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“Greasy Lake” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

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In “Greasy Lake” by T. Coraghessan Boyle, the author illustrates the journey towards adulthood for three teenage boys in a time when it was hip to be “bad.” The narrator, the protagonist of the story, and his friends, Digby and Jeff, consider themselves to be “dangerous characters”(129) as they keep toothpicks in their mouths, wear torn-up leather jackets, sniff glue, and drink gin. The story begins with the “bad” boys taking out the narrator’s mother’s station-wagon to cruise the local strip, while eating and drinking alcohol. As the night winds down, the boys head to a disgustingly filthy place where the “bad” go to be bad called Greasy Lake. This begins a series of terrible events where the boys beat someone almost to the point of death, almost rape a girl and find a dead body. These events eventually lead the narrator to an epiphany that being bad isn’t what it is cracked up to be.

“Greasy Lake” is written in first person point of view. This is important because this view point illustrates the thoughts and feelings of the main character as he moves towards adulthood and the realization that being “bad” has bad consequences. The narrator informs the readers of his own thoughts and feelings giving the reader vital insight as to his motivations and reasoning for his actions. For example, the narrator says, “I thought about him [the dead body], fog on the lake, insects chirring eerily, and felt the tug of fear, felt the darkness opening up inside me like a set of jaws.”(134) This is an appropriate point of view for the story because without this knowledge the reader would miss the narrators transition and emotions that are vital for the reader to connect with the narrator. The thoughts and feelings of other characters are closed to the reader, as their actions compliment the narrator’s story.

The setting of Greasy Lake plays a major role throughout the story. The chaotic imagery of the lake described by the author offers an anarchic and tense atmosphere that mirrors the character’s emotions and experiences. For example, the author describes the lake as “fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans and charred remains of bonfires.” (129). This chaotic setting represents the lawlessness and “badness” the boys seek to emulate. The fact that at one time “Indians had called [the lake] Wakan, a reference to the clarity of its waters” (129) shows how times have changed to where one “cultivated decadence like a taste” (129). The setting contributes to the conflict in many ways. The author remembers when he “waded deeper, stealthy, hunted, the ooze sucking at my sneakers” (132). In my opinion, the entire setting was in some way symbolic, but the body the narrator finds in the murky water has to be the most important. The body of Al symbolizes the consequences of being “bad.” This leads the author and his friends to the realization, as best quoted as, “I was nineteen, a child, an infant…”(133) and that being “bad” was not so cool after all.

Boyle’s use of language plays a significant part in the deliverance of the author’s central idea. The story is packed with imagery and figurative language. The language used by the author to describe the lake as “fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans and charred remains of bonfires” (129) creates an image of chaos and uncertainty. This also parallels the boy’s uncertainty in their journey to and from badness. Boyle use of similes to expand on his descriptions such as “my heart turning over like a dirt bike in the wrong gear” (131) to drives home to the reader the intensity of the fight between the greasy character and the boys. The author also uses several metaphors and personification to give more detail and feeling to the story.

For example: “Behind me, the girl’s screams rose intensity, disconsolate, incriminating, the screams of a Sabine women, the Christian martyrs, Ann Frank dragged from the garret” (132). This metaphor demonstrates how truly horrific their act had been and the realization of the consequences of their actions. The use of personification by the narrator to describe the body as a “victim bobbing sorrowfully in the lake at my back” (134) illustrates the narrators feeling of pity for the dead greasy character by giving his lifeless body a sorrowful emotion. This helps the narrator to connect some of the bad outcomes of being “bad”. Boyle use of informal/streetwise diction and irony helps to communicate the experiences of teenage boys trying to be bad. The raw and direct ways the story is told reflects the unpredictability of being a teenager.

At the end of this story, a girl tells the boys that they look like “some pretty bad characters” (136) and offers them an invitation to party with and do drugs with her and her friend. This is when all of the boys realize that being “bad” entails much more than just acting like it and that being “bad” isn’t as cool as they thought it would be. Theses same boys that would have jumped at the opportunity to party with these girls at the beginning of the story, turn them down and go home. Their journey toward adulthood is an excellent story of coming of age and the misconceptions of youth.

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