Compare the symbols found in "Spirit in the Night" and "Greasy Lake."  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bruce Springsteen’s song “Spirit in the Night” inspired the story “Greasy Lake” by T. Coraghessan Boyle. The song and the story share a setting in Greasy Lake. Although Greasy Lake is a fictional place, it is a combination of two locations in New Jersey.

The setting is obviously the local make-out place for teenagers.  The atmosphere is ethereal, sexual, and violent. 

The fairy dust represents a powdered drug that is probably like heroin or cocaine.  It kills all the pain and allows the introverted to lose their inhibitions. With a girl named Crazy Jane and her friend Wild Billy, the party goes down at Greasy Lake.

Billy and Jane pick up more friends—Hazy Davy and Killer Joe—and they are off to Greasy Lake “where the gypsy angels go.” Billy offers them ‘”fairy dust.”  The narrator describes it:

Wild Billy was a crazy cat
And he shook some dust out of his coonskin cap
He said, "Trust some of this, it'll show you where you're at
Or at least it'll help you really feel it"

Billy and Davy are described at first as dancing in the moonlight and later taking part in a mud fight in the water. Finally, Crazy Janey tells them that it is time to go.  So, they say goodbye to Greasy Lake where they danced, sang, made love, fought, took drugs—all to the fairy dust and the spirits of the night.

“Greasy Lake”  by T. C. Boyle  describes three young men home from college and looking for something to do even if it is trouble.  The first person point of view employs the protagonist as the narrator.  Using a flashback, the main character looks back at a foolish incident and feels lucky that he survived. 

The author creates a setting that all teenagers recognize—the local make-out and beer bust place.  Beginning with a practical joke that goes terribly wrong, the protagonist believes that he has killed a man.  After that, the boys turn on the man’s girlfriend and would have raped her except for a car that pulls in the parking lot just as the boys attack her.

The girl screams for help, and the boys scatter.  In the lake, the main character discovers something that surprises and scares him into acknowledging that this was a stupid idea:

As I was about to take the plunge… I blundered into something unspeakable, obscene, something soft... When I reached out to touch it, it gave like flesh. 

Of course, he bumps into a dead body placed there by the man that he thought he killed. As the second car arrives, he sees the man in the lights from the car.

One of the main symbols is the lost key. When the narrator loses the key, he acts irrationally and tries to kill someone and almost rapes a girl. After he finds the body in the water, the narrator remembers the lost key. 

The narrator retreats from the girls who come in the other car when the boys return to their car. The dawn reveals the key shining like a “jewel” just where he had dropped it. As the narrator leaves Greasy Lake, he is emotionally and morally changed.

Greasy Lake is actually one symbol that both works share; as a location it represents the temporary loss of innocence, inhibition, morals, and good sense.