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Essay on Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh


I chose not to choose life:

I chose something else.
And the reasons?
There are no reasons.
Who need reasons when you’ve got heroin?”
– Welsh, Trainspotting

The main character of the novel is a heroin-addicted Mark Renton. Mark is caught for theft together with his friend Spud. Mark Renton is freed with the condition that he undergoes a mandatory rehab.

His friend Spud is sentenced to six-month imprisonment for the same crime. Renton, the main character of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting is a representative of an ordinary working man who spends his time in the attempt to escape from reality. He lives in the suburbs of Edinburgh, which is full of “dispossessed white trash”(Welsh 190). He is described as a usual heroine junkie who wastes his life on drugs and primitive pleasures. The novel is full of details and descriptions that give the reader a perfect idea about the world the main character lives in. When talking about the lady, who comes to Edinburgh hoping to get a “hoose in Princes Street lookin oantay the castle” the author shows the way the characters see the city. They laugh at the lady and “instead of a view of the castle, she’s [given] a view of the gasworks. That’s how it fuckin works in real life, if ye urnae a rich cunt wi a big fuckin hoose n plenty poppy” (Welsh 115-116). Reading the author’s descriptions, we get a better idea about the air Mark breathes in. We can see the depth of his falling and things he is ready to do to get his doze. In one of the scenes of the novel, Renton has to use opium because he can not get heroin. Suppositories fall to the toilet, and the main character plunges his arm to get them back without any hesitation. The main character of the novel sees nothing wrong in beating strangers in the street and sees nothing immoral in random homosexual relations of even sleeping with his brother’s pregnant girlfriend.

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The novel is written as a first-person narration, and that is why we see the world through the eyes of the main characters. The way we see the world with their help becomes a shocking discovery. It seems like the people described in the novel are plunged into the endless anabiotic dream or even nightmare where drugs are the only mean to come in term with reality. The language of the characters reflects their social origin and way of life they lead. It becomes difficult for understanding as well as some motives and drives of the main characters. The characters of the novel live in their world and don’t let any help or even passive observers inside this world. “Why is it that because you use hard drugs every cunt feels that they have the right to dissect and analyze ye?” (Welsh 187). They don’t realize the depth of their falling and don’t believe they need any help. The world they consider hostile and cruel has nothing to offer them except the next dose of heroin. Renton knows about the attitude of people of other social layers to him and his friends and does his best to prove bad expectations.

They don’t realize the depth of their falling and don’t believe they need any help. The world they consider hostile and cruel has nothing to offer them except the next dose of heroin. Renton knows about the attitude of people of other social layers to him and his friends and does his best to prove bad expectations. In the park, when he sees “two posh lookin wifies, gie us the eye as they pass us.

They look, likesay, disgusted. Rents gits a glint in his eye…” and does his best to shock these women proving their worst anticipations (Welsh 159). The middle class and the way of life these people have is something Renton tries to escape by any means. He prefers to be on the lowest step of the social scale of rank to escape the destiny of ordinary life as a typical member of the middle class. He doesn’t want to study at the University despite his interest in some subjects because he is afraid that this could bring him to the way of life he tries to escape by any means. Renton isn’t stupid. He’s intelligent, wit and reflective but he doesn’t want to use or develop these qualities. He prefers his aimless existence of social outcast to escape “mortgage payments…sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing junk food intae yir mooth…rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced” (Welsh 187).

When thinking about Begbie’s son Renton is sure that he will repeat the life of his father “kids name down for H.M. Prison Saughton when it was still in June’s womb, as sure as fetus of a rich bastard is Eton-bound,” and he is afraid of this perspective. (Welsh, 171). While making love with the girlfriend of his brother he thinks that “she was caught in this git-a-man, git-a-bairn, git-a-hoose shite that lassies git drummed intae them, and hud nae real chance ay defining hersel ootside ay they mashed-tattie-fir-brains terms ay reference” (Welsh 220).

Renton doesn’t use his brain and perfect abilities. Moreover, he feels uneasy for his bright mental abilities. He feels uncomfortable when uses his great speaking skills and wit in order to escape the imprisonment his less lucky friend Spud gets into.

Renton doesn’t perceive reality and we must agree that reality doesn’t perceive him and people like him either. It’s natural as it’s hard to see the personality, hurt soul and some feelings in the marginal, who spends his days in the search of the new portion of heroin. The situation is complicated by the fact that Mark does all these things consciously and doesn’t feel any shame for that. It’s easy to condemn and blame people like him. From the other side, it’s impossible to make Mark alone guilty for everything that happens to him. Being not satisfied with the life of people who surround him he tries to escape from the problems of the reality and he finds this way in drugs. “Junk fills the void” is his credo and he leaves and behaves accordingly (Welsh 187). The void becomes that key that can uncover the root of the problem to us. It’s enough to remember the way Renton talks about the death of his crippled brother. Despite the fact that he tells that “Perr Davie goat dealt the shitest possible hand. Fuckin sad, but you cannae greet aboot it fir the rest ay yir puff” we can understand these words are nothing but an attempt to hide grief and guilt from other and first of all from himself (Welsh 184). Another time he doesn’t hide his attitude and tells that “Whin [Davie] died, ah felt guilty aboot resentin um, guilty aboot mibbe no huvin made a bit mair ay an effort” (Welsh 184). So, the death of his brother became the starting point of the void and emptiness in his soul, which pushed him to seek the consolation in the dream world created by drugs. In the beginning, it seems that such notion as moral, law and responsibility mean nothing for Mark. It’s not true, though. Reflecting on his junkie friend he asks himself: “Was it me that encourage Tommy to take the first shot, just by having the gear there? Possibly. Probably. How guilty did that make us? Guilty enough” (Welsh 317). So, he is ready to take responsibility for the lives of people he turned to drugs. It’s quite possible that with the flow of time he will take a decision to take a responsibility for his own life. This decision is quite difficult as taking responsibilities requires acting and in Renton’s case giving up drugs must become that action and taking responsibilities. When deciding leaving Edinburgh, Renton feels guilty for betraying his friends. The most pity he feels for Spud, who has never done anything wrong to anyone. At the same time taking his decision, Renton proves his will and decision to live the life of his own.

When thinking about Spud before his departure, Renton thinks that Spud “could not be held responsible for society’s materialism and commodity fetishism. Nothing had gone right for Spud. The world had shat on him, and now his mate had joined in” (Welsh 343). These words are essential as they can be referred to Mark Renton too. These are the vices he blames the society and other people in. He doesn’t believe in the justice of the society and doesn’t see any meaning in existence in general. The book describes not only the problems of one separate individual. It also depicts many social vices. Since we see the descriptions through the eyes of the junkies, the depictions are exaggerated, mocking and show only negative aspects of the phenomena. From the other side, we can see the system of education and medical institutions from another perspective. The sharp critique of mental health services from the people who are assumed to take treatments in these clinics gives a lot of food for thoughts. Maybe the critique is exaggerated but it can’t be neglected, as people such Spud, Renton and their friends are the part of the society and they need help. Maybe they stay outside any social norms and don’t belong to any respected and recognized layers of the society, but they are part of our life and they can open our eyes to social problems we close our eyes on.

1. Welsh Irvine, Trainspotting, Guanda, 1993.

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