Greasy Lake

The Narrator’s Keys Symbol Analysis

The Narrator’s Keys Symbol Icon

The narrator’s “first mistake” at Greasy Lake was dropping his keys into the “dark, rank, mysterious nighttime grass.” The keys can be seen as a symbol of safety, home, and innocence (they are, after all, his mother’s keys), and losing them represents the narrator’s loss of innocence in the face of true danger. As the Bad Character descends angrily upon the narrator, he searches furiously for the keys, describing them as his “grail and salvation.” Indeed, without the keys, the boys cannot escape the horror of Greasy Lake, which shows how difficult it is to return to a life of safety and innocence once a person has tasted something else. Without the keys, the narrator and his friends are lost in the underworld of Greasy Lake with no way out, but as dawn comes (along with the boys’ realizations that they do not want to be truly dangerous characters), the disheveled narrator spots the keys “glinting like jewels… no more than five feet” from the driver’s side door. The narrator gets into the car and starts the engine, thinking that there is “no need to get philosophical about [the keys]”—in other words, he recognizes their symbolic weight, but he is so shaken by the events of the evening and the gritty, tough, inescapable reality they’ve revealed to him that he doesn’t see the point in assigning any meaning to their discovery beyond the visceral relief of escape.

The Narrator’s Keys Quotes in Greasy Lake

The Greasy Lake quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Narrator’s Keys. 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

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)
Related Symbols: Greasy Lake, The Narrator’s Keys
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Narrator’s Keys Symbol Timeline in Greasy Lake

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Narrator’s Keys appears in Greasy Lake. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Greasy Lake
Danger Theme Icon
Nature vs. Development Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
...two of his major mistakes. The first, he says, “was losing [his] grip on the keys” and dropping them in the “dark, mysterious nighttime grass.” The second “was identifying the Chevy... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
...out “lusty Rockette kick[s]” as the narrator crouched in the grass, looking for his missing keys. (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
...boys run to the Bel Air, but they quickly realize that, due to the missing keys, they have no way of starting it. Digby and Jeff bolt, and the narrator runs... (full context)
Danger Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
...parked nearby, while they clean in silence. He reaches into his pocket for the car keys once some of the damage has been cleaned up, and remembers with a “nasty stab... (full context)