As young adolescents, we tend to think being “bad” was cool. It was cool to act rebellious and act out of the norm. As the story begins, the narrator declares to the reader, there was a time “when it was good to be bad” (p.77, 1). The young men in the story see themselves as tough characters, “We were all dangerous characters then. We wore torn-up leather jackets, slouched around with toothpicks in our mouths, sniffed glue and ether and what somebody claimed was cocaineâ€¦we drank gin and grape juice, Tango, Thunderbird, and Bali Hai. We were nineteen. We were bad” (p.77, 1). According to these characteristics, these boys considered themselves the personification of coolness.
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On the third night of summer break, the three boys journeyed in search of excitement and found themselves in some unexpected trouble. After they accomplished everything possible in town, they decided to take a bottle of gin up to Greasy Lake. Thinking that they had spotted their friend, the boys agreed to pull a prank on him. They started flicking the lights and honking the horn of their station wagon anticipating that their friend would be alarmed and expect to be confronted by a state trooper. As they looked into the window of the car, they realized that the driver wasn’t their friend Tony; instead they came upon a stranger who we later discover is named Bobby. Unfortunately, this innocent mistake had made a startling twist. Furious at the interruption, Bobby rips out of his car and kicks the narrator in the face leaving him sprawled in the dirt. While the other two boys continue brawling with Bobby, the narrator goes for his tire iron that he always keeps under his seat and then mindlessly uses it to attack Bobby leaving him unconscious on the ground. The tire iron represents a critical point in the story. At this point, the boys assume that the blow of the tire iron to Bobby’s head has killed him. And as the narrator is envisioning “the headlines, the pitted faces of the police inquisitors, the gleam of handcuffs, clank of bars, the big black shadows rising from the back of the cellâ€¦” (p.79, 14), they are suddenly confronted by Bobby’s “fox”. Soon enough, the boys are tearing at her clothes, grabbing for flesh. However, their near attempt to rape her is suddenly interrupted as they encounter another car veering into the parking lot. The arrival of the other car stops them from committing rape and terrifies them to the point where they bolt and conceal into Greasy Lake. In the minds of the three young men, they are now convinced that they have committed murder and have been witnessed in their near attempt of raping the girl.
When the narrator chooses to escape into the lake, he confronts a dead body and scurries away in total panic and horror, “AAAAArrrgh! I shot from the water like a torpedo, the dead man rotating to expose a mossy beard and eyes cold as the moon” (p.80, 21). The discovery of the dead body in the lake heightens the relation between the narrator being aware of his actions. He proclaims, “Then I thought of the dead man. He was probably the only person on the planet worse off than I was. I thought about himâ€¦Who was he, I wonderedâ€¦My car was a wrecked; he was dead” (p.80, 31). You can tell that the narrator is looking back on his youthful ignorance and boldness with ironic indifference which leads us to expect the consciousness of truth emerges upon the young man.
In addition, as the young men are hiding and observing what’s also taking place back on the surface, they’re relieved to have discovered Bobby being quite rattled but alive nonetheless. It was also revealed to the boys that the unknown car that had just arrived to the scene was in fact friends of Bobby’s. To no surprise, Bobby and his friends were livid to where even if the narrator and his two friends had barely escaped the irrevocable consequences of murder and rape, they will soon helplessly witness the destruction of their car at the hands of their enraged victims.
By the end of the night, the complete enormity of definite consequences transpires, as do the three boys from Greasy Lake. Boyle writes, “When the three companions emerge from hiding at daybreak and meet at the ruined car, Digby remarks, “At least they didn’t slash the tires” (p.81, 33). The narrator agrees, noticing that the tires were intact and although “there was no windshield, the headlights were staved in, and the body looked as if it had been sledge-hammered for a quarter a shot at the county fairâ€¦ the tires were inflated to regulation pressure. The car was drivable” (p.81, 34). The tragic events have jarred what little sense they have by opening the door of realizing their actions and their eventual transformation.
The young men’s reassertion of their newfound enlightenment was tested as they are given a second chance to fulfill the “bad character” facade that they so favored before. As the boys gather their thoughts and reflect on the prior nights events, two girls in a Mustang pull into the parking lot. They emerged from their car, “tight jeans, stiletto heels, hair like frozen fur” (p. 81, 36) and one of the girl approaches the boys. The girl reacts to the narrator and his friends as if they are the perilous types they had once fancied themselves to be at the story’s beginning. She initials an invitation to party with them by offering them a “handful of tablets in glassine wrappers” (p.81, 43). The boys overwhelmed by the events of the evening and detested by the debauchery that these girls represent, turn them down.
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While Digby is the only character to verbally rebuke the invitation, the silence of the other two characters is enough to lead us to believe a change has occurred in all three. In addition to the narrator’s peaceful silence, a union is revealed in the form of a nonverbal action when he puts the “car in gearâ€¦creeping towards the highway” (p.81, 45). His answer is final and transition is now fulfilled. The “sheen of sun on the lake” represents a rejuvenation of life’s possibility, as well as an affirmation of it, for they have passed their first of many challenges as young men.
“Greasy Lake” is not just a story of one night in the life of three teenagers; it is a story of revelation. The narrator immerses into the dirty water of Greasy Lake in retreat and surfaces with a purified sense of maturity and understanding. The sequence of the unfortunate events that occurred that night are now permanently seared into the minds and hearts of the three young men and will forever continue to influence their future actions and behavior. “Greasy Lake” is a story of transformation, of coming of age. To my understanding, Boyle’s short story draws the reader to reflect on their own lives of past imperfections that just like the boys in the story , had altered themselves into the individuals that implicate who they are today.
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