Sunday, July 15, 2012

Character analysis of unnamed character in greasy lake by T. Coraghassan Boyle

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The Character of the Unnamed Narrator in “Greasy Lake”

by T. Coraghassan Boyle

Bad Characters or Bad Character Wanna-be’s? “Greasy Lake” is the story of the unnamed narrator and his two friends who are bad characters until they run into a situation where they question just how bad they are. Just because they act badly and look bad does not mean they are bad. They are teenagers in a period, “when courtesy and winning ways are out of style when it is good to be bad, when they cultivate decadence like a taste.” (paragraph 1) They look bad, wearing torn-up leather jackets, slouching around with toothpicks in their mouths and wearing their shades morning, noon, and night. They have the attitude. They drive their parents’ cars fast and burn rubber as they pull out of the driveway. They have the bad habits. They drink “gin and grape juice, Tango, Thunderbird, and Bali Hai, sniff glue, and ether and what somebody claims is cocaine.” (paragraph ) What starts out as a harmless prank turns into a situation where they get into a fight, attempt to rape a girl, find a dead body, and see first hand the destruction a bad character can do to an automobile. These events that transpire on the third night of summer vacation lead up to revelations by the narrator into the fact that he may think that he is a bad character, but in reality he is not. In reality, the narrator is only portraying an image he has of a character he wants to be.

The night the narrator and his friends lose their “badness” is nothing special. After the requisite bad character activities egging mailboxes and hitchhikers, driving up and down Main Street, eating, drinking, and smoking pot, they decide to go to the local hangout, Greasy Lake, to see if anything is going on. They cruise up to the lake with their “lemon-flavored gin,” requisite pot, and the itch for some action. There is no better place for these three bad characters to hang out. Greasy Lake is an important place for bad characters to learn an important lesson. The lake, like the events about to unfold, is “fetid and murky…mud banks glistened with broken glass, strewn with beer cans and the charred remains of bonfires.” (paragraph ) There are only two vehicles in the whole parking lot, “the exoskeleton of some gaunt chrome insect, a chopper leaned against its kickstand.” (paragraph 5) And a, “57 Chevy, mint, metallic blue.” (paragraph 5) No excitement, “expect some junkie halfwit biker and a car freak pumping his girlfriend.” Whatever they are looking for they are not going to find it up at the lake. All of a sudden, they see a friend’s car. This is all the three need to know; now things will get interesting, maybe it is not a wasted trip after all. They flash the headlights and honk the horn, a harmless prank to pull on a friend, “for all we know we might even catch a glimpse of some little fox’s tit. And then we could slap backs with red-faced Tony, roughhouse a little, and go on to new heights of adventure and daring.” (paragraph 6)

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What seemed a good prank turns out to be the biggest mistake the narrator could have made. The first mistake is dropping the car keys in the grass. That is a mistake because now the narrator has no way to escape the area and situation. Also, in their haste for a little excitement and adventure, they fail to realize it is not Tony’s car after all, but someone else’s car. This is the second mistake. The owner of the car, a greasy booted character, does not find this childish prank funny. He comes out of the car with fists flying and feet kicking. He is not about to let these guys get away with this so-called harmless prank. This guy is bad; he takes on all three of the friends, and thoroughly beats them up. Even after this, the narrator still thinks he is bad. “I went for the tire iron under the car seat.” (paragraph 11) The narrator still holds onto the idea he is bad, “I [keep] it there because bad characters always keep tire irons under the driver’s seat, for just such an occasion as this.” (paragraph 11) Everything the narrator is thinking about is associated with the image of being bad. The reality is this guy has used the tire iron, not for other fights, but to change a flat tire. As for fighting, this bad character has been in only one other fight in his life “in the 6th grade, when a kid with a sleepy eye and two streams of mucous descending from his nostrils hit me in the knee with a Louisville slugger.” (paragraph 11)

The situation is taking on a life of its own, a situation the narrator cannot stop. “The antagonist is shirtless… he bends forward to peel Jeff from his back like a wet overcoat…Motherfuer, he spats over and over, and the narrator is aware in that instant that all four of them � Digby, Jeff and the narrator included � are chanting motherfuer, motherfuer as if it were a battle cry.” (paragraph 1) The adrenaline is pumping, hearts racing; the smell of fear is in the air. They are actors in a play watching from the stage; they are bad. In the heat of the moment; “I go at him like a kamikaze, mindless, raging, stung with humiliation � the whole thing, from the initial boot in the shin to this murderous primal instinct.” (paragraph 1) Logic is gone; the only thing that matters is survival, survival of the baddest. The narrator hits the greasy character on the side of his head and the greasy character goes down, a tuff of hair hanging on the edge of the tire iron. They “are standing over him in a circle, gritting their teeth, jerking their necks, their limbs and hands and feet twitching.” (paragraph 14) They are bad they have knocked out the greasy character. All of a sudden, they hear a shriek; it is the greasy characters girlfriend. She is standing there, and they are feeling tough. The adrenaline and testosterone is flowing. They turn their attention to her. “We are bad characters, and we are wheezing, tearing at her clothes, grabbing for flesh. We are bad characters and we are scared and hot.”(paragraph 15) They are on her …like Bergman’s deranged brothers � see no evil � hear none, speak none.”(paragraph 15) These guys are not rapists. They are three 1 year olds, who due to a case of mistaken identity, are heading for the edge. “[…] we are steps over the line and anything can happen.” (paragraph 15) They never get a chance to go over the edge; a pair of headlights interrupts them. They bolt, running for the car and realizing the keys are lost; they make their way to the woods. They scatter; they are not bad anymore they are scared.

