Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Mary Margaret  Donnelly 

The Cause and Effects of Drug Use in China and America during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Mary Karr’s Search for Fulfillment in a State of Depression

Mary  Karr
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mind-altering drugs such as opium, heroin, and cocaine halted the economic and cultural progress of specific social groups in China and America. Drug use played a role in economic recessions and in societal depredation. In the mid 1800s, Britain attacked China’s developing economy by importing opium, victimizing China and leaving it a drug dependent society. In 1920s North America, during the time of the lively jazz age, heroin crept its way into jazz clubs and later, into minority neighborhoods, and wound up devastating many lives of talented young people. In the late twentieth century, cocaine grew in popularity in American social settings such as finance, second-shift manufacturing, and the entertainment industry, impacting careers as well as personal lives. Cocaine enhanced workers’ motivation and increased productivity, making this a valuable and desired stimulant. However these people became drug dependent workers. These life-intensifying drugs caused economic, societal, and psychological destruction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Contemporary memoirist and poet Mary Karr was similarly seduced by the alluring effects of drugs and alcohol, and in each of her works, Karr depicts her search for a meaningful connection with others that is thwarted by her dependence on these substances. Although drugs and alcohol allow her to feel a temporary sense of control over her life in light of the traumas of her past – particularly her relationship with her mother – they ultimately act as barriers between Karr and the rest of the world. In Karr’s most recent memoir, Lit, she narrates her journey into recovery, finding the comfort and support she needs within the community of the Catholic Church, which helps her grow closer to God and further from addiction. In her poetry as well, in which the identity of the speaker is less obviously the author herself, Karr combines simple diction with unsettling images that depict sexual abuse, negligence, and depression, all of which indirectly reflect the same sense of detachment she experiences as an addict.

Major Works Consulted

Dikötter, Frank, Lars Peter, Xun Zhou, and Laamann. Narcotic Culture: A History of Drug in China. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2004.
Feiling, Tom. Cocaine Nation: How the White Trade Took Over the World. New York: Pegasus, 2010.
Karr, Mary. The Liars’ Club. New York: Penguin, 1995.
--. Lit. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
Photo Credit Kramer, David J., and Richard Kern. "Mary Karr." VICE. N.p., 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.