How I Learned to Drive Characters
by Paula Vogel

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How I Learned to Drive Characters

(Drama for Students)

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See Cousin Bobby

Big Papa
Li'l Bit's grandfather, the father of her mother and Aunt Mary, is a crude, offensive man who expects to be waited on by his wife. He is proud of the fact that he came and took his wife away, when she was fourteen, against her family's objections. His wife describes him as a big bull, wanting sex every morning and every evening and even coming home at lunch for it. Early in the play, the family jokes about Li'l Bit's developing breasts when she is seventeen, and her grandfather keeps making derogatory comments about what a waste it is for her to go to college: "What does she need to go to college for?" "She's got all the credentials she needs on her chest—" and ‘‘How is Shakespeare going to help her lie on her back in the dark?’’

Cousin Bobby
He has no spoken lines and does not appear onstage, but the actor playing Uncle Peck speaks to him in a monologue. In a scene announced as ‘‘Uncle Peck teaches Cousin Bobby how to fish,’’ Bobby pulls in a pompano and then cries until Peck cuts the fish loose and releases it. Then Peck asks if Bobby would like to go to a secret tree house with him, drink beer, and eat crab salad. Peck's behavior toward Bobby is similar to how he treats Li'l Bit in that he gives her liquor and driving lessons and swears her to secrecy. There is no indication of where this scene fits chronologically with the rest. Bobby is first mentioned early in the play, as an example of how nicknames in the family center on genitalia. His nickname is ‘‘B. B.’’ for ‘‘Blue Balls.’’

Li'l Bit's grandmother is accustomed to serving her husband, Big Papa, which she does with bitterness. Although he constantly has sex with her, she has never had an orgasm and believes that her daughters made the concept up; when they talk with her about sex, she becomes almost violently irritable, suggesting that her sex drive is repressed. She makes it a policy to make sex sound dirty, painful, and disgusting to Li'l Bit, with the hope that the girl will not want to try it, even though the same tactic did not help keep her daughter, Lucy from getting pregnant.

Greg is a short, shy, courtly boy who frequently asks Li' l Bit to dance at the sock hop at Francis Scott Key Middle School. She is afraid to dance with him, suspicious that he just wants to dance with her so that he can watch her breasts.

High School Senior
On a bus trip to Upstate New York in 1978, when she is nearly thirty, Li'l Bit is approached by a boy who introduces himself as a senior at Walt Whitman High. He is awkward, with large ears and a high-pitched voice. After some conversation, she takes him to her hotel room and has sex with him, which reminds her of the way Uncle Peck seduced her when she was young.

In ninth grade, when Li'l Bit's breasts are developing, Jerome, with the help of a female classmate, feigns an allergy attack and falls to the floor. When Li'l Bit bends down to help him, he says that his allergy is to foam rubber, and he squeezes her breast. Later, after gym class, a female classmate stares at Li'l Bit's breasts in the shower and, determining that they are real, tells her that this means Jerome owes her fifty cents from a bet.

Li'l Bit
This play focuses on Li'l Bit, following her life from age eleven to nearly thirty-five. It centers on her relationship with her uncle by marriage, Peck, showing how that relationship grows closer and closer to a sexual one and how Li'l Bit's life becomes increasingly disorderly as she matures. When she is eleven and her mother does not want her riding in a car alone with Peck, she assures her mother confidently that she ‘‘can handle’’ him. She basks in the attention that he gives her throughout the years, posing for pictures for him and accepting gifts. When, at puberty, her breasts develop, her mother and grandparents make her self-conscious, and other children at school make her feel like an outcast, but Peck speaks to her sympathetically....

(The entire section is 1,428 words.)