Symbols And Their Meaning in Greasy Lake
Adolescent teens often go through a cynical rebellion phase, some more severe than others. Some grow out of this phase and some do not; however, some teens linger in this phase because they deem it to be attractive. T.C Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” tells the story of a naive group of adolescents who see themselves as “bad characters”. They dwell within the confines of their own immaturity, which compells them to act brash and reckless. However, when they are confronted with a genuine bad character, they are forced to take action and show their true character. “Greasy Lake” and its characters, plot, and symbols convey a message: “Adolescence is a phase in life in which perception has not yet fully developed and awareness of one’s true character has often not yet been realized”.
Symbolism is prevalent throughout the whole story and ultimately contributes to the development of the theme. At the tender age of 19, the narrator has not had his driver’s license for long. Although sharing a vehicle with his parents, the narrator still boasts about his dangerous character when he says, “[When] We wheeled our parents’ whining station wagons out onto the street we left a patch of rubber half a block long” (294). The fact that the narrator is driving a Bel-Air station wagon is enough reason to cast doubt upon the merit of his self-perception. The Bel-Air station wagon represents our narrator and his life. It shows that he is still dependant, it shows that he is not the self sustaining, independent guy that he portrays himself to be. The dangerous character that they confused for a friend owns a, “57′ Chevy, mint, metallic blue” (295). A 1957 Chevy came with a big block V8 engine and is the epitome of what a greaser would have driven. During the conflict while the greaser was temporarily unconscious, our narrator and his crew attempted to rape the greaser’s girlfriend but were terrified and fled the scene when a Pontiac Trans-Am heroically entered the scene. The Trans-Am was a popular muscle car that would not be out of place when seen cruising with a’57 Chevy; as a matter of fact, they complement each other quite well. The chopper that resides in Greasy Lake’s parking lot should be a mascot of all greasy and dangerous characters. The chopper reflects its owner Al, who is discovered dead by our narrator and acts as the catalyst for his enlightenment. These cars are a reflection of the lives of their owners. At the climax of the story, our narrator describes an epic, but although rather typical scene, when he says, “It was at that precise moment that the silver Mustang with the flame decals rumbled into the lot. […] Two girls emerged from the Mustang. Tight jeans, stiletto heels, hair like frozen fur”(301). The Mustang is typically first choice for many attractive American females, it is well known that American females adore America’s pony car. The girls notice our narrator and his crew and after a few remarks about Al, the girls say, “Hey, you guys look like some pretty bad characters— been fightin’ huh?” (302). She then goes on to offer the narrator some unidentified drugs and says, “Hey you want to party, you want to do some of these with me and Sarah?”(302). The narrator says to himself, “I thought I was going to cry” (302). Therefore demonstrating the protagonists realization of his true character.
The narrator starts the story by saying, “There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste” (294). This statement hints towards the theme. The story starts to take shape when we learn that the characters are on their third day of summer vacation and heading to Greasy Lake in search of some excitement. When they get there, Digby shouts, “Hey, that’s Tony Lovett’s car! Hey!” (295). Assuming that the person in the car was there companion, they honked, they laughed, and they flicked their high beams on at the car, this in turn sets the arena for the conflict to take place. The narrator describes the next complication when he says, “The first mistake, the one that opened the whole floodgate, was losing my grip on the keys. […] I spilled them in the grass— in the dark, rank, mysterious nighttime grass of Greasy Lake. This was a tactical error, as damaging and irreversible in its way as Westmoreland’s decision to dig in at KheSanh”(295). Because of this complication, the characters are forced into remaining at Greasy Lake, thus sealing their fate and forcing them to take action and to act upon instinct, and ultimately revealing to all their true character. The man inside the car is described as, “bad greasy character- clearly he was a man of action”(296). The characters engage in a three to one rumble and struggle against this one true bad character. The turning point in the conflict is when the narrator says, “I went for the tire iron I kept under the driver’s seat. I kept it there because bad characters always keep tire irons under the driver’s seat […] never mind that I hadn’t been involved in a fight since the sixth grade […] and I went for it” (296). The narrator describes the blow to the man by saying, ” he was a big grimacing toothy balloon and I was a man with a straight pin” (297). Almost immediately, the narrator feels guilt and remorse and is described when he says, “Rattled, I dropped it in the dirt, already envisioning the headlines […] the big black shadow rising from the back of the cell” (297). By being concerned for the greaser and for his future, the narrator is showing his true character, not the front that he put up before the incident took place. Although remorseful, the narrator and his crew were overwhelmed with lust at the sight of the greaser’s girl and quickly transformed back into the evil characters they wished they were. The narrator describes the scenario when he says, “We were on her like […] panting, wheezing, tearing at her clothes, grabbing for flesh. We were bad characters, and we were scared and hot and three steps over the line— anything could have happened”(297). Thus far, the three characters have engaged in battle with a single male and struggled to achieve victory and then they attempted to gang rape the man’s girl after he was hit with a tire iron and became unconscious. However bad they seemed to be, they were afraid of being caught in the scene and facing the consequences. They were so afraid that they, “Bolted. First for the car, and then, realizing we had no way of starting it , for the woods. I thought nothing. I thought escape. The headlights came at me like accusing fingers. I was gone”(298). Had the narrator not lost his keys before the rumble, a very different course of action would have taken place. The characters would have escaped the situation and
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