When The Grapes of Wrath has dealt with issues of big business crashing and burning, citizens faced to scrounge for work and food, and violence appearing at every turn, other less overt themes can be overlooked. The Orange Ukulele would like to take the time to apologize for participating in this overlooking of, say, motherhood and childhood colliding. Not the overt matriarchal influence of Ma Joad over her family, nor the slowly decaying naivety of Ruthie and Winfield Joad, however. Something more subtle, blended together in a figure initially on the outskirts of the narrative who becomes the most significant of symbols in the book.
That figure is Rose of Sharon, coloquially called Rosasharn by her Oklahoman family (dontcha just love accents?).
Named for a common though popular flower in the United States, Rosasharn begins the novel at the age of eighteen, quite literally straddling the lines between childhood and adulthood, fecklessness and responsibility. This latter trait is required of Rosasharn, reinforced throughout the novel by her family members as well as various onlookers, as she has been impregnated by her equally young and erstwhile husband Connie Rivers. But it appears to be a slow blossoming into motherhood for her; despite her family’s tribulations, the long trek west and the general pessimism of the Great Depression, Rosasharn remains centrally focused on herself and her’s and Connie’s relationship: “The world had drawn close around them, and they were in the center of it, or rather Rose of Sharon was in the center of it with Connie making a small orbit around her” (Steinbeck 140).
While she cannot be faulted for having her own best interests in mind while pregnant, Rosasharn’s child-like fantasies and infatuation with not only Connie but the possibilities of their future together are detrimental moving forward. She remains part of the Joad familial unit, though spends the majority of their time traveling to California uninterested in the chances of Ma, Pa and Tom finding work. Instead, when her mother says that the family will, ideally, live in the country to pick fruit, Rosasharn states that she will instead live in the city with Connie (Steinbeck 179). This connotation and contrast between the pregnant woman rejecting fruit is a subtle reference to Deuteronomy 28:4, and could be interpreted as foreshadowing Rose of Sharon’s later miscarriage: “The fruit of your womb will be blessed.”
Despite her family’s interests in keeping her and her unborn child safe, essentially picking said blessed fruit, Rosasharn appears entirely preoccupied with the future, of her and Connie together with the child coming into their lives as an afterthought. This perception of reality continues even after Connie leaves the Joads (Steinbeck 305-307), though without her husband preoccupying her attention (and vice versa) Rose of Sharon begins to ebb towards more biblical inclinations. In this video, performer Chilina Kennedy describes the transition of Rose of Sharon throughout the book, as she moves away from Connie under the guiding hand of her mother, the ’emotional pillar’:
As Ma Joad imbues her pregnant daughter with a sense of responsibility, Rose of Sharon becomes increasingly similar to the biblical history and origins of her namesake. While a popular flower in the United States, the Rose of Sharon dates back to ancient times in Israel, where it was a common, though nonetheless stunning floral piece: in Song of Solomon 2 this contrasting of qualities, supposed commonness inspiring humility against a veneer of beauty, is present in the female speaker of the Song. Without Connie, Rosasharn’s self-perceptions turn to apathy and feelings of insecurity and doubt, far harsher upon herself than the woman of the bible.
Rosasharn’s doubts after Connie leaves to return to Oklahoma have spurned discussion around whether Rose of Sharon is portrayed as a ‘good’ mother, and whether she is simply acting out a role in a male power structure or not, specifically with regards to her previous desires for domesticity (Heinz 15). As Connie’s absence continues, however, and he does not “cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills,” Rosasharn’s attentions turn back to solely herself. Now though, with the harsh realities and losses of the world recognizable and real to her, she becomes especially concerned with her child’s survival and the existence of sin: she worries that the baby will drop “dead–and bloody like it was a judgment” (Steinbeck 344).
Here, and surprisingly considering her earlier attitudes (but, hey, people grow up) Rosasharn slowly becomes a Christ-like figure, in both her biblical connections and her behaviour. She becomes a symbolic icon for salvation in overt….
…and subtler ways. Her child, more than ever, becomes the aforementioned blessed fruit that the entire Joad family comes to nurture and place their dwindling pieces of optimism in. When her child is revealed to be stillborn, Rosasharn is still able to inspire hope and optimism, breastfeeding a poor, dying man (in case you missed the picture above). While Jesus Christ never did this, the sentiment is the same, providing for the underprivileged and creating a sense of hope in those who have none. Christ was, in fact, called the ‘lily of the valley,’ harkening back to humble roots, and in the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ is said to have been born ‘in the beauty of the lilies.’ ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ was the song which inspired the title of The Grapes of Wrath, and though Kevin Bacon is not involved, a connection can be drawn, then, between the Song of Solomon, Christ, the ‘Hymn’ and the saviour/mother Rose of Sharon.
