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Alcohol and Literature

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Alcohol and Literature Throughout America's history we have seen men drinking for the sake of drinking, solely because it is a thing that men are accustomed to do. In every town there are saloons, taverns, and every other sort of gathering place for men to come soak their very souls in alcohol. This ideology is not uniquely American, nor is it an exclusively masculine tradition, but it has become so intertwined with the idea of a romantic working-class American vision that only the deaf, dumb, and blind could not see it reflected in the great American novel. And the great American novel that I will discuss: John Barleycorn. One of Jack London's late works, actually written three years before his death by suicide (he would have died from alcohol poisoning within the year). The book is practically an autobiography, although London never admitted it, and it details his life throughout his ages and phases and shows how easily one who is not suffering from a predisposition to alcohol can become so dependant upon it. Jack London did not become an alcoholic until the last leg of his life and he would often say so: It is the accessibility of alcohol that has given me my taste for alcohol. I did not care for it; I used to laugh at it, yet here I am at the last possessed with the drinker's desire. ...read more.


As London progressed in his writing the conflict lessened and the "White Logic" took over almost completely (London 192). The White Logic is the primary suffering of any true dipsomaniac; it is the loss of faith in mankind and oneself, it takes pessimism and turns it into realism, it is the constant knowledge that we shall all come to pass (London 193). Although Jack London coined the term "White Logic", the ailment has always been present, at least in American novelists' reality. It is a weighty sense of sadness that makes one feel that life is a lie and that there is no real purpose but to grow old and die. It's a sad thing to know and it must be far worse to have this constantly on ones mind, which is exactly what happened to Jack London and many other American writers. Ernest Hemingway sank deep into his own form of the "White logic" in his last years with us as can be seen in Across the River and Into the Trees, his last two novels which the author could never finish because of the morbid babbling they contained. A depressing majority of American writers have had their careers in literature cut short by their affairs with John Barleycorn; Ernest Hemingway shot himself because he could not take the constant whispers of death John Barleycorn would made in his ear, maybe ...read more.


What makes literature interesting is the positively maladjusted people who write it, if they were to be normal upstanding citizens they would have nothing to write about. To say that alcohol is directly responsible for the end of Jack London's writing career is just as folly as saying Robert Frost could have benefited from alcoholism, yet it is undeniable that it had something to do with the loss of his life and maybe even the spawn of his career. One cannot determine the validity of statements through statistics, it does not matter how many writers were alcoholics or how many more were not. They were people just the same and they were prone to the same temptations as the rest of us. Many choose to drink and revel in John Barleycorn's false but alluring friendship and many more choose not to do so, in the end it matters not because such is life. Although it matters to us it does not matter on the grand scheme, life is really a little game we play and it's depressing to think about how inconsequential we are. Knowing this why would anyone want to make life and death a constant thought in their minds like the great authors of old? Why were their manically depressed words so inspiring? Simply because to find beauty in all that is bleak is beautiful, and it is in those moments of clarity that we all shine. 1 ...read more.

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