Escapism and Alcohol

Patchett’s Chapter 10 sees the conclusion of the novel. The consequences of the terrorists actions are long overdue, and Chapter 10 brings the lives of many characters to an end. But what particularly caught my attention was how the hostages and terrorists were able to so effectively forget the serious situation they were mixed up in – as well as the looming outcome. The characters chose to ignore potential outcomes instead of focusing on finding actual logical solutions. For example, although “Gen was born to learn,” the “last months had turned him around and now Gen saw there could be as much virtue in letting go of what you knew as there had ever been in gathering new information. He worked as hard at forgetting as he had ever worked to learn.” What theory could explain this phenomenon? What are the theory’s implications and how does it pertain to actions similar to Gen’s and Carmen’s?

Escapism is defined as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” This definitely sounds like such the theory I’m seeking to research and better understand. In his novel Escapism, author Yi-Fu Tuan discusses many implications of the tendency. Tuan writes that “culture is… closely linked to the human tendency not to face facts…” (Tuan). “Seeing what is not there lies in the foundation of all human culture” (Tuan). The very animal tendency to escape is one that has been acquired over the course of tens of thousands of years; migration is a primitive example of this, where humans moved to new homes after their ground started to deteriorate. The natural tendency to escape reality is one that is shared by both humans and animals alike. The immediate gratification as pleasure from avoiding dealing with a situation altogether is far more attractive an idea than putting forth effort to coming up with a solution.

Author Roy Baumeister writes in Escaping the Self that “people seek to escape from the self for three main reasons: to avoid thinking bad thoughts about oneself…, to find temporary relief from the stressful burden of maintaining an inflated image…, or to seek transcendence in the very act of shedding the self” (Baumeister). In other words, we always hope to suppress whatever bothers (or will bother) us by focusing on the temporary and immediate pleasures from forgetting. Thinking about something we enjoy is far more attractive an option than working toward facing a problem we simply do not want to deal with. Alcoholism is a popular example of this that comes to mind, and Baumeister actually touches on this topic in his book as well.

Baumeister describes a situation where a working father, initially stressed from the high demands of his job, receives a phone call from his wife saying that she is leaving him with their child. In this situation, the father turned to an evening of alcohol consumption. And although alcohol is a depressant, it is often used in an attempt to “escape from self-awareness.” And the father of this scenario isn’t alone: “When the cost of lost production, crime, and accidents due to alcohol are totaled, and added to the cost of treating alcohol addiction… the ticket comes to over $50 billion a year” (Baumeister). The fact that these expenses alone are not enough to sway so many away from abuse of the depressant shows just how powerful it is – and how desperate some are to escape the reality of their lives. Just as Tuan wrote of the cultural connection between escapism and society, the “drug of choice” for western cultures is the modern, far-less practical form of migration.

An article on this matter analyzes a particularly relevant study on the relationship between “drinking and drug use in relation to stress and escapism…” (Sadava). Although internal psychological stress is often “followed by heavier drinking,” a series of experiments as “failed to provide consistent physiological, behavioral, and experimental evidence of the relief of tension in drinkers” (Sadava). To summarize the mindset of a typical drinker with the learned behavior, “the drinker wishes to escape from an external situation or internal state, is willing and able to drink, expects relief, and attributes mood changes to alcohol” (Sadava).

In actuality, however, the effects of alcohol are often quite different from what one would expect; one study found correlation between “problem drinking and personal dissatisfaction (low expectancies, alienation) in Italian Americans but not Italians” (Sadava). Again, the views around alcohol in western culture are able to explain this finding. “Drinking in response to dissatisfaction or stress must be mediated by the cultural or personal meanings of drinking,” and not just the alcohol itself (Sadava). So, if if alcohol alone is not enough to even temporarily separate one from his/her stresses (contradictory to what Baumeister writes), a complicated relationship between cultural influences and the laws of escapism must be the concluding drive.

In conclusion, Gen’s newly-found ability to forget his troubles and focus on living in the moment is exemplary of the theory of escapism. The tendency to seek distractions out of desperation to ignore an approaching issue is one that can be learned; immediate satisfaction is easily chosen over putting effort into solving the greater problem. Although alcohol can serve as a temporary, effective distraction in the right context (and culture), it doesn’t solve any problems. Alcohol itself does not do a drinker any good; it requires a specific mindset and several acquired external factors.

Works Cited

Baumeister, Roy. Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights From the Burden of Selfhood. New York: Basic, 1991. Print.

Sadava, S. “Stress, Escapism and Patterns of Alcohol and Drug Use.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 39.5 (1978): 725-35. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Escapism. Johns Hopkins UP, 1998. Print.


2 thoughts on “Escapism and Alcohol

  1. slaudeman says:

    I think that you have done a very good job of tackling something this big. One of the first things that I think of when I think of escapism is negative – running away from something, or avoiding it. It tends to have a negative connotation, which you have done a good job of debunking. It is important to think about the characteristics of the idea of escapism as a positive trait versus that of a negative connotations of the word. I think that your examples, alcohol and drugs, are interesting in relation to the novel. While neither of these two were mentioned explicitly in the book, Gen and Carmen and Roxane and Hosokawa all engaged in their own forms of escapism – namely sexual avoidance of the present and past issues in order to live to the fullest extent in their present lives. I think that this form of escapism is in contrast to what you discussed. It seems that most of your research focused on escaping interpersonal relationships, while in the book, the focus was on deepening those same relationships. Thus, the question I might ask you is how does escapism create deeper bonds on an emotional level? How can something that is, so often, recognized as negative create something that seems to be positive? In what ways do the arguments for escapism fall apart in light of this suggestion, or do they hold more strongly than before? I also like the way in which you concluded, by noting that escapism is not a solution. As we saw in the chapter, the characters were forced to face the things that they had been running from all along, in one way or another.

    -Sara L.


  2. bsejdiu942 says:

    Hey Colin,

    A very interesting read on the nature of escapism. I also agree with Sara that escapism in the book also comes off as creating relationships rather than forgetting or losing awareness through alcoholism/cultural values. There were some questions that raised in my mind when you brought up the discussion of how Italian Americans used alcohol to escape but Italians themselves do not because of their specific cultural inclinations. I wonder what other forms of escapism examples there could be across many other cultures. Is there an underlying behavior that humans tend to move towards or is culture the main driver behind how humans reacts to certain situations, like the one you provided with the wife leaving the husband. Or perhaps, it is a mixture of both?

    This research could definitely be broadened to how certain cultures react to certain situations of happiness, joy, depression, sadness, etc. To help strengthen the argument of escapism in this case being a cultural reaction of using alcohol. More questions come in to mind about how we can use this in particular cultures to help individuals who are taking escapism to extremes where they cannot function no longer in society. Providing help to clinics for people (in specific cultures) combating depression towards a situation, who feel helpless and turn to a damaging behavior to escape the situation of their lives. Overall, I find this to be a good research avenue that could provide positive benefits to society.



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