What does the lake symbolize in T.C. Boyle's "Greasy Lake"?

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Greasy Lake symbolizes the narrator's baptism into adulthood and maturity.

When the evening starts, the narrator and his two friends, Jeff and Digby, are sheltered college students home for summer vacation. They think they are tough, bad, and cool, but they are, in reality, innocent adolescents living under the protection...

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Greasy Lake symbolizes the narrator's baptism into adulthood and maturity.

When the evening starts, the narrator and his two friends, Jeff and Digby, are sheltered college students home for summer vacation. They think they are tough, bad, and cool, but they are, in reality, innocent adolescents living under the protection of their moms and dads.

All of that changes at the lake when they disturb Bobby, a truly tough character, and his girlfriend, in the back seat of his car, and the real trouble begins. After a fight in which the narrator thinks he has killed Bobby with a tire iron, he ends up in the lake and encounters a dead body. As he says:

I understood what it was that bobbed there so inadmissibly in the dark. Understood and stumbled back in horror and revulsion . . . I was nineteen, a mere child, an infant, and here, in the space of five minutes I had struck down one greasy character and blundered into the waterlogged carcass of a second . . .

In the course of the evening, life has gotten real. The narrator has gone from a swaggering, wannabe cool dude to recognizing he has been, all along, really "a mere child, an infant." When it comes to real life, he hasn't had a clue. The dead body—along with his fear he has killed Bobby—puts him in touch with mortality, the beginning of adulthood. He begins to understand, as he is "baptized" into maturity in the lake, that life is not just a series of innocent hi-jinks, but that really bad things, including dying, can happen—even to him.

The narrator ends up with his mom's car wrecked after a harrowing evening, but he is now an older and wiser person.

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The lake of T.C. Boyle's story "Greasy Lake" symbolizes the changing perceptions of the narrator.

In the beginning of the narrative, the lake represents a spot that is secluded from "the world of 'do-gooders'" where teens can secretly engage in illicit behavior and escape the consequences. However, the pretense of safety in dangerous behavior becomes perilous itself as the narrator and his friends find themselves confronted with serious injury when in their drunkenness they mistake a car for that of a friend's. Instead of their friend Tony emerging from the car, "a bad greasy character" with steel-toed boots confronts the boys, and inflicts serious injury upon them. After the narrator pulls out a tire iron, he and his friends defeat their foe. Then, they turn their attention to the girlfriend, who comes shrieking out of the other car. Now, their minds turn from violence to lust as they try to assault her.

But, headlights coming toward them arrest their actions and send the narrator wading into the lake as he flees what he thinks may be the police. As he wades deeper, thinking to plunge under the water, the narrator senses that he has blundered onto "another greasy character." This one fills him with horror. This is "greasy primitivism" at its lowest, for it is a dead body. With an illuminated perception, the narrator realizes the foolishness of his and his friends' behaviors. He acknowledges with a new maturity from this experience that there are dire repercussions to illicit conduct. 

Further, as he listens, the narrator hears the cursing of the "greasy character" that he and his friends have beaten. This "greasy character" and a buddy, who has pulled up, call out to the narrator and his friends. When there is no response, they decide to strike the station wagon with a tire iron, breaking the windshield and seriously damaging the body of the vehicle. Then they pull away. Quickly, the boys hurry back to the station wagon and are able to escape after the narrator suddenly spots his keys. As the vehicle hobbles along, the narrator notices that "[T]here was a sheen of sun on the lake," symbolizing his enlightenment.

The Greasy Lake to which the boys have come as a shelter from the consequences of bad behavior has transformed itself in their perceptions to a place of horror. Yet, in experiencing this horror, the narrator, at least, has matured and "seen the light" of acting morally.

 

 

 

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