Through her pregnancy Rosasharn, the lily of the valley, faced sin and abandonment, and though her child ended up dying the possibility of optimism for a future, Connie-less or otherwise, remained present just as Christ faced countless trials and death in the Bible, though was steadfastly present as a force for religious hope and sanctuary.
Rose of Sharon was confronted with issues of domesticity and family life, of finding work while dealing with childbirth, during a time of depression, Great Depression. These problems plaguing mothers are universal and carry forward into the present day; during the Recession of 2008 and onward many women found themselves conflicted, with mothers losing their jobs while trying to support their families across the country. With children to feed, single and married women would scramble to find jobs in a marketplace, society and culture still male dominated, where ‘Connies’ would be the ones to work at the local radio store. The symbolism representative in Rosasharn is still present as well, however. She, like her mother, like the mothers of 2008, became attuned to the realities of the world and would deal with them, would have to deal with them, to support themselves, their children and their families.
Next time: That’s all folks!
Or maybe you ignored that box of text underneath those delicious peaches and jumped right to here and now have no idea what I am talking about. This generation is all about impatience, about moving through things as quickly as possible and never taking a breath, about not getting off of my lawn.
I jest. Seriously, however, the ideas mentioned above, how the Y, Z and whatever-other-letters-children-are-grouped-under-now Generations have swayed from passively apathetic and bored to impatiently immature and unfocused, are detrimental; riddled with negative connotations they paint the future as an unhappily populated place. This post is here to prove that wrong with a modern day example fresh off of the undertow from the Recession of 2008. They are a group that knew “somepin’s gonna bust…if they’s gonna be a riot or a bust, nobody don’t have to tell” (Steinbeck 276). They are the 99%, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Occupy Everything Else Movement, the children of the unions.
The Occupy movement, which would spawn the ‘We are the 99%’ chant, began as a website meant to explain and rhetorically dismantle the banking and economic systems of the United States, specifically the loaning and interest system. The movement’s website hinted at relivious awakenings, referencing “the biblical verse Romans 13:11 that reads in part: ‘The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.'” This website was founded in 2006 as an initial outcry on disparities existant since the Joads’ time, and when the market began sliding downwards into 2008 the disillusioned Occupiers became increasingly justified, as the banking system failed hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country. There was movement involved, of course; the Israelities traveled through the desert and the Oklahomans were westward bound, while the Occupiers took on a slightly different tactic.
Instead of mass movement in one direction, they congregated, at Wall Street in New York City and elsewhere throughout the United States. Akin to the Weedpatch Camp the Joads find themselves in (Steinbeck Chapter 22), these, well, occupations of financial districts became communal basins of those sharing similar ideals and situations. Unlike the displaced slaves of Egypt and the farmers who had to leave for work or some sense of home, the modern day Occupiers rather were determined to change their present places of residence, from Chicago to Washington to NYC and beyond.
Groups of people, old and young (remember that impatient, unabashedly impulsive generation mentioned previously?), lower to middle class, all came together as one unit, with similar goals in mind: to change the system, to bring it down to its knees and to bring equality to the disenfranchised and underprivileged. But they had no peaches.
Which sounds silly, but it is the truth, and it provides a centuries old generational gap differentiating the pre-Christ era with the 1930s, and the 1930s with today. The Israelites had their land of milk and honey to reach, which they ultimately succeeded in doing, while the Joads, Jim Casy and their fellow travelers had the peach orchards of California to work on, for bottom-of-the-barrel minimum wage. The Occupiers, however, did not have a discernible land of milk and honey, no peach baskets to fill to help raise (however slightly) their manner of living.
