Alcoholics Anonymous as an Important Literary Work
Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the great unrecognized literary works of the first half of the twentieth century. It has been through three editions after its first printing in 1939 and at least fifty-three printings in over ninety countries (xxii). The wide popularity and circulation of the book certainly affirms this claim. An examination of the contents of the book will show that it also deserves this title. It is a rich work because it conveys a basic human condition, though ugly, until that time not often spoken of in public. If it simply did this and nothing more it would merely be a good book. But it does more than speak to an ugly condition; it gives a blueprint for change.
The human condition which is spoken about in Alcoholics Anonymous is the dichotomy of the life of the alcoholic. These alcoholics are not easy to categorize; they are not always a Dr Jekyll by day and Mr Hyde by night. Bill, who explains his life story in the first chapter, explains how he studied economics, business and law to join speculators on Wall Street. Up until this point, drinking had interfered in his life, but was not a continuous plague. Yet, over the course of time he becomes an alcoholic for a variety of reasons, like many individuals described throughout the book. The alcoholics described are not portrayed as unintelligent, unsuccessful or insignificant. They are men who have high positions, who are by turns "brilliant, fast-thinking, imaginative and likeable" (139). The conclusion of a prima facie inspection of these individuals would not include over indulgence of alcohol. But under the alcoholic influence these attributes worthy of note slowly atrophy and wither. The alcoholic, then, is everywhere, oftentimes unbeknownst to employers and friends. The book attempts to show this fact.
The book offers no simple "comprehensive picture" of the alcoholic simply because "behavior patterns vary" (22). Precipitating circumstances are complex, intricate and not all situations play out in the same way. Bill's story is not the same as Fred's, who works in the accounting firm, nor is Dr Bob's experience the same as Jim, the car salesman. And it will not be, presumably, the same as the alcoholic readership. But the central problem with the alcoholic is not, as might be commonly thought, drinking. Rather it is "his mind, rather than his body" (23). Alcoholism is a state of mind: an irrationality of the reasons for one's drinking habits. Alcoholics Anonymous contribution to literature is to define alcoholism and label it not only as a mere problem, but a common problem with its complexity and variety.
Presented throughout the book is a skeleton of...