Greasy Lake


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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Themes and Colors
Danger Theme Icon
Nature vs. Development Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Greasy Lake, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


The narrator of “Greasy Lake” describes a world in which “courtesy and winning ways [are] out of style,” and in which he and his friends “cultivate decadence like a taste.” To put it bluntly, the narrator and his friends think it’s cool to be bad. This story explores the allure of danger through the narrator’s retelling of a truly dangerous night that he and his friends passed at Greasy Lake, ultimately concluding that the…

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Nature vs. Development

At the start of the story, the narrator explains that Greasy Lake has gone from being a remarkable natural landmark (noted for the “clarity” of its waters) to a complete cesspool. “Glittering broken glass” and “beer cans and the charred remains of bonfires” line the lake’s edge. As Greasy Lake has grown more and more physically polluted, the behavior of those who live around it and visit it has grown polluted, too. Where once people…

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Action vs. Inaction

Emotional weariness, stagnancy, and dissatisfaction plague the characters of “Greasy Lake.” The narrator and his friends present themselves as “bad characters” who prize indifference. They “strike elaborate poses to show that [they don’t] give a shit about anything,” and they are each completely passive individuals in their own ways. Digby “allow[s] his father to pay his tuition at Cornell;” Jeff is aimless, only “thinking” about opening up a shop; and the narrator describes himself and…

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Memory, Reminiscence, and the Pull of the Past

“Greasy Lake” is set in the past: it’s a story from the narrator’s memory, and there is a distance between the older narrator who tells the story and the younger version of himself who is at the story’s center. This distance is evident from the way that the narrator’s over-the-top tone seems to mock his younger self and his friends, as well as through the narrator’s perspective on the night’s events. For instance, he doesn’t…

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