Being a truly bad character has its ramifications and the three are about to find out what the ramifications are. The narrator flees into the murky water running through weeds and muck. Just when he thinks it could not get any worse, he stumbles upon the lifeless body of a dead man. It is then, standing next to a dead body the narrator starts to realize he and his friends are not as bad as they think. He is just a scared little boy. “I’m 1, a mere child, an infant and here in the space of five minutes I’d struck down one greasy character,” (paragraph 1) not to mention the attempted rape of the greasy characters’ girlfriend, “and blundered in to the water logged carcass of another.” (paragraph 1) The narrator is alone. He has no idea where his other two bad friends have gone. He is alone in the dark; his only companion is the dead biker. The narrator knows he is in trouble; the car, which has interrupted the rape, is still there, which means the occupants of the car are looking for the narrator and his two bad friends. He also knows no matter what, if they catch him, they are going to beat him up. Suddenly, he hears the sound of metal against metal; the bad, greasy character is smashing his mom’s car with the tire iron, the weapon of choice for all bad characters. The narrator feels joy and vindication; he is not a murder, “the son of a bitch is alive”. (paragraph 6) First, the headlight, then the bumper, then he hears the windshield break. The two bad characters that driven up in the Trans Am are picking up rocks, muck, garbage, and pop-tops, used condoms and throwing it all through the broken windshield. It becomes increasingly apparent these are truly bad characters. Lying in the water next to the dead biker, the narrator feels as bad as his surroundings. “The bad breath of decay is all around me, my jacket, heavy as a bear, the primordial ooze subtly reconstituting itself to accommodate my upper thighs and testicles. My jaws ache, my knee throbs, my coccyx is on fire.” (paragraph 1) The narrator not only feels the physical side effects of his wild night of badness, but he feels it emotionally as well. The weight of what he and his friends have done rests heavily on him like his coat. The “breath of decay” (paragraph 1) is his feelings of death, the death of an image, and the death of ideals, of who he thinks he is. The “primordial ooze” (paragraph 1) is the feelings of regret and ugliness of what the narrator and his friends have done.

As the narrator is lying in the muck he begins to think about other repercussions as well. The narrator has to figure out what he is going to tell his parents about the car. “A tree fell on the car, I was blinded by a bread truck, hit and run, vandals got to it while we were playing chess at Digby’s.” (paragraph 1) If he is truly bad, he would not care his Mother’s car is damaged, and no car arriving would have stopped the rape. The dead body would not bother him. He would not fear getting out of the water and being beaten up. He would not need to question whether he is bad or not. As he is sitting there, something about the nature of life is revealed to him. He realizes that life has a dark side, and there are limitations to being bad.

When the narrator and his friends finally come out of the woods, they go over the to the car and cannot believe what they see. The narrator feels as the car looks, all battered and smashed, broken, destroyed, a wreck. They go to the car and start cleaning it out. This is symbolic of what they need to do with their own lives. They need to clean up their images, they need to pick up the pieces and start over. They have to evaluate themselves. They are ashamed because they realize they have run across people who do not have to act badly because they are bad. As they are about to leave, a Mustang drives up, and one of its occupants gets out looking for the biker. When she sees the three friends, she says, “Hey, you guys look like some pretty bad characters � been fighting, huh?” (paragraph 4) They do not know how to answer her. Yes, they have been fighting, but they are not bad. Her perception of them is based on the way they look, how the car looks. She is judging them by what she sees, not who they truly are. Then the narrator thinks, “I am going to cry.” (paragraph 44) This is because he realizes that they may look and act like bad characters, but they are not. Looks are deceiving. He and his friends learn the valuable lesson that there will always be a character “badder” then they are. They also realize then that anyone of them could be the guy floating in the lake. The narrator and his two friends learn valuable lessons from the experience they have gone through never judge a book by its cover; never underestimate their opponents; and most importantly, there truly is a difference between a bad character and a bad character wanna-be.

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