her and her son, Rosemary is not thinking about the impact that it has on Tobie. She is very involved in finding herself a husband to support and care for her and Tobie. She moves from relationship to relationship, and when each one proves unhealthy, she runs. She moves from man to man and sometimes even from state to state searching for a stable home environment. Her irregular and random love life provides Toby with a chaotic and unstable home as a teenager that he is desperately hoping for. His hatred of the way he lives is described by using the word pain. He says that “Happiness is endless happiness, innocent of its own sure passing. Pain is endless pain." Rosemary’s well-meaning choices are confirmed destructive, such as her marrying Dwight, which causes the most pain to Toby. She marries him to provide Toby with a stable home. Even though, her attempts to assume a family-oriented way of life are meant to serve her with reward, Rosemary suffers for it as does Toby. It is never her intention to inflict harm on Toby or on herself but she does it subconsciously.
It is clear that Rosemary loves her son very much but as much as she is trying to be a good mother, she ends up being a bad one because of her lack of disciplinary rules, inability to declare authority over her son and the incapability to provide a stable life for her son and herself. “Something that at first seems promising and then resistant and finally hopeless.”The relationship that Toby has with his mother is a very strong bond. But this is portrayed differently in the book as she is more involved and seems to `care` more about her son, than in the film. I think the film portrays more of a negative relationship between Tobie and his mother. In reality they have a loving relationship, and endure all hardships by each other’s side. However, as much as Rosemary tries to provide for her son, her own childhood, ruins her and prohibits her from doing so. This major flaw in Rosemary and how it affects her and her son’s life is the overall message of this story. The book, because it has the liberty of detail, brings in Rosemary’s past and much more description and detail. This helps the book to be more effective at making this point and helping us to understand her. I feel that the message and truth of Rosemary and the life she ended up having for herself and her child were stronger in the book than the movie.