Influence of Others
Many people would say that someone has influenced and even helped them become who they are. This is sometimes their mother, father, older sibling, or another authority figure such as a church leader or teacher.
They look up to this person and strive to be better because of them. When they are young they may even dream of being just like their role model. As a child though Tobias Wolff didn’t have anything like this. For him there were no strong adult figures to emeluate. In the opening of the book he is already on his way to a new home. This will be at least his third, the first one with his mother and father before their divorce, and the second home, the one he is leaving at the start of the book, was his home in Florida with Roy, his mother’s boyfriend who she is trying to escape. Both of these men , Roy and his father have already had a huge impact on Toby. Do these people in Toby’s life change who he is, or is he already just what he is, and it isn’t anyone’s fault but his own.
Early on it is clear that Toby is influenced by his father by his strong desire to do exactly what his father does not want him to do. His father named him Tobias; he wants to be called Jack now. His father is Protestant; Toby is taking catechism classes. This is in stark contrast to another man who is in Toby’s life, Roy. While Toby’s father strives to be a part of W.A.S.P society wanting to have the prestige and money associated with this group Roy seems content living off of his small inheritance and disability checks. Roy goes hunting and fishing, and was in the military all things that Toby is interested in. The thing that Toby was most interested in though was shooting; it was something that he and Roy did together. Or is it just because he is a boy that he is interested in those activities. Roy gave him a gun, and the two of them would go out into the desert to shoot together. From the book this seems like the only quality father son time he had with any man, which might explain his continued interest in guns, and particularly his attachment to the gun that Roy gave him. I think that this also might have been a part of the reason Tobias Wolff went into the military, plus he liked to dress up in his military uniform. Roy was a large influence in his life. Toby’s name change to Jack, after Jack London could also be attributed to his desire to be more like Roy, just like Roy ,Jack London is an avid outdoorsmen and both men would symbolize masculinity to Toby.
Throughout the book it seems as if Toby is on his way to becoming a pathological liar, but is that really his fault? His father constantly lies so that people will have a better image of him. He pretends that Tobias is a family name, and that he is from an Episcopalian family. To me this doesn’t seem any different than when Toby tells people lies about himself that he got the idea for from the books he read. Toby’s father also made his own coat of arms, and bought furniture that looked like it had been in his family for years, which doesn’t seem that different than Toby faking his grade cards both to his family and the school that he attends as well as faking letters of recommendation. There isn’t anything wrong with it, that’s just what you do to get ahead or at least that’s what he learned from his father. Is he just trying to impress people? His mother, being directly in his life for most of the book, other than his time alone with Dwight, was a huge influence on who he was. I think it was from her that he learned to have these very unlikely dreams, like going to Alaska, and have his partial loss with reality at hard times, like thinking he won’t get caught for doing something with the odds are clearly against him. His mother tells him stories of her glamorous life before the great depression. Her father was a rich man, they had a large house, almost a castle really and she was famous. She had been a part of the Beverly Hills Float which had even won a prize that year. When her father was at sea “she and her mother lived a dream life in which, for days at a time they played the part of sisters”. (Wolff p.5) It seems like Toby could have started taking his imaginary play too far just like his mother or father. I think that Toby might have seen cars as a status symbol because of his mother as well. In her stories she always talked about how grand they were, strongly associating them with wealth. This might have been a part of him egging a man’s thunderbird and his keen awareness of his boarding school sponsor’s car.
Another strong influence in Tobias Wolff’s life was Dwight, the man that married his mother, becoming his stepfather. Dwight tried very hard to influence Toby when he came to live with him, trying to fix him. Before Tony was living with him he already had a few behavior problems, but his time with Dwight magnified these. Dwight was always telling Toby what was wrong with him, how he was a thief and a liar. This was true but under Dwight’s care these characteristics seemed to flourish. I think that this is something that Toby did to spite him, just like he did to his father when he rejected all of his made up traditions. Something that he did take directly from Dwight though was fighting. Dwight was proud of him when he fought, maybe the only time he was proud of him, and taught him moves and gave him advice.
As Toby got older his brother became another influence on him. Just like his brother had done he strived to go to a prep school. He wanted his brother to be proud of him, so he told him lies about his grades, about being a swimmer, and about being an eagle scout. When his brother sent him a sweatshirt from his college Toby wore it everywhere and even got a haircut that had the name of an Ivy League school. I think that this is also where Toby first decided to become a writer, because of his brothers desire to be one, and that his brother encouraged him. Did these influences around Toby make him who he was, or were the parts of him solely himself?