Nature has a powerful way of portraying good vs. bad, which parallels to the same concept intertwined with human nature. In the story "Greasy Lake" by T. Coraghessan Boyle, the author portrays this through the use of a lake by demonstrating its significance and relationship to the characters. At one time, the Greasy Lake was something of beauty and cleanliness, but then came to be the exact opposite. Through his writing, Boyle demonstrates how the setting can be a direct reflection of the characters and the experiences they encounter. The lake itself plays a major role throughout the story, as it mirrors the characters almost exactly. For example, the lake is described as being "fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans" (125).
The characters are also described as being "greasy" or "dangerous" several times, which ties the lake and the characters together through their similarities. The narrator explains, "We were bad. At night we went up to Greasy Lake" (124). This demonstrates the importance that the surroundings in which the main characters' choose to be in is extremely important to the image that they reflect.
At the beginning of the story, these characters' images and specifically being "bad" is essentially all that mattered to them. "We wore torn up leather jackets... drank gin and grape juice... sniffed glue and ether and what somebody claimed was cocaine" (124). They went out of their way doing anything even remotely deviant, and thrived on the stereotypical image of being "bad". Numerous times throughout the story, Boyle refers to not only the main characters as being "greasy", but also describes a variety of other people in the same way. It is ironic that not only is the lake named Greasy Lake, but the individuals who hang out there are also referred to as being greasy characters as well.
The 3 main characters find themselves surrounded by "dangerous" characters, and get stuck in the middle of a huge fight. As if things aren't bad enough, the main characters then attempt to rape a girl that is with the man they just fought. Very soon after more people show up ready to join in the deviant behavior, all while in the presence of this dirty, disgusting lake. "I'd struck down one greasy character, and blundered into the waterlogged carcass of a second" (128). No matter what the main characters do, or how they react to the conflicts presented, they constantly find themselves in the presence of more greasy characters at the greasy lake. The author also makes a connection between the lake and the characters in his use of the word "nature".
Fairly early in the story Boyle explains that the characters go to the lake to "plunge into the festering murk, drink beer, smoke pot, howl at the stars" which again shows us the connection between the disgusting lake and the deviant teen boys. (125). Boyle then concludes the paragraph by saying, "This was nature", which describes the attitudes and behaviors of the teenagers that go to the lake (125). Yet towards the end of the story, the author again refers to the word "nature", but this time using it in a completely different sense. "The birds had begun to take over for the crickets, and the dew lay slick on the leaves. Everything was still.
This was nature". (130). Ironically, as the physical nature and the environment around them changes, the characters beliefs and attitudes, or their human nature, begins to change as well. Through one simple word, which remained unchanged, the author was able to illustrate how the characters and the setting are ultimately connected. After the series of horrible events, the main character has an epiphany and realizes that his priorities in life are all in the wrong places, and being "bad" looses significance to him. Ironically, the main character has this sudden realization after physically going into the lake, and when he emerges, he has a whole new outlook on life.
"I pushed myself up from the mud and stepped out into the open. There was a smell in the air... the smell of sun firing buds and opening blossoms" (130). This symbolizes that the disgust of the dirty lake and his conflicts are behind him. The character entered the lake as a "greasy" character with all kinds of conflicts, then has an epiphany while in the water, and emerges with a completely new perspective on life. It is interesting how closely related this is to a baptism or "rebirth". With the sun rising as the once "greasy" character emerges from the lake, not only does it create a new day, but his past also seems to fade with the darkness.
Boyle, T. Coraghessan. "Greasy Lake". Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Fourth Compact Edition. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005.124-131.