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Travis York
Dr. Claxon
Paper 2: Fiction
Greasy Lake: The Evolution of a Bad Protagonist
Greasy Lake written by T. Coraghessan Boyle is an epic tale of a young man utterly
engulfed in the rebellion of adolescence, and loving it. However, he is sobered by the reality and
consequences of attempting to live the bad life. The attitude of the protagonist shifts into 3
stages throughout the entire story and, these stages reveal the evolutionary change of the main
character. The protagonist is first committed to being bad, then contemplative and lastly, contrite
over his actions. The protagonist is committed to his lifestyle and deems himself a sort of rebel
of all that is orthodox. After he begins to reap the consequences of his choices, he starts to
contemplate his choice to be bad and nonchalant about life. As the story winds to a close we see
the main character broken and contrite by his actions and sobered by the reality of what the bad
life brings.
Boyles main character and his two friends are on a quest to be the epitome of bad with a,
we dont give a shit about anything attitude (294). The main character is a nineteen year old,
under the influence of; drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, and the freedom that comes with summer
break. Accompanied by two friends of the same age (Digby and Jeff), they are all eager to find
some sort of adventure to satiate their hormonal appetites. The protagonist is a model of his
times; courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad (294). The
protagonist is utterly opposed to all standards in his quest to live free, reminiscent of a 1970s
hippie. Boyle places more density to the protagonists character with each paragraph.

The protagonist is committed to being bad, he is committed to embracing the barbarity of
living unchained from standards and morals. He is committed to following the crowd and being
spontaneous, willing to do whatever feels good at the moment with full confidence in his
ignorance. He and his friend Digby and Tony go down to Greasy Lake because every one went
there, they never questioned the philosophy or why they did what they did (294). They just
wanted to have a good time and enjoy some cheap thrills. They wanted to, sniff the scent of
possibility, watch a girl take off her clothes, drink beer, smoke pot, and listen to the incongruous
full-throated roar of rock and roll against the primeval susurrus of frogs and cricketsThis is
nature (294). The protagonist even views the frogs and crickets as outdated and too common
and congruent for a lifestyle such as his. Living spontaneously and embracing change of all
things is the protagonists new definition of nature.
The protagonists friends are like fuel to the fire of his attitude and further encourage his
commitment to being bad. The protagonist describes his friends as being, dangerous
characters, Digby allowed his father to pay his tuition and Jeff was contemplating dropping
out of school to become a painter/musician/ head-shop proprietor (294). After the protagonist and
his friends had made their rounds at all the closing bars, ate all they could, harassed hitchhikers,
and vandalized property, they were left with their last resort for fun; Greasy Lake. The
protagonist drove his mothers Bel-air staion wagon to Greasy Lake as Digby pounded the
dashboard and sung, while Jeff vomited out the window, streaking it across the wagons side.
Greasy lake is their last resort for some excitement, so they jump at the chance to harass their
buddy Tony Lovett, who they suspect is pulled over by the lake having his way with a female in
his blue Chevy. However, they are in for a rude awakening when it is not Tony Lovetts car but
rather a bad character in greasy jeans and engineer boots (296).

