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It is said that a person's adolescence is the most painful time of their life, as well as the people around them. Teenagers are caught between puberty and maturity, a strange crossroads between having to grow up and be strong and retreating into the safe cocoon. Most teens are defiant, refusing to conform to social and cultural norms of acceptable behavior. They want to discover the world around them and not restrict themselves to the norm of achievement as they approach the beginning of adulthood. In being experimental and rebellious, these teenagers want to try different elements that have usually been hushed and kept at a distance from them deliberately. These include drugs, alcohol, and sexual exposures that are a result of the urge to self-discovery. These expeditions make them realize how they would want to be when they enter adulthood, and where do they see themselves in the future. Teenage is an important phase, it is both rugged in nature and settling, molds the person’s character and personality and gives them both pleasant and harsh experiences, albeit self-pursued. The important question however stays is that if teenagers learn from this phase and mature, or they get stuck in a limbo and destroy themselves.
T.C Boyle, in his short story ‘Greasy Lake’ writes about a group of boys going through their teenage and exploring themselves through rugged activities. In the end of the story, the main character is shown to be making a decision about his future and what path to take ahead because of the epiphany he had during this phase of his life. An interesting thing about the story is that the protagonist is unnamed. He and his group of friends are shown to be analyzing moral codes through decoding what a bad boy is and what is typically expected of them in terms of behavior. Basically the group is seen to be defining what a bad boy is, to act like one and fit the stereotype. However, while acting like typical bad boys, this group of friends realizes they are not cut out for that and the rebel lifestyle is not their cup of tea.
Boyle, through his story deconstructs social norms of behavior, good and bad, making the readers realize that being cool does not have to necessarily translate into being rough and tough and getting into trouble deliberately even doing offense things. They teens realize they are not fit to be rebellious because of the unfortunate events they go through while discovering the bad boy. “There was a time when . . . it was good to be bad . . . We were all dangerous characters then” (Boyle, 1985 p.687). The unnamed protagonist is glad of the fact that the group of friends did what they did in discovering being bad and challenging societal norms. The group indulges into various activities including smoking, drugs and alcohol, along with listening to rock and roll genre of music, and doing meet up with girls late at night at the Greasy Lake, after which the story is named.
The boys while indulging into drugs and drink get intoxicated, sexually harass a girl, and have to flee a scene to save their lives. While hiding from the scene, the protagonist finds a floating dead body “… blundered into something. Something unspeakable, obscene, something soft, wet, moss-grown” (Boyle, 1985 p.691). This weirdly reminds of the protagonist of his own self, as if the lifeless body was a reflection of his own self. Here is where he has the epiphany. He realizes that being in a life which is seemingly cool, but destructive is not what he wants. Being intoxicated makes him weak and vulnerable to emotions and this kind of lifestyle where there is no certainty and is endless, is not want the protagonist wants, or seeks. He wonders if this will eventually lead to somewhere or it just a limbo.
Greasy Lake in essence is a coming of age story, a story of self-discovery, a story about life. It deals with the self-existential crisis that most teenagers go through, knowingly and unknowingly, consciously and subconsciously, the idea of self-discovery, of adulthood and of life becomes overwhelming and takes over the life they have always known. It has a character development shown in a few pages, from the protagonist taking radical decisions to act cool and be a bad boy, from him maturing and thinking about the consequences his life will have to face because of the decisions he is taking now, the protagonist learns in a few pages and through a series of unfortunate incidents about the weight each decision about life has, and how everything comes back in a full circle, learning that whatever and whoever you choose to be now will come back at you as you grow into an adult.
The story is an inspiration for young people to learn from before growing up into and putting up a tough skin that does not belong to them and feels heavy on the heart. It tells the reader that societal constructs of good and bad, at the end of the day are just constructs and one has to find their own way by noticing the fluidity of these concepts. It also tells the readers that it is okay to go astray while on your path of self-discovery, until you come back and learn from your mistakes.
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