Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1137
How I Learned to Drive uses a series of nonlinear scenes from the memory of Li’l Bit, who reveals her complex emotional and sexual relationship with her Uncle Peck. The scenes jump instantaneously back and forth in time on a neutral stage with minimal props. Li’l Bit is portrayed at various ages.
A one-act play, How I Learned to Drive begins with a disembodied voice saying “Safety First—You and Driver Education.” This technique is used throughout the play to indicate how and where each scene is located within the overall narrative. On a bare stage with only two chairs representing a Buick Riviera, Li’l Bit takes her place, in the present, speaking directly to the audience. She describes suburban Maryland in 1969 “before the malls took over.” A young Li’l Bit then steps into the scene, now seventeen years old. She is sitting in a parked car on a summer night with an older, married man—her Uncle Peck. In what appears to be a not completely unpleasant experience, Peck fondles and kisses Li’l Bit’s breasts.
Members of the Greek Chorus assume their roles as Li’l Bit’s relatives at a typical family dinner, which consists of vulgar jokes and crude comments about Li’l Bit’s well-endowed figure. A protective and gentle Uncle Peck shields Li’l Bit from the insults. The scene ends with Li’l Bit bartering a secret, late-night rendezvous with Peck in exchange for the keys to his car.
Li’l Bit informs the audience that, despite the many rumors as to why she was expelled from college, the real reason was most likely her excessive drinking and late-night road trips. Driving intoxicated on the Maryland beltway, she never received a ticket. Uncle Peck, she tells the audience, taught her well.
The action jumps backward to when Li’l Bit is sixteen and has just earned her driver’s license and Peck brings her to an elegant inn to celebrate. Peck has Li’l Bit served several cocktails. As Li’l Bit becomes increasingly intoxicated, the Female Greek Chorus comes forward in the role of mother to deliver a guide to “social drinking” while getting quite drunk herself. Dinner ends, and Peck carries the drunken and dizzy Li’l Bit back to the car. She flirts, then shies away from Peck, finally passionately kissing him in a moment of drunken confusion. Li’l Bit then expresses worry that what they are doing is wrong and will cause harm. Peck convinces her that the relationship will not progress until she wants it to, confident in the expectation that at some point in the future Li’l Bit will want to fully consummate the affair. The scene ends with Li’l Bit passed out in the seat beside Peck.
Peck takes little Cousin Bobby fishing. During the fishing lesson Peck employs his strategies of deception and seduction on the young boy. A sexual encounter between the two is implied.
A revealing dialogue among Li’l Bit, her mother, and her grandmother follows. Li’l Bit is “instructed” in the nature of sex from her elders’ point of view, which is crude, vulgar, and devoid of romance.
Li’l Bit steps out of the past and describes her seduction of a young man she meets on a bus ride in 1979. In this seduction Li’l Bit thinks of Uncle Peck and for the first time understands the allure that seducing children has for Peck.
As Peck instructs Li’l Bit in a driving lesson, erotic photographs of young women and cars flash upstage. Though Li’l Bit nervously flirts with Peck, he is all business, intent on teaching Li’l Bit to drive with confidence and aggression.
An adolescent Li’l Bit is featured in the next several scenes, which take place in ninth grade. Painfully self-conscious of her maturing figure, Li’l Bit is the target of jokes and tricks played on her by classmates.
“The photo shoot” scene takes place one year earlier in Peck’s...
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