A Boys Own Story by Edmund WhiteOriginally published in 1982 as the first of Edmund Whites trilogy of autobiographical novels, A Boys Own Story became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. The books unnamed narrator, growing up during the 1950s, is beset by aloof parents, a cruel sister, and relentless mocking from his peers, compelling him to seek out works of art and literature as solace-and to uncover new relationships in the struggle to embrace his own sexuality. Lyrical and poignant, with powerful evocations of shame and yearning, this is an American literary treasure.
A Boy’s Own Story Reader’s Guide
The novel discusses topics such as the corruption of innocence, the pressures of masculinity in the lives of young boys, the emergence of childhood sexuality, and the exploration of humanity through the lens of homosexuality. The unnamed narrator of the novel quickly addresses the issues that he has in terms of his body and his sense of masculinity. The narrator notices that everything from the way he sits to the way he acts marks his body as Other, and he even goes as far as to point out that he often fails small and meaningless quizzes used to assess his masculinity:. The structure of this novel can seem slightly confusing, especially since it deviates from the traditional linear narrative that we have come to expect when reading coming-of-age novels. The first chapter, for instance, begins when the narrator is fifteen years-old. In this chapter, he painstakingly describes a relationship that he has with Kevin, the twelve year-old son of a guest that visits his summer home. In this chapter, the narrator describes how he paradoxically wants to be considered heterosexual while still being loved by a man.
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First published in , the narrator reminisces about his coming-of-age as a gay adolescent in s America. The world of the novel, at first, seems far from our contemporary discourse on civil unions and marriage equality.
He experiences daily life as nothing more than an unending series of humiliations, from his inability to connect with the students in his school to his alienation from his eccentric parents and mean-spirited sister. Indeed, he feels safe and whole only when reading books or spending time in nature. As a child, he frequently escapes into a richly imaginative fantasy life, featuring three imaginary friends, all with fully developed and often conflicting personalities, but once he reaches his teenage years his fantasy life becomes increasingly sexualized. He dreams of an older man who will take him away to live a life of refinement—far from the crudeness and inanity of this world. Unfortunately, in this world he must settle for much, much less—the attentions of a neighborhood boy, a hustler, or the sex-crazed Ralph from summer camp. The world he longs for and the world he lives in are so far apart that it seems impossible to bridge them.