Without falling into pessimism and pointing out that the standard sought seems to have dropped significantly from Exodus to the Great Depression to the Recession, it should be noted that the Occupy Movement had ideas but no physical or discernible endpoint. Simply put, the Wall Street et al demonstrations emphasized the demand for change. And that one word, so open to interpretation, subjective beyond belief and bearing a myriad of meanings upon its shoulders, became the lone peach to pick in the orchard. In Part 1.5 of ‘Preaches, Peaches and Long Speeches’ I attempted to highlight some facets of the United States from 2008 to the present that brought about the continued participation of the Occupiers, a nation that in times of trouble was forced to close its schools, that possessed worringly increasing suicide rates, and that had not yet escaped the calamities of the banking systems in existance since the Grapes of Wrath‘s time period.
Amidst all of this death and immeasurable pain (emotional, financial and physical even), the Occupy Movement blossomed, burgeoned by the pressures faced by their growing numbers. From these numbers, no leader can be sought, no Moses or Jim Casy or Tom Joad. As Bryant Simon and William Deverell point out in their article, ‘Come Back Tom Joad: Thoughts on a California Dreamer,’ the central character in Steinbeck’s work became “malleable…[a part of] American culture…an avowedly political figure” (182). Joad, both in the novel and in the popular consciouness, became a symbol of the underdog and of the activist. Individually he was representative of the fight back against the banks, the corrupt law enforcement and the government in general, vowing to “be ever’where–wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there” (Steinbeck 463).
Tom’s speech towards the end of the narrative establishes his place as a figurehead for the union and anti-establishment movements, which would find themselves echoed across the twentieth century and into the 2000s. But while Tom, and previously his mentor and martyred friend Jim Casy, could clearly be identified as key components of the beginnings of Californian worker strikes, the same individual distinction is not present with the 99%. Moses knew of the promised land for his people, just as Tom Joad knew of the possibilities of the west coast for his family (and, when these failed, understood the necessity for change). Although essentially leaderless, and lacking the decided upon conclusive endpoint of the Israelites or the Joad family, the Occupy Movement still became an international phenomenon and, like Tom Joad’s character, a politically-ingrained and recognized force.
Leadership in these times, of escapes from slavery to escapes from demeaning Wal-Mart store policies, is not always a required aspect of implementing change in the United States, then. What is essential is the coming together of people who, though they may lack an ultimate destination in mind, share the same goals and drives, the same tastes for revolutions and revelations in their lives.
Next Time: Rose of Sharon’s secret to motherhood and power!
This you may say of man—
When theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes.
This you may say and know it and know it.
This you may know when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the market place, when prisoners are stuck like pigs, when the crushed bodies drain filthily in the dust. You may know it in this way.
If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live—for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died.
And this you can know—fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”
Next time: Part 2, honest!
Leadership in times of stress, hardship, tribulations and trials can oftentimes be difficult to comprehend. Who can lead people through these moments of suffering? Who can unite the disparate and the desperate? The Israelite raised as an Egyptian prince? The farmer’s son becoming increasingly versed on the unfairness of the world? The preacher who lost his religion?
Could there be more hypothetical questions?
Moses, leader and journeyman of the Israelites, along with The Grapes of Wrath’s Jim Casy and Tom Joad provide answers to these increasingly arbitrary questions. Each of these men became figures of authority, influence and power to varying degrees: from figurehead of a nation to begrudging patriarch of a struggling family. These vastly different positions are contrasted by the strikingly similar origins of the three men. Moses was born to an Israelite woman and sentenced to death, only to be rescued and raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter. As the Jewish Virtual Library states, had Moses remained amongst the Hebrews/Israelites/downtrodden-and-enslaved-of-Egypt he would not have “developed the pride, vision, and courage to lead a revolt.” It is his initial placement at the very top of the hierarchy that grants Moses the ability to bring the Israelites out of slavery. That, and his speaking to a burning bush.
These humble beginnings are continued into Steinbeck’s narrative with Jim Casy and Tom Joad, two Oklahomans who, like the Israelite-born Moses, initially faced despair at the bottom of a stratifying society. Both Casy and the mature-beyond-his-years Joad struggled throughout their lives, with parallels to the life of Moses. Casy was a preacher who lost his connection to the Holy Spirit/God/Yahweh. As he describes it, he: “Went off alone, an’ I sat and figured. The sperit’s strong in me on’y it ain’t the same. I ain’t so sure of a lot of things” (21). Akin to Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, Casy’s wanderings away from his congregation (including a string of girls he felt passionate ‘sin’ towards) would bring him to revelations about his perceptions of the world. Though there is an inverse between the biblical age bearded plague-bringer and the 1930s straying preacher, the former finding the word of God as inspiration while the other supplants his religious nature, the similarities in their discovering inspiration are striking.
