The Importance of Setting
The path to becoming an adult is lined with a variety of childhood and adolescent experiences, some more painful than others. In T. Coraghessen Boyle’s short story, “Greasy Lake,” Boyle masterfully uses the setting and the protagonist’s experience to teach us an old but vital lesson: those who choose not to learn and grow from their past mistakes are destined to repeat them, and thus will never mature and realize their true potential.
At the beginning of the story, the main character (who also happens to be the narrator) depicts his adolescence as “a time when courtesy…went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste” (621). The three thought of themselves as dangerous characters, riding around town wreaking havoc. However, it seems unclear to the main character and his two friends that in reality, they are not actually bad characters. Really bad characters don’t drive their “parents’ whining station wagons” (621) or read intellectual French novels by Andre Gide.
Boyle gives us a general thought that these three boys are just your ordinary, everyday, misguided juvenile delinquents with an unclear view of what it really means to be a man. Later in the story, the narrator depicts a scene at the main setting of “Greasy Lake. ” There, the three boys provoke who is described as the “very bad character” (623). The events that took place led the three to realize the ugly truth: they are nothing more than just three kids on an adventure for the night; little did they know what was in store for them.
After a lengthy description of the fight that took place between the four characters, the three boys find themselves attempting to rape the girl that was accompanying the “very bad character. ” Luckily, before they can go any farther, another vehicle pulls into the scene, scaring the boys as the flee away. They all run in different directions, leaving them all separated from each other. The main character, with no place else to hide, plunges into the greasy lake.
The water is completely contaminated; “it was fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans and the charred remains of bonfires” (622). The setting of “Greasy Lake” contributes to the plot in a sense of the troubles of the three teenage boys. Much of the story takes place at Greasy Lake, which is not an ordinary, everyday, swimming with the family type of lake. There are crowded trees, which draws a picture of a dark forest with very little light seeping through. The island in the middle of the lake has little or no vegetation, giving the reader a feeling of death.
It is also littered with things such as beer cans, broken glass, and bonfire remains. These are items that make you think of loss of control, violence, or even destruction. These ideas could surely lead to something bad happening. The water itself is described as “fetid and murky” (622). There are two different aspects of time to consider when looking at “Greasy Lake. ” First of all, there is the fact that it is 2 a. m. The middle of the night is commonly a time of day when bad things occur. It is probably considered that the good, peaceful people are at home in bed.
Therefore, if someone is up and about they are most likely wreaking havoc. Secondly, there is the year that the story takes place. It was written in the eighties, and it takes place in a time when “it was good to be bad” (621). Therefore, it is likely that something bad is sure to occur. The setting also serves a very important purpose to most stories by evoking a certain atmosphere. Work Cited Boyle, T. Coraghessan. “Greasy Lake. ” 621 Kirszner, Laurie G. , and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Writing. 8th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013 Print.