The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
Contributed by Ariane Heyne
Chapter 5

Theo’s life in Las Vegas is one that is characterized by boredom and isolation. As Theo confesses, his new room in Las Vegas felt lonely as his only companion was The Goldfinch painting. Theo’s father had confessed that he would stop drinking; but it later emerges that what he means was different: switching from hard vodka spirits to bottled beer. Xandra, on the other hand, dislikes Theo and neglects her dog, Popper. Theo is seen by Xandra as an intruder or a nuisance in the expensive house in which they were living. In their neighborhood, there is no public transportation and no close neighbors. When Theo joins school, the first friend he makes is Boris, who nicknames him ‘Potter’ because of his nerdy character and appearance. Theo learns that Boris is being similarly neglected by his own parents. More specifically, Boris’s father’s behavior alternates between physical abuse and physical affection. Interestingly, he became a friend of Theo’s father and was able to communicate and interact with him better (than how Theo does). The chapter ends with the two boys becoming alcoholics, and sometimes even becoming violently drunk — a practice that became routine over countless sessions of heavy drinking and hard drugs use, including morphine, either after school or during weekends.


The chapter is titled “Badr al-Dine” to amplify the name that Boris was given when he was a follower of Islam. ‘Badr’ means full moon and is symbolic of Boris’s brightness wherever he went. But because a moon does not have its source of light, Theo becomes this for Boris, the first friend he made after arriving in Las Vegas. Theo goes ahead to superimpose himself into his family, from where he feeds on resources designated for him.

The other notable event is Theo’s relocation to Las Vegas. Being against his free will, this is an extension of the challenges that started since the bombing incident. The distance from their house to inhabited places is far, which means that he has to experience another cycle of isolation. He is emotionally and physically lonely, and wonders what made him agree to come to such an isolated place. Nobody loves him in this new home, and the only rare companionship he gets is from Boris, whose past experiences are not so different from his. So, eventually, Theo agrees to join Boris in alcoholism and drug use.

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