Keep that ‘striking’ wordplay in mind for later. Anyway, like his traveling companion, Tom Joad shares traits with the genesis of Moses’ life. Both found themselves with blood on their hands. Moses murdered an Egyptian slave-driver harassing an Israelite and was sentenced to death by the Pharaoh (spoilers: he survived, but the Pharaoh figured banishment worked, too). Joad was found guilty of ‘homicide’ and sent to prison, only to return to the Dust Bowled Over farmstead early on account of good behaviour. Before either Moses or Joad would proceed on their desert-wide and stateside journies, these acts of violence would hang over them, and lead them to seek sanctuary and redemption amongst larger groups. When Moses returned to Egypt with his princehood stripped of him, he found reconciliation and a position of leadership with the Israelite people. Joad would not try to gather together the Oklahomans, but would, however, return to his birthplace to help lead his family and eventually the workers of California towards better opportunities.
It was inspiration, above all, that led all three men to lead: Moses was spurred to action by the word of God and the orange flames of scorched shrubbery; Jim Casy found new purpose reimagining the ‘sperit’ within him to help those his old religious views could not; and Tom Joad is ironically enough the first helped by Casy’s new found preaching powers. In his critical essay of The Grapes of Wrath, Louis Owens states that “Tom…is a loner who begins the novel looking out only for number one…through the tutoring of Casy the unsympathetic Tom grows into his role as proletarian savior.”
Each of these figureheads, of new nations, of union movements and of families struggling during a Depression, initially appear unready to face the challenges raised by the groups they lead. It is only from beginnings of violence, of lost and found spirituality, and of inspiration from outside forces do they rise to the challenge. Moses as biblical allegory ultimately trickles downwards in affecting Steinbeck’s portrayal of Casy and Joad, with elements of the Old Testament tale woven into the 1930s drama. It is these character elements that echo across the centuries, describing and elevating individuals like the preacher, the peach-picker and the Commandment bearer to roles of leadership and influence. Their influence over groups, be they landless Hebrews or landless farmers, is fuelled by their ideas and their inspirations, to move past their pasts.
Next Time: Jim Casy, Tom Joad and the 99%!
Secondly, how humourous was that? Well, whether you chuckled or cringed, the idea of that video remains the same: that the biblical story of Exodus is about journey and wandering, about leaving one’s home for a new one, about powers beyond one’s control leading to this removal, but also about the possibility of regained authority in a new land. Facing slavery in Egypt, the Israelites fled from the cruel grasp of the Pharaoh to the hypothetical land of milk
duds and honey dew. The promise of freedom and dream-worthy potentials was enough for the Israelites to move away from their homestead and its restrictions. And though the farmers of the 1920s and 1930s were not, technically, enslaved by a Pharaoh, they were under the iron fist of the banking system. When that banking system became unruly and unscrupulous with the Great Depression, the farmers, and their literary counterparts in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, are forced to wander.
The exodus of the Joad family, and others in the novel, does not initially have a land of milk and honey, no promised land where they could survive and thrive. Initially, the farmers’ children were left asking “What we going to do, Ma? Where we going to go? The women said, We don’t know yet” (Steinbeck 36). These tenant farmers, who worked the land owned by the banks of America (please don’t sue me, Bank of America), become disillusioned and out of work when the Depression-struck banks replace them with more financially efficient forms of farming. This sudden loss of land, work and home for the farmers forces them into a twentieth-century exodus away from the fields their families worked on for generations. Like the Egyptian Pharaoh, the banks’ unwavering cruelty and disregard for humanity leads to their workers’ forced wandering in search of a new home and a new beginning.
George Henderson argues that this wandering, and this exploration of geography through the narrative by the Joads, is the central part of Steinbeck’s work. The Joads find themselves displaced from their/the bank’s land in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to Uncle John’s crowded home (Steinbeck 72) to, eventually, the sunshine state of California. Henderson argues: “The Grapes of Wrath cannot be understood fully unless the characters are seen to fully develop in relationship to the places through which they moved…you cannot understand California unless you know what is occuring outside” (213).
