In "Greasy Lake," why does the narrator label Digby and Jeff as bad?

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Much of what inspires the narrator of "Greasy Lake" to call Digby and Jeff bad is their fashion sense and attitude, rather than actual bad behavior. The narrator comments on their sunglasses, earrings, and leather jackets. Other reasons for their badness are their use of alcohol and marijuana, desire to drop out of school, and speeding in their parent's cars. All this badness is only a façade, since they are fearful of truly "bad" guys.

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In the short story "Greasy Lake" by T. Coraghessan Boyle , Digby, Jeff, and the narrator are friends who hang out together and roam around looking for something exciting and fulfilling to do. They never find it. They are nineteen-year-old kids who still live with their parents. When...

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the narrator uses "bad" to describe them, he does not refer to the word in the traditional sense of evil or malevolent. He uses it in the immature sense of children obliviously rebelling against their parents and society.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word "bad" has numerous meanings. The narrator seems to imply in context that the boys are "morally objectionable; evil" or "tough, mean." In fact, though, what comes across through the examples given in the story is that the definition of "bad" that fits these kids is "mischievous, disobedient," until they attempt to rape the woman, of course. This is borne out when the boys become overwhelmed when truly tough characters threaten them. They panic, run into the swampy muck, and fear for their lives.

In the first paragraphs, the narrator exemplifies their supposed badness by describing how they all wear leather jackets, chew on toothpicks, sniff glue, drink alcohol, smoke pot, and speed around in their parents's cars.

The narrator writes that Digby specifically is bad and dangerous because he has an earring shaped like a gold star and allows his father to send him to Cornell. Jeff is supposedly bad because he wants to quit school to become a musician, a painter, or the owner of a head shop—a place that sells paraphernalia for drugs. They sneer at people, can drive fast while rolling a joint, use the word "man" in their conversations, dance well, and wear mirrored sunglasses. In short, they behave like typical rebellious teenagers.

For these relatively innocuous reasons, the narrator insists that they are bad. They only become truly bad when they attempt to rape the woman at Greasy Lake. Then they get some sense knocked into them when they encounter characters much more dangerous than they are.

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The narrator is being tongue-in-cheek or ironic when he calls Digby and Jeff bad. They are characters who think they are bad (tough, rebellious, worldly) when in fact they are sheltered college kids who simply pose at being bad.

For example, the narrator is being wry when he says that Digby "allowed" his father to pay his tuition to Cornell: he is simply a privileged kid who gets to go to a very expensive, elite school because his parents can afford it.

Much of their "badness," therefore, is simply fashion statement. These two—and three, if we include the narrator—can pose as "bad" because their parents provide them with education, housing, and cars. Much of what the narrator points to in describing their badness is simply superficial. We note that Digby likes the idea of becoming a painter or a musician or owning a head shop (a place selling drug paraphernalia like bongs) but in actuality is doing nothing about any of that: it is all talk.

Digby and Jeff know how to party, roll a joint, and speed around in a car. Perhaps the most comic description of their posing is the following:

they wore their mirror shades at breakfast and dinner, in the shower, in closets and caves.

All of this provides a backdrop for their encounter with the truly bad events that they will encounter at Greasy Lake, their initiation into adulthood.

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In the second page of Boyle's "Greasy Lake," the narrator provides us the following description of Digby and Jeff:

Digby wore a gold star in his right ear and allowed his father to pay his tuition at Cornell; Jeff was thinking of quitting school to become a painter/musician/head-shop proprietor. They were both expert in the social graces, quick with a sneer, able to manage a Ford with lousy shocks over a rutted and gutted black-top road at eighty-five while rolling a joint as compact as a Tootsie Roll Pop stick. They could lounge against a bank of booming speakers and trade "man"s with the best of them or roll out across the dance floor as if their joints worked on bearings. They were slick and quick and they wore their mirror shades at breakfast and dinner, in the shower, in closets and caves. In short, they were bad.

Most of the descriptions here reference Digby's and Jeff's appearance rather than their behavior. Like the narrator, Digby and Jeff are for more interested in looking bad than really being bad; they want to be cool.

The first description of Digby reveals the reality of the situation. He wears the gold star in his ear, just as a "dangerous character" might; however, Digby's father is paying his college tuition, something to which no "dangerous character" would ever aspire.

Like most teenagers, the narrator, Digby, and Jeff want to be cool. Their desire to be "bad" is more of an ideal and a dream than it is a reality. This, of course, all changes with the encounter with Bobby and the chaos that ensues.

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What is it about Digby and Jeff that inspires the narrator to call them “bad"?

In T.C. Boyle's short story "Greasy Lake," the word "bad" is used in a slangy way that really describes something good. The very first sentence states, "it was good to be bad . . . you cultivated decadence like taste." The story explores the allure and aesthetics of danger, youthful disobedience, and rebellion. "Bad" is a posture that the characters of the story aspire to. "Bad" is punk. "Bad" is cool.

Digby and Jeff are "bad" because, according to the narrator,

Digby wore a gold star in his right ear and allowed his father to pay his tuition at Cornell; Jeff was thinking of quitting school to become a painter/musician/head-shop proprietor. They were both expert in the social graces, quick with a sneer, able to manage a Ford with lousy shocks over a rutted and gutted black-top road at eighty-five while rolling a joint as compact as a Tootsie Roll Pop stick. They could lounge against a bank of booming speakers and trade "man"s with the best of them or roll out across the dance floor as if their joints worked on bearings. They were slick and quick and they wore their mirror shades at breakfast and dinner, in the shower, in closets and caves. In short, they were bad.

This is the passage your teacher is probably looking for you to reference in answer to this question, so let's unpack this. Clearly, both of these characters are leaning heavily into the image of the bad kid. It's also clear that the narrator admires them for their badness. In describing their abilities to sneer and drive beat up cars and roll joints as "social graces," a term usually applied to politeness, manners, and charm, he's elevating these attributes to be among the most desirable.

Tellingly, however, this "badness" is fairly superficial. Both Digby and Jeff are in college, and however much the narrator may admire Jeff for thinking about dropping out, there's no saying for certain if he ever actually will. Ultimately, though both characters and the narrator himself conceive of themselves as dangerous and want to believe that they're bad, they quickly lose control over these carefully constructed self-images when confronted with actual danger.

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