At this point the protagonist begins to contemplate his mistakes, where as he had not
before. Now he realizes there will be consequences for his bad actions. He recollects his first
mistake was dropping his keys after jumping out of the car; the second was mistaking the blue
Chevy to be Tony Lovetts. Seeing the bad character that hopped out of the car was not looking
to have a civil conversation, the protagonist begins to develop a sense of right and wrong all of a
sudden. After being sprawled out in the dirt by a kick from the bad character in the blue Chevy,
the protagonist becomes less nonchalant about his situation. He contemplates the unfolding
situation, knowing things had gone wrong, that I was in a lot of trouble, and that the lost
ignition key was my grail and my salvation (296). After failing to find his keys in the dirt, his
friends not putting up much of a fight against the greasy character, the protagonist is terrified and
resorts to the tire iron under his car seat. He charges the greasy character and with one swing of
the tire iron he knocks him limp.
The protagonist is convicted of his actions looking at the limp greasy character in the dirt
contemplating headlines, pitted faces of police inquisitors, the gleam of handcuffs, clank of
bars, the big black shadows rising from the back of the cell (297). Believing the man was
dead, the protagonist is brought back to the reality that he may have murdered the man.
However, his remorse is short lived as he and his friends spot the half naked fox the greasy
character was having his way with before they showed up. Like animals they pounce on her with
the lustful intent to rape her. The protagonist states, we were scared and hot and three steps over
the lineanything could have happened (296). Before the protagonist and his friend could do
anything to the girl, someone pulled up and their headlights shone on them, each particle of light
convicting then, and catching them red handed in the act. They froze; the protagonist describes

them in that moment as being dirty, bloody, guilty, dissociated from humanity and civilization
The protagonists standard of nature has changed since the beginning of the story, he
initially felt; smoking pot, drinking, listening to rock and roll, and being bad was nature. Now
contemplating jail time for murder and an attempted rape he deems himself dissociated from
civilization, now being bad is no longer good. The protagonist and his friends bolt into the murky
swamped woods of Greasy Lake away from the incriminating headlights and the scene of the
crime. As the protagonist is running he is imagining cops and bloodhounds trekking through
the muddy polluted water looking for him (298). The Protagonist stumble upon a corpse he
somehow knows to be 3 days dead since hes been at the lake the past 3 nights since the start of
summer break. He is horrified and begins to have a contrite heart about his actions when he
comes in contact with the corpse of this bad character. The corpse was a symbol of what the bad
life brought, and the protagonist begins to regret his commitment to being bad.
In light of seeing the dead body and believing he killed the greasy character in the
engineer boots he contemplates; I was nineteen, a mere child, an infant, and here in the space of
five minutes Id struck down one greasy character and blundered into the waterlogged carcass of
a second (298). Seeing the dead mans soggy lifeless body took the protagonist from a
contemplative state to a contrite heart. The protagonist makes the connection between the
abandoned motorcycle and the dead man in the murky water, and concluded he was a bad
character. The greasy character he had struck with the tire iron and two blonde haired jocks that
pulled up during the attempted rape had pulverized his mothers bel-air. Overwhelmed with the
thought of how he would explain the mashed up car to his parents, the protagonist states; I

contemplated suicideThen I thought about the dead man. He was probably the only person on
the planet worse off than I waswho was he? (300).
At the end of the story the protagonist has changed his perspective on life. He no longer
deems the bad life good, seeing what the bad life resulted in. The greasy character and the blonde
jocks are long gone as the protagonist emerges from the muddy waters. I pushed myself up from
the mud and stepped into the open; this line is symbolic of the protagonists mental shift from
dark to light. As dawn approaches, the protagonist has another epiphany that reveals a changed
perspective. Now the birds had began to take over for the crickets, and dew lay slick on the
leavesthe smell of the sun firing buds and opening blossomseverything was still. This was
nature (300).
The main characters view of nature shifts significantly from the beginning of the story to
the end. Assessing the damage to his mothers car the protagonist looks to his friend Digby who
states, at least they didnt slash the tires (301). It is ironic that the protagonist rebelled against
standards and regulations, however those tires set to regulation was his savior out a bad situation
and back to normalcy. Approached by two girls looking for their friend named Al, the owner of
the bike, now a corpse in the thick of the lake, the protagonist is broken by this reality. As the
drugged girl leans into his window; I looked at her. I thought I wanted to cry (302). Here at the
stories end, the protagonist is broken, sympathetic for the druggy, the dead man in the lake, and
contrite over his foolishness in wanting to be bad.

Kennedy, X.J., Gioia, Dana (2012). Backpack Literature: An introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and
Writing (Fourth Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: University of Southern California

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