Stephen Kohut 1
?Greasy Lake? by T.C. Boyle is an initiation story about three boys in search of ?something they have ?yet to? find?(398). What they are trying to find is their identity. Like most teenagers, these boys are rebellious and involve themselves in socially deviant behavior, because they are not yet mature enough to comprehend the potentially devastating ramifications of their actions. Sometimes the only way one learns his limits is by stretching their boundaries. T.C. Boyle makes this the center focus of ?Greasy Lake,? and his judicious use of symbols show us how easily one can lose his veneer of innocence by the wrong decision they make.
One of these symbols is the admiration the narrator and his two friends have for motorcycles and fast cars. Their ?parents? whining station wagons? are inadequate when compared to the masculinity of a mustang trimmed with chrome (397). These types of machines are run on testosterone and are the antithesis of the conservative means of transportation that responsible authoritative figures would typically drive. They represent rebellion, for one can ride fast and freely on vehicles such as these. The boys are well aware of this, but, at least subconsciously, they also know that they cannot run forever.
Lights and light imagery show insight and they illuminate potentially volatile situations; black and darkness imply rebellion and destruction. The boys hide themselves behind torn-up leather jackets and mirrored sunglasses. Some believe that the eyes are windows to the soul, thus covering one?s eyes would not allow another to see their true feelings. The boys also seek to further mask their insecurities by consuming alcohol and smoking marijuana. Universally, light signifies truth and insight, and this is what these
Stephen Kohut 2
teenagers are seeking to avoid. When the boys head to Greasy Lake, the taillights of a car blink at them like a lighthouse flashing to warn ships of the rocky shores that lie beneath it. Then a pair of ?headlights ?point? at them like accusing fingers? just as they attempt to rape the girl with ?flaming toenails?(401). It is easier to hide under a veil of darkness, because sometimes the light points out things that we do not wish to see.
As the narrator runs from yet another conflict, he comes across something that even he cannot ignore. In the swamp he finds the body of Al, and the ultimate consequence of one?s actions: death. Even Al?s ?gaunt chrome chopper? could not carry him away from this reality (399). The narrator has an epiphany. Until then, he could always alleviate his problems with a bottle of lemon-flavored gin or by smoking a joint. Now he finally comes to the realization that you cannot always run from your problems, and that life is a fragile thing.
The boys? immaturity is shown through the futile attempts they make to flee from the issues facing them, and it is ironic that the place these boys consider a sanctuary is a location littered with broken beer bottles and used condoms. They were confused about life when they arrived at Greasy Lake that night. When they leave, the sun is shining and they have come to a realization: life is a delicate thing, and the way one acts determines how soon it is taken away from them.