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The Theme of Selfishness in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

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Trainspotting, written by Scottish author Irvine Welsh, is a captivating novel that takes place in Edinburgh Scotland that follows up the random events that occur during a critical time in a group of Scottish junkies’ lives. The novel is split into seven sections that follow the lives of a group of heroin users. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Welsh uses satire and writing techniques in his novel, Trainspotting, to capture the certain truth that overlay how addiction affects a person behavior throughout their life. The author illustrates the confusion, anger, and turmoil many heroin addicts are subjected to and what happens once they try to quit. Addiction can be seen connected within selfishness as how characters within the novel have an imbalanced ego and show narcissism behavior. Welsh’s view of the working-class neighborhoods, and particularly the impoverished housing schemes is bleak, and are put forth as one of the traps which the characters are meant to struggle with. The author highlights particular families that are embittered with envy of the higher class, in denial of their place in such a class of hierarchy, they recreate a class system within their subculture. Such characters have risen to the top of this aberrant class system through bombast and violence, rationalizing their own failure as being a victim to the greater society keeping them down, while explaining their neighborhoods identical failings as inevitable give to their poor stock and ignorance. Many of Welsh characters tend to be intelligent, reflective, and have an insight into the world in which they exist. This insight moves them beyond the envy, to a degree, but does not propel them out of the bleakness, the violence, and ultimately the boredom of their lives. The characters insight makes them aware of the social trap in which they are born and raised but does not provide a way out. Individuals forge friendships and relationships, but they hold their own self-interest far ahead of anyone else’s well-being. Within the novel, Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh showcases the theme of selfishness as the main motivation behind all the characters actions and decisions. Welsh emphasizes prominent issues that are evident in this novel that include the selfish/narcissistic behavior seen between Renton and his parents. In addition, the novel explores the issue between addiction and how it can be seen connected with violence. The book sheds light on the dark underworld of drug users, and the simultaneous emptiness and obsession underlying a drug addict’s life.

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To begin, the main character Mark Renton is portrayed as a person who is a selfish unrepentant individual who doesn’t seem to care about others. The author illustrates Renton as a person who is addicted to heroin and has an imbalanced ego when it comes to his parents. Trainspotting is Renton’s journey, the journey of an addict. From the ecstasy and the initial euphoria, through to misery and then a plunge into the depths of despair. Renton refuses to accept what society deems as acceptable and consistently ignores criticism from everyone, including his parents. Renton is depicted from the beginning as a person who realizes he should be choosing life, career and good health but he states that he chose none of them because he got heroin, as if that good justifiable reason for himself. However, Renton does make many unsuccessful attempts to stop substance abuse and was able to recover from it to some extent; he suffers from addiction and withdrawal symptoms throughout the novel. Unlike the other characters in Trainspotting, Renton is smart and does not seem like the type of person that does drugs. His contact with his family is minimal due to his addiction. His heroin addiction takes up a lot of his time and he does not want to involve his family in his life but there is so much more to him beneath the average Scottish junkie. Renton’s selfishness leads to his destructive nature of drug addiction that later on is shown to have negative impacts on the way he behaves. This is evident in the novel when Renton says: “It looks easy, this, but it’s not. It looks like a doss, like a soft option, but living like this, it’s a full-time business.” This quote signifies Renton’s drug addiction and that it’s not something that can be supported while living a normal life. Renton’s life in the novel is consisted of injecting heroin, stealing money, coming down and buying drugs. The frantic imagery overlaying this quote supports the idea that a drug addiction completely controls and dominates your life. There is no time to work, to socialize with friends who are not fellow addicts, or to pay attention to anything that is not part of the cycle of drug use. An article published by The Mayo Clinic briefly talks about the effects of having a drug addiction and how it contributes to a person daily life. “Addiction affects multiple aspects of a person’s life. It changes the way the person’s brain functions and the way they interact with other people. When a person is struggling with an addiction, they’re not functioning at their full ability, and as a result, is unable to perform many important tasks in their life. In order to regain control of life and reach full potential, one must stop using the drug and get help with their addiction”.

This article helps relate to how Renton is living his life and how the reality of addiction, is that it often consumes everything in a person’s life, causing the person to focus only on continuing the addiction. As a result, Renton’s addiction makes him become unable to do everything that he wants to do. Renton is a junkie that has a hard time finding help because his addiction has gotten the best of him and to this point, he has a hard time leading a productive life and achieving the goals set out for the life that he wants to live in the future being. It is due to these problems set out for Renton that deal with his addiction and imbalanced ego between his parents and himself. In conclusion, Renton is a character in the novel who portrays the theme of selfishness shown through his addiction towards heroin, analyzed through research from The Mayo Clinic, and lens of the psychoanalytic theory as a narcissist with an imbalanced ego.

