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A Comparative Study on Main Characters' Mean of Self-expression in Novels This Boy's Life and into The Forest

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In the novels This Boy’s Life and Into the Forest, both protagonists similarly utilize self expression as method to recreate themselves and escape a worse alternative. Throughout the novel, Tobias and the two sisters are plunged into harsh conditions where they must care for themselves. To keep themselves sane, they force a hobby or mentality in order to keep a goal in front of them, rather than accepting their current situation, almost to say that they are unaccepting of their current substandard condition.

Tobias indulges within the Jack London novels to the extent that he idolizes their heroic figures and changes his name to Jack, so to set standards of himself in order to become something greater. “I was subject to fits of feeling myself unworthy… It didn’t take much to bring this sensation to life, along with the certainty that everybody but my mother saw through me and did not like what they saw.” Eva, in contrast, expresses herself through ballet, seemingly to distract herself from the decrepit and deprived life she loosely maintains in the isolated shack with her family. As the power goes out and she does not have the resources to play music or attend the dance school, she subjects to dancing to the tick of the metronome, even if her opportunity to perform on stage has long since expired. “I need to dance, Nell. I have to dance to music. Just for a few minutes. To give me courage.” Her everyday practice provides a sense of cathartic release to relinquish her pains and keep her mind isolated from the chaos around her. Both characters engage in an activity which in turn provide mental stability, for they set a goal to work for, no matter how unrealistic, to serve as a more meaningful reason to live in their spiteful situation.

Nell, unlike Tobias, had much direction in life, yet was unable to carry out her future because of the chaotic way society is maintaining itself, for Tobias aspired to transition from the weak boy into the men living in the stories he reads, in other words, and pseudo-inspiration. “When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights…and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we…have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever…” (Hegland 286). Here, Tobias shows his maturity in reflecting upon his life, explaining that our ambitions are very much a concrete part of our personality, that every dream we have will come to reality. However, it soon becomes apparent that life does not go as he planned it. He over glamorizes his life to his pen pal Alice, who he tries to describe the life he’d like to live, dreaming of transforming himself into the charmed young man he so desires to be. This contrasts heavily with Nell’s hopes, for she was had the skill, strive, and connections to perfect herself as a dancer, making her goal much more realistic. Yet, her days of dancing were put to an end due sudden poverty stricken condition of the the town. Nell, in comparison, had the opportunity to live out her dream as a dancer, whereas Tobias’s dreams are short lived, using the heroic figure to compensate for the lowly person he was at the time, making no attempt at realizing his fantasies.

In both stories, the characters both struggle for their own sense of survival through independence. “It’s a physical urge, stronger than thirst or sex. Halfway back on the left side of my head there is a spot that longs for the jolt of a bullet, that years for that fire, that final empty rip. I want to be let out of this cavern, to open up myself up to the ease of not-living. I am tired of sorrow and struggle and worry. I am tired of my sad sister. I want to turn out the last light.” (Hegland 248) Nell explains that the laborious extent it takes just to choose to live on is much more struggle than it is to choose to die. The simple life she was familiar with as a child in a family was easy; no need to plan for the food or shelter the day or the next. Tobias concedes with this, stating, “But our failure was ordained, because the real family we set out to imitate does not exist in nature.” As he grows up, he starts to see that his family aren’t the people to take care of him; he has to do that himself. Though his mother searches for a significant other for most of the story, he realizes that no matter how many times she may remarry, there will never exist a perfect family. In the end of it all, he will never be able to depend on someone else, his survival would be solely his responsibility.

As the plots of both stories develop, it becomes evident that they are both bothered by their past, and struggle to alleviate the pain inflicted as they grow up. “So my sister dances and the dead house burns, and i scrawl these last few words by the light of its burning. I know I should toss this story, too, on those flames. But I am still too much a storyteller -or at least a storykeeper – still too much of my father’s daughter to burn these pages.”. Nell and her sister dance on the ground her memories and childhood were built around in this moment of catharsis, so to rid themselves of the grief and pains the past has brought them. As Tobias grows up, he attempts to find new opportunities to recreate himself, to find reason to look forward instead of looking back. He marvels at the freedom of starting anew, yet is unable to find the sanctuary he longs for. As both Tobias and his mother eventually move away, he chooses to join the army to rid of his past, to finally become the hero he has imagined from the novels. Though both characters attempt at forgetting their grievances, they both deal with it in different ways, nell does it through catharsis while tobias tries to completely reorganize his life and persona, thus mitigating their growing pains.

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A Comparative Study on Main Characters’ Mean of Self-expression in Novels This Boy’s Life and into the Forest. (2019, January 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
“A Comparative Study on Main Characters’ Mean of Self-expression in Novels This Boy’s Life and into the Forest.” GradesFixer, 28 Jan. 2019,
A Comparative Study on Main Characters’ Mean of Self-expression in Novels This Boy’s Life and into the Forest. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].
A Comparative Study on Main Characters’ Mean of Self-expression in Novels This Boy’s Life and into the Forest [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jan 28 [cited 2022 Dec 8]. Available from:
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