Rite of Passage
"Greasy Lake" by T.C. Boyle is a tale of one young man's quest for the "rich scent of possibility on the breeze." It was a time in a man's life when there was an almost palpable sense of destiny, as if something was about to happen, like a rite of passage that will thrust him into adulthood or cement his "badness" forever. The story opens with our narrator on a night of debauchery with his friends drinking, eating, and cruising the streets as he had done so many times in the past. What he found on that night of violence and mayhem would force him to look at himself hard. This is a story of one man's journey from boyhood to maturity.
The story is short and relies on a simple plot, involving violence and a series of climaxes to sustain the intensity of emotion right up to the end. The events that take place herd the narrator to an epiphany that he doesn't necessarily want, but knows is inevitable anyway. First the barhopping and partying symbolize the fruitless search, for that special something, but instead leads him to his last resort, Greasy Lake. Next, a simple case of mistaken identity will spiral out of control into an act of desperation with a tire iron followed by an attempted rape. As he runs for his life into the lake the tension mounts to a fevered pitch when he comes face to face with a dead body in the lake. .".. Stumbled back in horror and revulsion, my mind yanked in six different directions (I was nineteen, a mere child, an infant, and here in the space of minutes I'd struck down one greasy character and blundered into the water- logged carcass of a second."(149) Here, the narrator has his epiphany, that he isn't a "bad character" after all. As he ponders these things the thugs take their frustrations out on his mother's car. They beat it and trash it as he watches from the relative safety of the reeds at the lake's edge. Not only is he beaten, but now his mother's car is beaten too. As he turns his attention back to the thing bobbing in the water he grasps the fact that he is probably better off, " Then I thought of the dead man. He was probably the only person on the planet worse off than I was."(149)
The tension this young man feels comes from his internal struggle to come to terms with what he is and what he is destined to become. The emphasis on his "badness" suggests that he is insecure in himself. The thorough thrashing he receives from "Greasy Character" is representational of the lack of control he has over his life. A truly bad man with greasy jeans has come to teach him there are consequences for the things he does.
The narrator is both protagonist and antagonist because the main conflict is an internal one. The "bad greasy character" is flat and stereotypical as a dense, bad dude looking for trouble with his fists. The supporting characters, Digby, Jeff, and the girlfriend of "Greasy Character" are flat and static as are the two blonds and the hot-rodder who arrived like a knight in shiny...