Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1291

How I Learned to Drive is not told with a straightforward plot but is instead an uneven mixture of flashbacks, narration, monologues, and the kind of impersonal voice-over that accompanies driver education films. It starts with Li'l Bit as an adult, addressing the audience, as if she is giving a lecture about how to drive. She describes Maryland during her youth in the 1960s, and then the setting dissolves into 1969, with her uncle Peck sitting in a Buick Riviera. Seventeen-year-old Li'l Bit climbs in next to him. He takes the role of a child, telling her that he has been good, and she acts like an authority figure to him. When he says that he has not had a drink all week, she allows him the ‘‘small reward'' of undoing her bra. When they leave their parking spot, Li'l Bit drives.

Illustration of PDF document

Download How I Learned to Drive Study Guide

Subscribe Now

At a family dinner in 1969, the conversation focusing on the size of her breasts is embarrassing to Li'l Bit. Her grandfather makes one wise crack after another about her breasts being big, until Li'l Bit flees the room for some privacy. Peck is the one who follows her and consoles her. Feeling better, Li'l Bit arranges to meet him later that night.

Grown-up Li'l Bit, as narrator, explains to the audience that she was kicked out of school in 1970 for constant drinking and then took a job in a factory and spent her nights drinking and racing through the streets in her car.

The scene fades to Li'l Bit and Peck at an inn far from home along the Maryland shore in 1968 (a year before the family dinner portrayed earlier). The occasion is a celebration of Li'l Bit having received her driver's license. Peck, who has had a drinking problem, does not order a drink, but he tells Li'l Bit to have one, even though she is only sixteen. Li'l Bit's mother shows up at the side of the stage to give the audience ‘‘A mother's guide to social drinking,’’ which includes such advice as to eat much bread and butter and never to order sugary "ladies'' drinks. Li' l bit orders a martini and quickly becomes drunk. When they leave, she is hardly able to walk, and she expects Peck to try to take advantage of her. She objects to their relationship, and he tells her not to worry, that he is a man and will not do anything sexual until she wants to.

There is a brief scene of Uncle Peck teaching Li'l Bit's cousin Bobby to fish, just as he has taught her to drive. At the end of the scene, Peck offers to show Bobby ‘‘a secret place’’ in the trees, where they can be alone and drink a beer: "this is something special just between you and me,'' Peck says, reminiscent of his friendly seduction of Li'l Bit.

The next scene has Li' lBit, her mother, and her grandmother seated in a kitchen and is titled, "On Men, Sex and Women: Part I.’’ The grandmother explains that her husband always wanted to have sex several times every day. As the grandmother and mother talk about what crude beasts men are, they become increasingly aroused.

The grown-up Li'l Bit narrates the story of a bus trip in 1979, when she was in her twenties. A high school boy sat down by her and struck up a conversation. She made herself attractive enough that he followed her when the bus stopped and continued his conversation until she invited him up to her room, where they had sex.

‘‘On Men, Sex, and Women: Part II’’ has fifteen-year-old Li'l Bit asking her mother and grandmother about sex. Her mother tells her that it hurts just a little, at first. Her grandmother tells her that the first time a girl has sex is very painful and bloody. The mother is resentful about the misinformation that her own mother gave her, feeling that it is responsible for her having gotten pregnant young with Li'l Bit, leading to her awful marriage to Li'l Bit's father.

Then Uncle Peck is giving Li'l Bit a driving lesson. She is light-hearted and joking around....

(The entire section contains 1291 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this How I Learned to Drive study guide. You'll get access to all of the How I Learned to Drive content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial


Explore Study Guides