How does "Greasy Lake" compare and contrast with the short story "Battle Royale"?symbols,setting, language, tone etc.

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both "Greasy Lake" and "Battle Royale" are first-person narratives, told by a male some years later recalling a pivotal moment in his late teenaged life. Both young men are awakened through an event evening to disillusionment and a more realistic assessment of the world and their place in it—and in the case of the narrator of "Greasy Lake," to his own capacity for cruelty. The settings in both stories, though different, one indoors and one outside, are harsh, frightening and unpleasant.

In Battle Royale, a group of black boys who have just graduated from high school, including the narrator, are invited by the white male "big shots" in town to the ballroom of a leading hotel. There, instead of being celebrated for their achievement of graduating, they are forced to watch a white woman doing a sexy dance, while being threatened for looking at her, a frightening experience for black youth who obviously knew that looking at a white woman could get them killed. Then they are blindfolded and have to box with each for the amusement of the white men, with the winner receiving ten dollars. Afterwards, they are told that another "reward" of gold coins is scattered on a carpet. As they dive for the coins, being called "Sambo," they are subjected to electric shocks, only to find out that the coins are worthless brass tokens. All of this is terrifying and humiliating. However, the narrator finds it all redeemed when he is given a certificate for a scholarship to a a negro college. Yet even that is undercut when he has a dream in which he is given an official document that says on it "keep this nigger boy running." It is a moment of epiphany about being an "invisible man."

In "Greasy Lake," the narrator also has an unpleasant experience, but a chief difference is that he is writing and acting out of white privilege as a middle-class teenager in the late 1960s. This friend goes with his friends in his mother's car to the lake. They think they are tough ("bad"), but find out differently. They are drinking and smoking pot and mistake the car of an unknown tough guy for the car of their friend. As a joke they start banging on their horn and flashing their lights, only to arouse the anger of the tough guy. The narrator ends up in a fight with him, and then he and his friends try to gang rape the guy's girlfriend, only to be interrupted by the guy returning with his gang. As in "Battle Royale," our narrator experiences terror. He also meets up with a dead body in the lake. The gang whose leader he fought  smashes up his mother's car. As in "Battle Royale," an evening that goes badly leads to an epiphany: the narrator is not as "bad" or tough as he thought. Both narrators come out of a rough experience with a more realistic view of life. However, in "Battle Royale," the narrator is entirely a victim of white racism, whereas in "Greasy Lake," the narrator brings his troubles on himself.

If the ballroom of the hotel acts as a symbol of white power and black abjection, Greasy Lake, especially with its dead body, symbolizes the path of ruin that the narrator's partying is heading him toward.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The settings in both stories are very important.  Without "Greasy Lake" being set where it was (at the trash-filled lake at night), the story would not have the same effect.  Also, had "Battle Royal" not been set in the "Deep South" during a tumultuous time for African-Americans, it, too, would not have the same effect on the reader. 

There are also symbols in both stories.  The lake represents a baptism for the narrator in "Greasy Lake."  Once he enters the lake and runs into the dead body, he experiences an epiphany about what his life has become.  Things aren't as fun as he thought they were.  The blindfold in "Battle Royal" represents blindness on the part of both the protagonist and society.  The protagonist is blind to the world around him (Caucasian world) and society is blind to the plight of the African-American population, in many ways.

The tones of both stories are similar, actually.  There is an uneasiness in both stories, an unsettling feeling.  The reader can anticipate that something bad will happen in both stories.