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"Greasy Lake," a Short Story by T. C. Boyle

Kennedy & Gioia, 7th edition (compact), pp. 408-415


The main part of this worksheet is five questions on the above story which you must answer for a daily grade.   You will submit your answers in the GL Worksheet assignment within Blackboard.  The steps are the same as the first worksheet; you will also find them listed within the assignment in Blackboard, so I am not listing them here.

For a review of the concept of theme, click here.

For a review of the literary devices, click here.

For a review of the basic interpretive strategy, click here.

This exercise will help you see how your knowledge of one device can build on other devices, so that they work like stepping stones to a good understanding of the work as a whole and of its theme, its moral lesson. 

The Five Questions

As a daily grade, answer these questions:

1. Protagonist & Type of Social Conflict (a three-part question):   What is the point-of-view of the story? (If you need to, review this device before answering.)  Working from the point-of-view and if necessary, other factors, tell who is the protagonist, and why.  Social conflict:  This story does not seem to show a clear-cut type of social conflict.  Nevertheless, speculate about what description or name we might give to the social conflict or conflicts among the various characters.  (This answer requires some thought; do not answer this in just one sentence.)

2.  Inner Conflict (a three-part question):  The prank the narrator and his buddies decide to pull quickly goes sour.  Once that happens, what emotions can you name to describe their inner conflict?  (In your answer, clearly list some emotions; don't just ramble.)  The narrator experiences or discovers something which, apparently, his friends never find out about.  His discovery is extremely unsettling for him.  What is it he discovers?  What effect do you think this discovery has on his own inner conflict?

3.  Character Change (a three-part question):  Note how the narrator, as he tells the story, often seems to mock or make fun of himself and his buddies that night.  For example, at one point, he describes himself as "stung with humiliation" as he tries to defend himself in the fight.  This is a part of the tone of the story, which is told in past tense--after it happened.  What does this "after-the-fact" tone or mood the narrator projects imply about his present opinion of his younger self, especially in contrast to his mood as the events actually unfolded?  Note the new characters who show up at the end, looking for Al, and wanting to "party."  The boys turn them down.  What does this mean about their state of mind at that point?  Consider several factors:  the effect of the narrator's discovery on his inner conflict; the self-mocking tone he uses to tell his story; the response he and his friends make to the offer to "party."  Lastly, consider this quote:  "Then I thought of the dead man.  He was probably the only person on the planet worse off than I was . . . My car was wrecked; he was dead."  Now tell whether the protagonist/narrator has changed, and if so, from what type of person to what other type of person. 

4.  The Moral Lesson (The Theme)--(a one-part question):  Now consider the lesson you may think the main character has learned.  Word it so that it applies to us too, and present it as a statement of theme, a moral lesson.

5.  Symbolism (a three-part question):  Think of the comparison the author makes about the lake:  What is its present condition, in contrast to its earlier state, many generations ago?    The contrast between the past and present conditions of the lake symbolizes some message about the condition of our society and the direction it has taken.  State this meaning so that it might also apply to the mental or emotional state of the narrator and his gang at the start of the story.  Now consider how the filthy lake symbolically mirrors the inner state of the boys--yet the narrator emerges from the lake.  What symbolic meaning does that suggest?


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