Old School

Lies: The Result of Shame and Self-consciousness

The narrator reread the story again, slower than he had before. He was baffled by how similar his own life had been in comparison to Susan Friedman’s story “Summer Dance”. It was a story about a girl from a Jewish, middle class family. It begins with Ruthie, the main character, who picks up a used cigarette bud found on the ground and hops aboard bus, making her way back to her brick apartment. Later that evening, her classmate from boarding school, Caroline, invites her to a dance at her country club, forcing her to change her last name in order to conceal her Jewish heritage and social class. Status was important and if Ruthie wanted to attend the dance, she needed to lie about her identity. Throughout the book Old School, by Tobias Wolff, characters are put in situations much like Ruthie in “Summer Dance”. The narrator and many other characters in the book lie and deceive the ones who are close to them because they are ashamed of their background. After the narrator reads “Summer Dance” he says, “No character in my story ever rode the bus.” He had been covering up his identity when writing his stories and never conveyed his true background in his writing. The dishonesty indicated by the characters in Old School is a result in one’s lack of ability to feel comfortable with themselves.
The Narrator is one character who shows major signs of dishonesty in order to cover up his heritage and socio-economic status. Like Ruthie in “Summer Dance”, the narrator attends a privileged boarding school and yearns for a life like those of his classmates. He feels that the story fits his lifestyle characteristics so much, that it seems the story was written by him. The Narrator says:

The whole thing came straight from the truthful diary I’d never kept:….the almost physical attraction to privilege, the resolve to be near it at any cost: sycophancy, lies, self suppression, the masking of ambitions and desires, the slow...