Next, the theme of selfishness can be seen as the main motivation behind the characters that are addicted to pleasure. For the heroin addicts, there appears to be an interplay between pleasure and selfishness. Pleasure, of course, is what turned the non-user into the user — but the cycle of selfishness seems to play a bigger role in turning the user into the addict. The idea of pleasure is often entirely dismissed in the discussion of drugs, as society tends to see it as a luxury of the upper class, or something that must be earned. Drug users do not appear, by societal standards, to be living a pleasurable life. During one part of the novel, it is observed that the needle-marked arms and frail frames think that the user must be suffering. In Renton’s words, “people think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit … but what they forget is the pleasure of it.” And the pleasure, as he describes it, is immense: “take yir best orgasm, multiply the feeling by twenty, and you’re still fuckin miles off the pace”. Renton says this as part of his opening narration, describing why he and his friends do heroin. He claims that a central reason they do it is because of the pleasure of heroin, and he relates this pleasure to sex. A connection between sex and drug use runs throughout the film: the comparison to orgasm is made repeatedly, Renton and his friends seek sex when they quit heroin, and their bad sexual experiences turn them back on to heroin. This line will come back when Tommy is trying to convince Renton to buy him drugs; Tommy has lost his girlfriend and is no longer having sex because Renton stole his sex tape, and he wants to try the thing that Renton has repeatedly claimed is better than sex. This can also be seen operating on the idea of the Pleasure Principle where the more pleasure Renton and his friends seek the more, they want of it. While Renton’s narration seems to hold the idea of a useful and fulfilling life off of heroin as both partially realistic but also dramatically overvalued, the story Boyle tells seems to buy the concept sincerely and whole-heartedly. While Renton’s attitude toward heroin revolves around the ideas of pleasure and misery, Boyle paints a picture of complete societal withdrawal and neglect. An article published by the New York Times talks about the journey through addiction; “A drug like heroin creates a tidal wave in the reward circuits of the brain. To an outsider, it looks as though you have passed out. But on the inside, you feel like a master of the universe.” (New York Times) This article helps better understand the connection between the drive with heroin and the pleasure of how the feeling of it can be seen as a creation of our own mindset. As the high wears off, the brain regains its balance – but not for everyone. The novel does not differentiate the motives for drug consumption in terms of gender. This goes along with a more contemporary perception of the motives for drug use, when one takes into account the rapidly rising numbers of consumers of heroin it is clear that the pursuit of pleasure is coupled with a hope to, if temporarily run away from the boring reality have become the dominant reasons for drug consumption and apply equally to men and women. In conclusion, the theme of selfishness is shown to be connected with heroin and the pleasure within it analyzed through the article from the New York Times and the lens of the psychoanalytic theory.

Finally, Selfishness and self-destruction regularly go hand in hand throughout the novel. Renton falls into despair, his initial attempts to escape his life has failed. He returns to the well-practiced solution for his pain, his heroin addiction, and it is at this point that he becomes more desperate, through the novel it turns much darker. Soon after Tommy succumbs to addiction there is the death of Baby Dawn. Renton wants to say something sympathetic, but all they can do is cook up another shot of heroin, and at best offer Allison, Baby Dawn’s mother. A prime example of this is portrayed through a mother Lesley who had become so addicted to and dependent on heroin to the extent that she had neglected her child at fault of her addiction, resulting in its death. This is the most distressing part of the novel because the baby represented innocence and morality, which is effectively conveyed by Welsh as a complete contrast to the gang of drug users. However, if this wasn’t maddening enough, the seriousness and reality comes as a shock when the first concern on Lesley’s mind was heroin. ‘Ye cookin? Ah need a shot Mark. Ah really need a fuckin shot. C’moan Marky, cook us up a shot…”.Within this quote when Baby Dawn dies, Simon and Lesley respond completely different. When his baby dies, he reacts in a different way than Lesley, the baby’s mother. She instantly wants a hit of heroin to take her away from the reality of the situation while Simon states: “Ah’m never touchin that shite again. Ah’m fuckin clean fae now oan”. His reaction fits the notion that he is not consumed by the need for heroin-like some of the other characters in Trainspotting. He does, however, use heroin again and in doing so strengthens the government’s anti-drug message that when the drugs have a hold on someone, they do not let go easily. An article released Psychology Today briefly relates the difference between friendship and addiction. “People who are active in their addictions are not capable of the best form of friendship. In part, this is a consequence of our users being one of the most important things to us. Addicts are selfish in some very real ways. We don’t have the right sort of concern for developing virtue and character. It is harsh to write, but addicts don’t have the right sort of moral character to be the best sort of friend.” This article helps relate to how the characters in the novel reacted to baby dawns death. Instead of being comforting to Lesley, Renton offers her a shot of heroin to help her ease the pain. Renton sees that his friend is actually devasted, and thus he knows the true percentage of the baby. This too is why Renton will fail, for while he can be described as a good person, he too has the capacity for empathy and affection.

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In conclusion, Welsh uses the theme of selfishness as the main motivation behind all the characters actions and decisions in the novel of Trainspotting showing strong emotions to address the truth about addiction and the selfish/narcissistic observed through a psychoanalytic lens. As the novel sheds light on the dark underworld of drug users and the simultaneous emptiness and obsession underlying a drug addicts’ life, the author also highlights particular families that are embittered with envy of the higher class, in denial of their place in such a class of hierarchy, they recreate a class system within their subculture.

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