Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Julia and the Bazooka” is an apologia for heroin addiction, but, beneath this story of drugs, there is a portrayal of the essential isolation and cruelty of twentieth century life. Anna Kavan was herself a drug addict for thirty years, but she did not fulfill the popular image of the drug addict, for, as she says about Julia, she did not “increase the dosage too much or experiment with new drugs.” Much of Kavan’s writing is autobiographical, and “Julia and the Bazooka” mirrors Kavan’s own immersion in and simultaneous escape from the world, through drugs.

The story is, first, the narrative of a woman and her attachment to her syringe, her “bazooka,” and the relief she gets from it. Her syringe helps her to compensate for childhood deficiencies and provides a barrier against the coldness and ugliness of the modern world. “She hardly remembers how sad and lonely she used to feel before she had the syringe.” In the end it is not drugs that kill her, but the bombs in wartime London, which are a perfect symbol for human isolation and hatred.

This is the deeper level of the story that, for at least a quarter of its length, describes the cold isolation of Julia’s ashes in the wall. The syringe has been a weapon itself against the cold inhumanity of the world, a cold she can no longer feel in death, as in drugs. Certainly Julia plays with death, tempts it, in her drug addiction. However, drugs also help Julia avoid the death-in-life that Kavan portrays as inherent in modern life.