How the characters perceive the land is crucial to the novel, as it is to the biblical Exodus and the Israelites. The journey from birthplace to the transitional road to a place of optimism (Egypt/Oklahoma, the desert/Route 66, Milk and Honey/California) thematically connects biblical times to the Great Depression. The perception of surroundings by the Israelities or the Joads, how they connect or disconnect to it is crucial in how these feelings evolve and change over time and with further travels. Though Egypt and Oklahoma were viewed as homesteads, albeit plagued by slavery or tenant farming, new places of security, comfort and above all freedoms would be sought by foot or by car.
This need to wander, to exodus-es, however, is not restricted to biblical times or the Great Depression. The Recession of 2008, though seemingly far removed from pyramid-building slavery or tireless tenant farming, would echo many of the issues faced by the Israelites and the Joad family. The upheaval of families from their homes became especially daunting during this modern-day economic crisis.
William Patalon III details the stark similarities between the Depression and the Recession, including similar foreclosure rates; 13.3% in 1933 to 2.5% and growing in 2008, with one-quarter of all mortagages teetering close to the proverbial, economic edge. Away from the numbers, because this is an English academic blog afterall, the stories of those struggling through the recession of four years past mirror those written about by Steinbeck. Richard Brown, who lost his job and home in 2009, found himself living with friends and relatives while looking for work (Schoen). Like the Joads bunking with Uncle John, or Jim Casy tagging along for some comfort and support, this story of crowded and transient living draws dramatic parallels between the present and the past.
Next time: Jim Casy, Tom Joad and Moses, preaching to the choirs!
So as it turns out, trainspotting is an actual thing. Did you know that? I did not know that. Huh. It’s an activity wherein people attempt to collect information on the activities of different train cars, exchanging it with other trainspotters. It’s a real thing! It’s also slang for taking heroin, but just for fun let’s go with the more/less obvious meaning. Thanks, Wikipedia!
Where was I? Oh yeah, the book Trainspotting. If you’ve been with us this long (and knowing all…2, maybe 3 people that actually read this blog, you have) then you already know that Irvine Welsh’s novel is about heroin and its users in 1990s Scotland. So I’ll try not to repeat myself. Instead let’s talk about youth. Though Renton is, as he says, “twenty-five going on forty” (Welsh, 148), he represents the young of Britain. He is self-involved but self aware, indignant but thoughtful, hating/ignoring/saying ‘Piss off’ to the world but wanting to become a part of it. He may not look it or sound it (well, the swearing does sound like it, actually) but Mark Renton is, essentially, a teenager. Like a rebel who’s not really rebelling against anything, Renton turns to drugs as a way of escaping his life, seeking some pleasure outside of the norms of society. He remarks: “There’s never any real dilemmas wi junk. They only come when ye run oot” (Welsh, 223). It is, in effect, his way of walking out the door, not growing up or facing responsibility; growing stagnant without a care in the world, thanks to heroin.
Yes, I do ❤ Blur. Like they so eloquently sing, just get numb. Which, for the young of Britain, was what they wanted. Adolescents and young adults in the time period of Trainspotting were dauntingly faced with public perceptions, primarily negative, of youth activities and cultures, and there was a dramatic conflict between the ‘home’ and the ‘outside world’ (Bucholtz, 527). Throughout the novel, when confronted by parents, Renton, Davie and others turn away from parents, grown-ups, adults, shunning them for their heroin or a means to escape.
Let’s talk about Begbie. He’s the one who drinks, who swears, who fights, who maims, who gets his high from violence. And he’s a child. When an old drunk, revealed to be Begbie’s father, tells his son and Renton to “Keep up the trainspottin mind!” Begbie is left looking “strangely subdued and uncomfortable” (Welsh, 309). In other words, not at all as he acts throughout the rest of the book.
When confronted by an authority figure, one that he has an intimate relationship and connection to, Begbie is left humbled, speechless and awkward. What Begbie Sr. (note: not his real name) suggests of the two hooligans (note: term not used literally) is a practice that in essence is almost gentile, requiring routine and focus. No offense to any trainspotters reading this, but it is this sort of buttoned down style of life that Renton and his friends are removed from, that British youth wanted no part of until…well, read the end of the book. Because by the end of the story Renton is clearly weary and beaten down by the stories of Edinburgh, the failures and faulting of everyone around him having forcibly aged him (Blackwell, 3).
As Renton comes to realize, having been on and off of heroin, seeing life through the brief lens of sobriety, choosing life might be worth something. For the youth of Britain, emerging out of the Thatcher era, trying to better themselves, choosing life became the best option.To grow up, to grow strong and nurture a sense of responsibility that could bring real change to their society.
