UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Choose silence : how Thatcherism drove Scotland's underclass under-the-influence Danner, Alexis Elizabeth


The drug addicted characters in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting novels and Danny Boyle's film adaptations desperately seek to escape their Edinburgh environment through their use of heroin. Some may view their drug-taking as a display of inherent deviance or an attempt at self-destruction; instead, I view their consumption of opioids as a method for self-preservation in response to their societal alienation. In my thesis, I argue that this alienation stems from the predicaments plaguing Scotland’s population during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s administration prioritized the material desires of neoliberalism over the frequently suppressed principles of the welfare state. In this way, Thatcherism further oppressed Trainspotting’s underclass by pushing policies that often inspired adverse emotions in those who could not adapt, which I propose encouraged subsequent substance abuse as a method of self-preservation. Specifically, these policies contributed to deindustrialization, mass unemployment, uninhabitable housing conditions and an overall sense of deprivation and disenfranchisement among the Trainspotters. Largely devoid of the immediate option to improve their circumstances due to a lack of economic means and limitations related to their social statuses, the Trainspotters instead search for a superficial way out of these constricting circumstances. Already alienated from society, the characters in Welsh’s novels and Boyle’s films see in heroin an opportunity to reinforce their withdrawal as they live like ghosts in a state of ‘junkie limbo,’ a space that exists between full participation in Thatcherite society and total disengagement via death. Initially meant as a temporary anesthetic, opioids become a lifelong companion of the Trainspotters due to the painful nature of physical withdrawal and poor drug policies. Methadone, for instance, sustains the Trainspotters’ drug dependency while increasing the prevalence of an overdose, and continues to claim the lives of Scottish addicts left over from the ‘Trainspotting Generation.’ Utilizing the complete Trainspotting series as a key case study, with an added focus on the most recent text, Dead Men’s Trousers, and film, T2 Trainspotting, my thesis will contribute to the prior research done on the ‘Trainspotting Generation.’

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