As the play’s title suggests, scenes in How I Learned to Drive frequently feature cars and driving. Most broadly, the car represents the complicated emotional relationship between Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck. The car is both where Peck teaches Li’l Bit to drive and the place where he most often makes his inappropriate sexual advances on her, thus reflecting the sexual and paternal dynamic between them. As an object of characteristically male obsession, the car also mirrors Peck’s sexual obsession towards his niece. This is drawn out in detail when Peck describes his car as female in one of the driving lessons: “It doesn’t have to be a ‘she’—but when you close your eyes and think of someone who responds to your touch—someone who performs just for you and gives you what you ask for—I guess I always see a ‘she.’” The car then, at least for Peck, means control—the kind of control he wants over Li’l Bit. When Li’l Bit ultimately rejects him at the end of the play—signaling his loss of control over her—he notably loses his driver’s license. Almost contradictorily, the car is also an expression of power and freedom, giving its user the means by which to go anywhere, and fast. Peck sees cars this way, but so too does Li’l Bit. That’s why the play ends with her “flooring it” in her car, giving her the sensation of “flight in the body” and symbolizing the way in which she moves on from the distressing events of her childhood.
Driving is also reflected by the official-sounding voice that speaks throughout the play from off-stage, reinforcing how deeply Li’l Bit’s experiences with Peck have shaped her life and memories. What it says always relates to driving, and generally reminds the audience of the kind of titles that might head up chapters in a driving instruction manual. This voice serves an important function of literally navigating between the play’s many different destinations of time and space, and is specifically symbolic because the content, though appearing to be targeted aimlessly at a driver who isn’t there, helps the audience make sense of the play’s movements between Li’l Bit’s memories. For example, when the voice states “You and the Reverse Gear,” this is an indication that chronology of the play is going backwards in time. Later, as the relationship between Peck and Li’l Bit heads towards its climax, the voice indicates a shift from second to third and then third to fourth gear. This indicates an acceleration in the action, bringing order to the play’s fragmented form. Again, because Li’l Bit invariably connects driving to Peck, the structuring of the play via this voice thus emphasizes how her relationship with Peck has affected everything in her life.
Driving/Cars Quotes in How I Learned to Drive
It’s 1969. And I am very old, very cynical of the world, and I know it all. In short, I am seventeen years old, parking off a dark lane with a married man on an early summer night.
PECK. Don’t change the subject. I was talking about how good I am. (Beat.) Are you ever gonna let me show you how good I am?
LI’L BIT. Don’t go over the line now.
PECK. I won’t. I’m not gonna do anything you don’t want me
LI’L BIT. That’s right.
PECK. And I’ve been good all week.
LI’L BIT. You have?
PECK. Yes. All week. Not a single drink.
LI’L BIT. Good boy.
PECK. Do I get a reward? For not drinking?
LI’L BIT. A small one. It’s getting late.
LI’L BIT. 1967. In a parking lot of the Beltsville Agricultural Farms. The Initiation into a Boy's First Love.
PECK. (With a soft look on his face.) Of course, my favorite car will always be the ’56 Bel Air Sports Coupe. Chevy sold more ’55s, but the ’56! — a V-8 with Corvette option, 225 horse power; went from zero to sixty miles per hour in 8.9 seconds.
LI’L BIT. (To the audience.) Long after a mother's tits, but before a woman’s breasts:
PECK. Super-Turbo-Fire! What a Power Pack — mechanical lifters, twin four-barrel carbs, lightweight valves, dual exhausts —
LI’L BIT. (To the audience.) After the milk but before the beer:
PECK. A specific intake manifold, higher-lift camshaft, and the tightest squeeze Chevy had ever made —
LI’L BIT. (To the audience.) Long after he's squeezed down the birth canal but before he’s pushed his way back in: The boy falls in love with the thing that bears his weight with speed.
PECK. So if you’re going to drive with me, I want you to take this very seriously.
LI’L BIT. I will, Uncle Peck. I want you to teach me to drive.