Maybe I was a little too harsh in my dealing with Renton and the others in Trainspotting. Let me make up for it now: Renton honestly does try to kick his heroin habit several times throughout the novel; has moments of deep analytical self analysis; and attempts to hold onto whatever friendships he has made, in particular with Sick Boy and Spud. But it can be hard to sympathize with Mark and the others, and Irvine Welsh understood that. It was a time period and culture that, looking back on it, is difficult to fully encapsulate or understand from behind the chronological, cross-cultural glass of time.
This was a time period when the British government was actively working against the drug movement, trying to build community centers and services to stop the threat of both the diseases, like HIV, and the addictions. As seen through the eyes of Renton, of course, these services were either not entirely useful, readily available or viable applications for the underprivileged Scotsman. Or perhaps came about in the form of stale, pathetic psychiatrists (Welsh, 181-188). What the British government was faced with was not a unified drug culture, per se. Instead, like the Trainspotting gang (sadly a crossover with Kool and his gang is unlikely), there were pockets of people involved with the drug spread throughout the not-so-United Kingdom.
When interviewed by the Guardian newspaper, two former heroin users, David and Mikey, described the dreariness and desolation brought about by the drug some say was sensationalized in the book and movie. David stated: “You try and keep away from people…You just want to be left alone to do heroin.” Similarly, Mikey chimes in saying “I don’t think it’s the kind of drug you take to be happy.” That about sums up Renton’s relationship with the drug, right? He’s never truly satisfied between hits, going from one needle to the next. And when he does try to kick the habit, things go sour for him.
“The First Shag in Ages” (Welsh, 130-152) highlights one of the lows Renton hits, not when he’s on heroin, rather when he’s off of it. Spending the evening in a bar with Spud and Sick Boy, Renton notes the descent of his…ahem…’love life.’ The narrator mentions it affects both Spud and Rents, the two who had attempted to get off……of heroin.
“The dope and drink has fuelled Spud and Renton’s post-junk libidos to a rampant extent…Just being here reminds the both of them how long it has been since they’ve had a shag” (Welsh 130). Without heroin, the two finds themselves listless and uncomfortable, needing the literal pleasure that the drug provided, seeking it instead in the form of human contact. As said by David and Mikey, that’s what it’s about, though: filling your life with this thing, crawling back to people when you need them the most. For Renton, that means an unfortunate encounter with a fourteen year old. Maybe that’s why Trainspotting, both paperback and big screen versions, proved to be successful. They captured an empty, hollow feeling that, in its solidarity, is difficult to express.
Tomorrow: The answer to this post’s oddly open-ended question. And of course, more Trainspotting!
Trainspotting is an interesting book. It’s about a group of dissident, disparate and often desperate heroin users and abusers, who meander throughout the narrative. The main character, Mark Renton, skirts the line between cultures (i.e. Heroin culture and non-Heroin culture), cheating, lying and stealing to keep a foot in place in either realm. He’s a guy who, to console a woman having lost her baby, suggests cooking. Not pancakes and bacon, though. Let me just get this out of the way. Trainspotting is not a book about heroes.
While Renton cannot be described as heroic in any sense of the word, his cohort Spud could be interpreted as such, a benign character who doles out sage advice, has a genuine sense of decency, and takes life one step at a time (Humphreys). He’s meek and childlike, whilst being observant and calm. I would argue, however, that his involvement in this destructive lifestyle, one of cyclical crimes, hazy nights and backstabbing, has him better in personality than Renton, but not much else. His use of heroin, as well as speed, throughout the story leave him in a perpetual state of underachievement and lowliness. This culminates with his participation in a robbery wherein he and Begbie break in to a person’s house; as Spud says there’s “nae violence, nae hassle, ken…ma passport ta better times” (Welsh 284). Ultimately, Begbie rips off the third party involved, an unsuspecting teenager, leaving Spud to mull over yet another moral dilemma. Just to play out the old adage that you can define a man by the people he spends time with, here is a typical evening for Spud and the gang….if you’re squeamish, for the love of the wee bairn Dawn don’t press play.
Mulling over things appears to be par for the course with heroin use. An intense emotional feeling of euphoria followed by an alternating wakeful and drowsy state are among the short term effects of the drug. Feelings of ease and assurance are also present, which is strengthened through repeated use. This sense of listlessness, swaying between awake and asleep, ignorant and alert, is personified in Renton and the other wankers in the novel. People offended by the term ‘wanker,’ I do apologize. And I would suggest never reading Trainspotting.
