Blood rushing, adrenaline pumping, and palms sweating as the fear builds inside one’s body and soul. Fear is the inescapable entity in which everyone experiences within their lives, whether it’s their last seconds to breathe, or the wrenching fear of their math exam. Fear will always live within the mind, distorting the image of fate and destiny. Often times, fear also constitutes abnormal, hasty decisions that are out of character. The epitome of decision-making rests upon many driving factors. Often times monetary or physical factors, however, among any factor imaginable, fear is always the determinant factor.
In Joyce Oates’ short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” she exemplifies fear as the drive among making decisions. “Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it.” She’s experiencing a high level of fear, placing her in the situation of fight-flight-or-freeze. Her response was to immediately freeze, and her body was unable to contemplate her next decision, as the worst imaginable was truly inevitable. Of the many thoughts running through her head, she is unable to make rational decisions and remove herself from the situation. No matter if she runs, if she tries to physically overtakes him, or if she hides, her body is unable to complete a solid plan of escape, which ultimately would lead to her tragic fate. She had many opportunities to run and seek shelter, to find protection, or even to simply wait him out, and yet she’s not even able to even process the situation to allow her body to respond properly, and in so made the decision to allow Arnold to take her with him without a fight. Fear isn’t only a physical response, it’s just as emotional. The sole ability to respond is placed within physical grasp, with increase in different hormones such as adrenaline. This increase in hormones in a way blocks the mind from properly responding and only allowing autonomic physical responses. It would take the mind much time in order for it to properly respond and synthesize a solution.
Along with the time it takes to synthesize a proper solution, it would also take copious amounts of time to recover from the fear and trauma that Connie experienced. It would trigger further fear throughout her life that would call for more unwarranted responses due to fear. The unnamed character within “Greasy Lake” felt this same fear when the so called bad character stepped out of his car and challenged him after they disturbed his night. Even though he’s inebriated, he understands the situation, and realizes that he has to take action. Whereas Connie responds by freezing, he responds through viciously assaulting the innocent man, eventually taking a tire iron to the side of his head. He activated his fight mechanism, which would soon overcome him and cause him to flee. Once the man comes to, his friends show up, and they chase him across the lake. While he’s in the lake, he discovers a dead body floating in the water, which shocks him even more. He realized what he had discovered, and “stumbled back in horror and revulsion, my mind yanked in six different directions.” Where he was still sitting at the threshold of fight and flight before, this set him over the threshold and immediately fell into a flight as he panicked over the body. At that moment, he was in the same situation as Connie was, and he froze for a moment before taking shelter near the body. He was so stunned by the body that he “shot like a torpedo, the dead man rotating to expose a mossy beard and eyes cold as the moon.”
The fear had immobilized him enough to lose balance, landing himself in the muck of the lake, causing this reaction. The entire reasoning behind the protagonist in “Greasy Lake” brutally assaulting the character was due to fear. Once he had gotten out of the car, as he realized that it wasn’t his friend’s car, instead of finding the keys and leaving, he stands there. His neurological response to the situation continually changed, which eventually led him to hit the man with a tire iron, ending his first fight since the 6th grade. The constant change in his neurological response was due to the inability for him to process the information that he was receiving which as he slowly processed, changed his neurological reactions. The fear that he exhibited showed the nature of decision making and how it can change due to fear. Referencing emotional processing of fear once more, even after the men had left, he was still frozen solid when the women came to the car. It took his friends determination to answer the simple questions that the girls were asking, as he examined the car in sheer horror of what had happened.
When discussing fear, it’s important to look into the past of the people discussed. Connie was always the popular child, the one who could do no wrong, and the outspoken one of her family. She had never turned down a good time with anyone, and always indulged in delinquent acts of teenagers. The reason she reacts the way she does is because she is presented with a scenario that she has never been presented with before. She had a choice between her life, or her family’s lives. While most people aren’t exactly presented with that specific situation, one commonality among people is the ability to overcome a fear or a phobia. After being exposed to a similar situation, the mind has immediate solutions for not immediately resorting to fight or flight. Since Connie had never been introduced to a situation even similar to this, her reaction is underwhelming and she ultimately leads herself to her own death. Not having fear isn’t a positive to life, but in moderation, fear is needed for one to prosper and live well.
The protagonists from both stories show no true fears, where Connie is a larger-than-life character, and the protagonist in “Greasy Lake” is represented as a mean, bad teenager who isn’t “scared” of anything in life. The past of the boy isn’t really elaborated on as much in the beginning, but after referencing his fight history and who he believes he is, it was evident that he believed he had no fears. Since he wasn’t scared, he made an impulsive decision that lead to a night full of tragedy for him, and his car. Both characters are portrayed to be fearless and yet succumb to the same fear as one another, and lead to varying impacts among both teenagers. It was easy to tell apart the characters that hadn’t feared and the ones that had within “Greasy Lake.” John and Digby both regained themselves after the fearful eruption from that night, and were able to reassure the protagonist that life would go on and he would be okay. This shows that both of them do have rational fears, whether it’s being assaulted at a lake or paying for the later consequences, and it allows for them to try and help the protagonist through the initial shock of the events that unfolded through that night.
The mental capacity for fear is a concept that is learned over time. When someone doesn’t withhold that capacity, when faced with a large obstacle, they’re unable to fully understand and process what they need to, and will more than likely end in unreasonable measures being taken.