PECK. Good. You’re going to pass your test on the first try. Perfect score. Before the next four weeks are over, you’re going to know this baby inside and out. Treat her with respect.
LI’L BIT. Why is it a “she?”
PECK. Good question. It doesn't have to be a “she” — but when you close your eyes and think of someone who responds to your touch — someone who performs just for you and gives you what you ask for—I guess I always see a “she.” You can call her what you like.
LI’L BIT. (To the audience.) I closed my eyes — and decided not to change the gender.
LI’L BIT. — Well, what the hell were those numbers all about! Forty-four days to go —only two more weeks.—And then just numbers—69—68—67—like some serial killer!
PECK. Li’l Bit! Whoa! This is me you’re talking to—I was just trying to pick up your spirits, trying to celebrate your birthday.
LI’L BIT. My eighteenth birthday. I'm not a child, Uncle Peck. You were counting down to my eighteenth birthday.
LI’L BIT. So? So statutory rape is not in effect when a young woman turns eighteen. And you and I both know it. (Peck is walking on ice.)
PECK. I think you misunderstand.
LI’L BIT. 1 think I understand all too well. I know what you want to do five steps ahead of you doing it. Defensive Driving 101.
LI’L BIT. Now that I’m old enough, there are some questions I would have liked to have asked him. Who did it to you, Uncle Peck? How old were you? Were you eleven? (Peck moves to the driver’s seat of the car and waits.) Sometimes I think of my uncle as a kind of Flying Dutch man. In the opera, the Dutchman is doomed to wander the sea; but every seven years he can come ashore, and if he finds a maiden who will love him of her own free will — he will be released.
And I see Uncle Peck in my mind, in his Chevy ’56, a spirit driving up and down the back roads of Carolina — looking for a young girl who, of her own free will, will love him. Release him.
FEMALE GREEK CHORUS. (As Mother.) I am not letting an eleven-year-old girl spend seven hours alone in the car with a man... I don’t like the way your uncle looks at you.
LI’L BIT. For god’s sake, mother! Just because you’ve gone through a bad time with my father — you think every man is evil!
FEMALE GREEK CHORUS. (As Mother.) Oh no, Li’l Bit not all men... We... we just haven’t been very lucky with the men in our family.
LI’L BIT. Just because you lost your husband — I still deserve a chance at having a father! Someone! A man who will look out for me! Don’t I get a chance?
FEMALE GREEK CHORUS. (As Mother.) I will feel terrible if something happens.
LI’L BIT. Mother! It’s in your head! Nothing will happen! I can take care of myself. And I can certainly handle Uncle Peck.
FEMALE GREEK CHORUS. (As Mother.) All right. But I’m warning you — if anything happens, I hold you responsible.
TEENAGE GREEK CHORUS. Am I doing it right?
PECK. That’s right. Now, whatever you do, don’t let go of the wheel. You tell me whether to go faster or slower —
TEENAGE GREEK CHORUS. Not so fast, Uncle Peck!
PECK. Li’l Bit — I need you to watch the road — (Peck puts his hands on Li’l Bit’s breasts. She relaxes against him, silent, accepting his touch.)
TEENAGE GREEK CHORUS. Uncle Peck — what are you doing?
PECK. Keep driving. (He slips his hands under her blouse.)
TEENAGE GREEK CHORUS. Uncle Peck — please don’t do this —
PECK. —Just a moment longer... (Peck tenses against Li’l Bit.)
TEENAGE GREEK CHORUS. (Trying not to cry.) This isn’t happening. (Peck tenses more, sharply. He buries his face in Li’l Bit’s neck, and moans softly.)
LI’L BIT. The nearest sensation I feel — of flight in the body — I guess I feel when I’m driving. On a day like today. It’s five a.m. The radio says it’s going to be clear and crisp. I’ve got five hundred miles of highway ahead of me — and some back roads too. I filled the tank last night, and had the oil checked. Checked the tires, too. You’ve got to treat her... with respect.