In the chapter ‘It Goes Without Saying’ (Welsh 51-56), this disturbing back and forth of emotions is highlighted quite heavily: Lesley a friend of Renton’s and fellow heroin user, announces to Renton, Spud and their friends that her daughter Dawn has died. This traumatic event is used to elicit some sympathy and empathy both from the characters and from the readers for the characters. However, while Sick Boy and Spud are shown to be shaken by this death, Renton brushes it off, deciding instead to not cook pancakes and bacon. As in, cooking and shooting up heroin.
But Renton’s apathetic response to Dawn’s death, as well as his insistence on having a hit of heroin before the mourning Lesley, seems almost natural considering the rise and growth of heroin culture in Britain and Scotland. The spread of the drug in the 1980s created, for the first time, a strong and noticeable connection with social disadvantages. These include crime, prostitution and dealing, which only added to or worsened issues affecting these struggling areas hit hardest by the addictions (Sodden 683). There was despair surrounding these people, a despair Welsh is able to delicately display in a gritty manner. While that sounds oxymoronic, Renton, Spud and even the vicious Begbie are handled with due diligence and realism by their writer, showing the worst of what society could be.
Next time: Clipping snowbirds’ wings! Also, more Trainspotting!
Let’s talk about Eric Finch. Not the weirdo in the Guy Fawkes mask and flowing wig, or the teenage drifter-turned-prostitute-turned-anarchist, or the dictator with a computer fetish. No, just plain old, head down, government worker Eric Finch.
Of all the characters in the novel, it is Finch who, arguably, is closest to the reader: he knows both sides of the story, having knowledge of the Norsefire organization and glances into the world of V and Evey, yet remains inconspicuously unattached from them. And like the reader, he uses LSD to experience what V went through in the government experimentation camps. Well, like some readers, I assume.
For a number of pages, we are treated to the drugged out meanderings of Finch, who questions his own actions: “They say L.S.D. only magnifies what’s already there. Christ, why did I take this now, when I’m already so confused anyway?” (Moore 212). During his trip, however, things become infinitely clearer for Finch, as he reflects upon his life, his friends, and how it was all sullied by the regime. Finch, initially an antagonist to V, eventually comes around to a more anarchic view of the world. As noted by comics blogger Tim Callahan, Eric Finch proves himself to be more than a cog in the machine that bears down against this old/new Britain, sealed with the declaration en Francais ‘La voie, la verite, la vie’ (Moore 216).
Here, the LSD trip and its aftermath become a gateway…er…drug for both Finch and the reader to go further inside the inner-workings and mind of V. And while Finch continues to remain a sort of guide for readers in the narrative, like the drug he’s taken, the effects and feelings are different for everybody: he understands V’s point of view, but is overwhelmed by the symbolic man himself; he has a significant hand in events (i.e. killing the main character) but wants nothing to do with the aftermath (i.e. walking away at the end). This array of possibilities regarding LSD-influenced behaviour is to be expected, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. People on LSD can experience feelings of panic and, most notably, a distorted sense of reality. Supposedly coming down off of his trip, Finch encounters this:
This confrontation with V, who I noted in ‘Part 1’ as being representative of LSD itself, pushes Finch over the edge. And keeping with his ties to the reader, it leads us all to the rapid close of the story. Long graphic novel short, it is the LSD that drives Finch to V’s hiding place which fast tracks the climax of Vendetta. But whereas V is emblematic of the extremes of the drug, Finch and the reader are more simply along for the ride. This feeling of ‘alongfortherideness’ goes along not only with LSD but with British culture at the time. The Thatcher era, like the Norsefire reign (Moore, you clever devil!) left people feeling out of control, only able to watch as things spiraled downward. When they were in control, of say art, movies, or music, it was to express these feelings of the lack of control. It’s all very cyclical.
While he may not look it, Finch has much in common with the punk and post-punk movements occurring in the early to mid 80s. The government brought him down, drugs have brought him up, and society’s going crazy. I guess you could say he can’t escape himself.
See what I did there? The Sound, whose 1980 song you’re currently enjoying, were part of the post-punk movement occurring during this time period. It’s not angry music, not raging violently against the government or threatening death and destruction. It’s the Eric Finch of music.
Next time: Trainspotting! Yay!