Under the Influence is one of the prominent essays written by Scott Sanders, where the author reveals the depth of the problem of alcoholism, its impact on the social environment of alcoholics as well as alcoholics themselves. At the same time, the does not simply explore the problem of alcoholism, but he attempts to understand its causes and effects. Unlike conventional stereotypes, the essay makes readers view this problem from a different angle. The author’s main message is the negative, destructive impact of alcoholism on an individual and his social environment, but he shows that this problem is not a “private grief”¯, as people get used to think of alcoholism, but it is rather a social problem.
The author clearly defines the main problem of his essay from the opening lines, where he starts with words “my father drank”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p. 733). Throughout the entire story, the author focuses the attention of the reader on various manifestations of the negative impact of heavy drinking on alcoholics and their social environment, especially their family. In fact, Scott Sanders manages to reveal the personal of the narrator, who is a child, as the matter of fact, and who witnesses his father sliding down the social ladder, losing his human dignity and mankind. The narrator notes that “my father, when drunk, was neither funny nor honest; he was pathetic, frightening, deceitful”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p. 735). In such a way, the drunkard is totally lost in his addiction, his personality is destructed and even his child cannot perceive him as a personality. This state of the alcoholic father is contrasted by his description when he is sober: “so playful and competent and kind when sober”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p. 737).Ā Thus, the author shows the extent to which an individual’s behavior can differ when he is drunk or sober.
At the same time, in the course of the story, Scott Sanders reveals the steady but irrevocable degradation of the narrator’s father. It’s always hard to deal with the wrath of someone who’s “possessed by demons”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p. 739). What is more important, the author has managed to show that alcoholism affects all people in the family of a drunkard and there is a risk of gradual sliding toward alcoholism of all those people who live with a drunkard. No wonder the main character faces a profound conflict within his family, when he attempts to confront or to live up with those who are under the influence of alcohol. Eventually, the narrator arrives to the idea that he has to start acting to stop alcoholism within his family: “Because the mom and pop who ran the dump were neighbors of ours”¦I hated them all the most for poisoning my father. I wanted to sneak in their store and smash the bottles and set fire to the place”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p. 737).
However, the narrator eventually understands that it is not only the problem of his family but it is a problem that is deep-rooted in their community since alcoholism practically became a norm in their community: “How far a man could slide was gauged by observing our back-road neighbors – the out-of-work miners who had dragged their families to our corner of Ohio from the desolate hollows of Appalachia, the tightfisted farmers, the surly mechanics, the balked and broken men”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p. 734). To prove the fact that alcoholism as a social problem which needs the community counteraction, the author draws a number of examples of alcoholism and its destructive effects:
There was, for example, whiskey-soaked Mr. Jenkins, who beat his wife and kids so hard we could hear their screams from the road. There was Mr. Lavo the wino, who fell asleep smoking time and again, until one night his disgusted wife bundled up the children and went outside and left him in his easy chair to burn; he awoke on his own, staggered out coughing into the yard, and pounded her flat while the children looked on and the shack turned to ash. There was the truck driver, Mr. Sampson, who tripped over his son’s tricycle one night while drunk and got so mad that he jumped into his semi and drove away, shifting through the dozen gears, and never came back. (Sanders, 2006, p.234-235).
At the same time, the author wants to show the horrors of alcoholism which family members witness being under the influence of drunkards and being unable to escape. In such a context, the author raises the problem of the interdependence of alcoholism and domestic violence: “We saw the bruised children of these fathers clump onto our school bus, we saw the abandoned children huddle in the pews at church, we saw the stunned and battered mothers begging for help at our doors”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p.735). In such a situation, the narrator to understand the reason why people consume alcohol but he finds very simple, naĆÆve explanation: “I tell myself he drinks to ease the ache that gnaws at his belly, and ache that I must have caused by disappointing him somehow”¯ (734).
Thus, the author attempts to persuade readers that alcoholism engenders a number of problems. His Under the Influence reveals the depth of the problem of alcoholism, which should be viewed not at the individual but at the social level. The overall conclusion that can be made on reading the story is that alcoholism should be stopped by mutual efforts of the community. Otherwise, drunken occasions “will continue as long as memory holds”¯ (Sanders, 2006, p.733).