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A Reader Response Criticism Of How I Learned To Drive

1504 words - 7 pages

How I Learned to Drive is the story of Li’l Bit’s teenage life. The 17 year old Li'l Bit functions as the narrator of the story, following her life between 11 and 17 years old. The story mostly revolves around Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck, the man who molests and sexualizes Li’l Bit throughout the story. The story makes the story itself into a story as a result of the narratorial and dissociative structure. The life of Li’l Bit, and even her description of events that are close to her in the present, is structured like a play and her running commentary is filled with humor, satire, etc (like she is a comedian making a joke in poor taste). This manner of narration implies Li’l Bit has an attitude ...view middle of the document...

Uncle Peck’s driving lessons and communications with her are always opportunities for him to make his sexual advances (counting down to Li’l Bit’s 18th birthday, giving up drinking for a while to massage her breasts, etc.), which Li’l Bit tolerates and makes jokes about; the conversations at the dinner table are usually focussed on sex, with talk of the grandfather’s sex drive and talk of Li’l Bit’s body (specifically her breasts); the pranks of school children even have comedic sexual undertones, the prank that resulted in Li’l Bit’s breasts being grabbed and her being seen naked by the school children. These sexual encounters all have an underlying repressive character to them (an example is when Uncle Peck emphasizes that he will not touch Li’l Bit when she is driving and that he won’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do). I am reminded of lacanian psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek who says:

To this paradox, I like to link another, which interests me even more: how this applies at all levels, not only at the personal level. Namely, how false is the official position that we live in a permissive society of consumption where you just consume until you drop, and so on … You can consume coffee, but it should be decaf. Have beer, but without alcohol. Have dessert, but without sugar. Get the thing deprived of its substance. And the way this interests me is not only at this personal level. What is safe sex, but another name for sex without?

How I Learned to Drive seems to be a story of great moral ambiguity that suggests taboo and uninhibited sex on the surface, but for me it is demonstrative of the irony of modern capitalist society. “You may have all the sex you like,” says the modern leader, “but you must have safe sex!” The seeming sexual “transgressions” in the play only serve to reify the system which allowed them in the first place. This bleak situation reminds me of a Bible verse that I learned a long time ago. “...but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”. The totalitarian nature of sexuality in How I Learned to Drive opens up the space for salvation: a salvation of love that gives us a new, radical freedom to “enjoy”.
As I read the play I am struck by how funny it can be (in both the metastory, the world of Li’l Bit as narrator, and the story, the story of Li’l Bit’s life). Li’l Bit cracks jokes to Uncle Peck about her molestation before a driving lesson, she makes jokes about being thrown out of college, and the pranks at her school, and the dinner table conversations at home, unfold like a sitcom (she even describes being pranked into being the first one into the shower, only to be seen naked by many of her peers, as being like “a Mary Jane joke”). For me, and Freud, the sexual humor was a way for the characters to deal with trauma. The story is at its happiest when there is a comedic situation saturated with sexual tension. The best example of this is in one of the screen directions on page 2243. The...

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