The character of The Narrator in Greasy Lake from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Greasy Lake

The Narrator Character Analysis

The unnamed narrator of “Greasy Lake” is nineteen and “cultivates decadence like a taste.” Desperate to appear “bad” and “dangerous,” he tries to seem passive and cool, but he actually reveals himself to be nervous and indecisive in the face of real danger. Just like his friends Jeff and Digby, the narrator is understood to be firmly middle-class, though he is desperate to shake that uncool identity. He floats through his days and nights acting like he doesn’t “give a shit about anything” and hoping that exciting things will happen to him. From an unknown point in the future, the narrator tells the story of a night when he and his friends drove their parents’ cars up to Greasy Lake. After an encounter with a Bad Character goes awry, the narrator hides at the edge of Greasy Lake, where he finds a dead body. Between the physical fight with the Bad Character and the horror of discovering the body, the narrator is shaken and changed. In the light of morning, he and his friends recognize their shameful behavior and the stark reality of their foolish dreams of danger. Boyle has noted, in past interviews, the autobiographical tilt of “Greasy Lake,” and with his own history of pursuing “badness,” it’s possible that Boyle uses the narrator as a conduit for expressing the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of his own teenage years.

The Narrator Quotes in Greasy Lake

The Greasy Lake quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Danger Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Greasy Lake published in 1986.
Greasy Lake Quotes

There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste. We were all dangerous characters then. We wore torn-up leather jackets, slouched around with toothpicks in our mouths, sniffed glue and ether and what somebody claimed was cocaine. We were nineteen. We were bad. We struck elaborate poses to show that we didn’t give a shit about anything. At night, we went up to Greasy Lake.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Digby, Jeff
Related Symbols: Greasy Lake
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Greasy Lake quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

Through the center of town, up the strip, past the housing developments and shopping malls: that was the way out to Greasy Lake. The Indians had called it Wakan, a reference to the clarity of its waters. Now it was fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans and the charred remains of bonfires. There was a single ravaged island a hundred yards from shore. We went up to the lake because everyone went there, because we wanted to snuff the scent of possibility on the breeze, watch a girl take off her clothes and plunge into the festering murk, drink beer, smoke pot, howl at the stars…This was nature.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Greasy Lake
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

It was early June, the third night of summer vacation. The first two nights we’d been out [driving around] till dawn, looking for something we never found.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Digby, Jeff
Related Symbols: Greasy Lake, Cars
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

There was no reasoning with this bad greasy character—clearly he was a man of action.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Digby, Jeff, The “Bad Character” (Bobbie)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

A single second, big as a zeppelin, floated by. We were standing over him in a circle, gritting our teeth, jerking our necks. No one said anything. Already [I was] envisioning the headlines, the pitted faces of the police inquisitors, the gleam of handcuffs, clank of bars, the big black shadows rising from the back of the cell.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Digby, Jeff, The “Bad Character” (Bobbie)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

We were bad characters, and we were scared and hot and three steps over the line—anything could have happened.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Digby, Jeff, “The Fox”
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

In one of those nasty little epiphanies for which we are prepared by films and TV and childhood visits to the funeral home, I understood what it was that bobbed there so inadmissibly in the dark [water.] Understood, and stumbled back in horror and revulsion, my mind yanked in six different directions (I was nineteen, a mere child, an infant, and here in the space of five minutes I’d struck down one greasy character and blundered into the waterlogged carcass of a second), thinking, The keys, the keys, why did I have to go and lose the keys?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“Hey, you guys look like some pretty bad characters—been fightin’, huh?”

Related Characters: Older Girl (speaker), The Narrator, Digby, Jeff
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I looked back. The girl was still standing there, watching us, her shoulders slumped, hand outstretched.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Greasy Lake LitChart as a printable PDF.
Greasy lake.pdf.medium

The Narrator Character Timeline in Greasy Lake

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in Greasy Lake. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Greasy Lake
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
From an unknown point in the future, an unnamed narrator looks back on his “dangerous” youth. He describes a time “when courtesy and winning ways... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Nature vs. Development Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
The narrator recalls that Greasy Lake was located “through the center of town, up the strip, past... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
The narrator reflects, in particular, on one night at the lake. He was there, he says satirically,... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Nature vs. Development Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
The narrator, in his mother’s Bel Air, drives Digby and Jeff out to Greasy Lake. It is... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
...’57 Chevy in mint condition parked there. “On the far side of the lot,” the narrator observes, there is an abandoned “chopper.” The narrator is disappointed to find only “some junkie... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
...exclaims that the Chevy is “Tony Lovett’s car,” and honks the Bel Air’s horn. The narrator, at Digby’s suggestion, turns on the brights. The boys revel in the hilarity of their... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Nature vs. Development Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
The narrator interrupts the story’s flow to highlight two of his major mistakes. The first, he says,... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
...the robin’s-egg of Tony’s car.” The Bad Character was “clearly a man of action,” the narrator recalls with more than a hint of sarcasm, detailing how the man immediately began doling... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
While the Bad Character kicks the narrator savagely, Digby steps in to deliver “a savage kung-fu blow,” employing a move he learned... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Though “terrified,” the narrator brings the tire iron down on the Bad Character’s head. “The effect [is] instantaneous,” and... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
...fists, toward the boys, calling them “animals” for attacking her partner, the Bad Character. The narrator takes in her silver anklet, her painted toenails, and her blow-dried hair. “It was the... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
The narrator, realizing he has made some noise with all his thrashing, hears The Fox telling someone:... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
The narrator stays hidden in the underbrush, and listens tensely as the sound of “door[s] slam[ming] and... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Nature vs. Development Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
The narrator lies in the grass and “primordial ooze” for an indeterminate length of time. He “contemplate[s]... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
As dawn begins to break, the narrator stands and returns to his mother’s car. He takes stock of the extensive damage, and... (full context)
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
...and close the doors. The Mustang parks next to the motorcycle, and Digby urges the narrator to drive away, but he remains frozen. (full context)
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
...stiletto[s.]” They inspect the motorcycle and call for someone named “Al.” Digby again presses the narrator to drive away. Just then, one of the girls—the narrator thinks she looks “older”—walks unsteadily... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
...boys if any of them have seen “Al,” and they tell her that they haven’t—the narrator cannot bring himself to speak up about what he believes “Al”’s fate to be. The... (full context)