Drugs as Literary Theme Analysis

The Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The exploration of drugs in literature is a time-honored subject that stretches backward in North American history at least to the early nineteenth century. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, for example, depict the use of opium in such short stories as “Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Tale of the Ragged Mountain,” published in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. It was not until the twentieth century, however, that drugs, particularly their use and abuse, became a mainstay in literature. Alcohol is prominent in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, ranging from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934) to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929). Alcohol and drugs are central to such plays by Eugene O’Neill as Long Day’s Journey into Night (1941) and The Iceman Cometh (1946). The main themes of all of these works include people coming to terms with the roles drugs play, or have played, in their lives and the lives of those around them.