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This analysis will center on Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. The analysis will look at Knapp’s struggles with alcohol and relationships. All these elements can be expounded from sociological perspectives that will seek to understand the genesis and implications of the author’s actions as narrated in her memoir (Knapp, 1996). The entire novel being from the author’s point view enables the effective evaluation of the author’s experience in relation to existing social constructs particularly those touching on class, race, gender, and education. The analysis is integral as it allows a practical application of sociology in an isolated case that is Caroline Knapp. The theories to be focused on will highlight the author’s relation to the society in general in terms of behavior and perceptions.
The novel, in summary, looks at Caroline Knapp and her destructive love for alcohol. She points the genesis of the addiction to her father who was a habitual a drinker and a man riddled with numerous problems. Just like her father, she acquires a double life which is made possible by alcoholism (Knapp, 1996). It is only through alcohol that she could connect with her father. Drinking from then on became a platform for closure. She pursues destructive romantic love juggling two relationships at the same time. Alcohol was the fuel to this juggling. Her addiction further got worse when she lost both her parents. Her resolve to quit alcohol, however, materialized when she hurts her friend’s children while playing with them not sober (Knapp, 1996). The experience shifts the author’s perception of alcohol. She joins a rehabilitation center which aids her in her sobriety journey-a struggle that she to live with in order to achieve a full life.
The Sociological Perspective of Class in Drinking: A Love Story
The class system is a common phenomenon defining a group or category of individuals having a definite societal status which determines their interaction with other groups. Class is an integral element in the sociological analysis as it shows the inequality within the society or rather how the society is stratified to accommodate different classes. The theoretical analysis is integral in highlighting the relations between individuals drawn from different or same classes. Weber’s theory of social stratification denotes the hierarchal arrangement of castes or social classes within the society (Grusky, Ku, & Szelenyi, 2008). Stratification and classism under Weber focus on more than simply capital ownership. He looks into class (economic position), status (a person’s social honor, prestige or popularity) and power (one’s capability to get his or her way despite opposition from the rest of the society members) (Niemonen, 2002). All these elements are critical when looking at social stratification and in particular class.
Classism is evident in the novel from the chief protagonist to other characters. Firstly, Caroline, the author, and main persona, hails from a family of means within an American contemporary society. Her family is well off and affords to fend for her. Her family owned a house in Martha’s Vineyard, a neighborhood associated with the rich class. The wealth can be linked to her father’s success as a profession within the psychosomatic medicine. He was also a professor at the reputable Boston University.
Her belonging to a wealthy class is highlighted by the caliber of friends she kept while she over indulged in alcoholism. She cites that much of her friends were successful in their professions. This is also portrayed in the class of individuals she encountered during the AA meetings. Many were functional alcoholics but in top jobs. She notes that many heads of law firms and even CEO’s surfaced in the meetings to share their tribulations with alcoholism. It also suffices that her habits were expensive and could only be sustained by an individual that belongs to her class. It was thus easy to maintain a double life; working life and the alcoholic side.
The Sociological Perspective of Gender in Drinking: A Love Story
The sociological view on gender is critical in challenging the traditionally held assumptions made regarding gender within the society. This means moving away from the fundamental attribution error which delves in ignoring cultural context and social structure at the same time invoking personal perceptions (Kirby & Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, 2000). The theory looks at how the social changes have direct or indirect implications on being male or female. Additionally, the theory sought to show the social construction of being male and female as being distinct from the sex biology (Kirby & Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, 2000).
Every society is structured in a way it assigns functions to members of the two genders. In many patriarchal societies, men are expected to be the providers and protectors of their families. Women, on the other hand, were expected to be nurturers (Kirby & Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, 2000). However, due to various socio-economic factors these roles have continued to change precipitating social conflict. The social conflict further has been preempted by how social roles have continued to entrench gender inequality. In the novel, gender inequality suffices where the society judges harshly women that engage in alcoholism as compared to their male counterparts (Holmes, 2007). Further, the society demands the woman to be a firm homemaker and the submissive element within a relationship (Holmes, 2007). Caroline Knapp, due to her background is able to easily rise above the gender inequality but has to put up with external views that are embedded in the patriarchal society psyche. A good example is her date with Michael’s parents where she feared asking for more alcohol as it would have sent the wrong message to the parents (Knapp, 1996). The message, in this context, is the social roles and expectations of a woman regarding alcohol consumption. It was unladylike to overindulge in alcohol.
The social roles also take a center stage in the book when it comes to relationships. The infidelity by men is easily excusable within the society. This is shown by her father’s adulterous behaviors which Caroline later came to learn and accepted them to be part of her flawed nature. Men were free to embrace their sexuality (Holmes, 2007). However, for Caroline and her friend, Meg, this was hard due to social conditioning regarding sex. The two could only pursue sexual escapade freely after partaking in alcohol (Knapp, 1996). This meant that they never truly enjoyed sex because they could not actually remember how it took place. This explains why drinking was an integral element in Caroline’s sexuality. Caroline’s engagement with lovers in her life also highlights the gender inequality and social roles postulated by the society. Her love for David saw her give up an essential part of who she was in order to accommodate him. She adopted a simplistic life that she did not enjoy just to please David, a man that she did not truly love or appreciate. Being stuck with David was purely on compromise basis rather than true love. Her gender further makes her submissive and an easy target for Roger, her professor. She allows Roger to take advantage of her due to her vulnerability.
The Sociological Perspective of Age in Drinking: A Love Story
Aging is defined as the process of individuals growing older. Sociologists look into various ways aging as a process impacts on individuals and society in general. There are a number of theories put forward to explain aging as a social process. There are a number of theories in sociology that are keen on explaining the aging process. However, in the context of Knapp’s memoir only three will apply. These are namely; functionalism, structural-functional theory, and symbolic interaction theory (Kirby & Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, 2000). Functionalism focuses on the shift in roles as one grows with age. Structural-functional theory, on the other hand, focuses on the social disruptions that occur in the society as a result of death and physical decline. Lastly, symbolic interaction theory looks at age as socially constructed and determined by signs that take the semblance of social interactions.
Functionalism as a theory helps to look at the various personas in the novel and how they evolve over time. Knapp introduces the readers to her life as a young girl. At this age, she was her parents’ responsibility. However, after reaching college she took charge of much of her life decisions ranging from education to relationships. It is with age that she managed to come to terms with her alcoholic problems and failures as a person (Knapp, 1996). The theory can further be used to analyze her father’s role in her life. Her father was her mentor but also a semblance of comfort. She took after her father’s regular drinking in order to fit in her double-life and personal struggles.
Structural functionalism theory can be used to explain the disengagement of the older individuals in their assume roles in order to leave room for the younger ones to take over. This is evident in the author’s life story. Her parents with time disengaged in her life choices in order to ensure that she participated in adulthood as she ought to. The disengagements ensured that the author found her footing in both the professional and personal life. They played a peripheral role in her life. A good example is her mother, Jean who would give her a listening ear in times of crisis and pain (Knapp, 1996).
Symbolic interaction theory can aid in revealing the hidden meanings attached to age at different stages in the Knapp memoir. In the book, teenage symbolizes naivety and experimentation. Caroline Knapp and her friend, Meg, encountered alcohol in their teenage out of excitement and curiosity (Knapp, 1996). It is this untamed curiosity that developed into habitual drinking. Past 21 years represented the age of self-sufficiency and individualism. This meant that the author understood that many things in her life were or were not under her control. She understood that she could not do anything to compensate for her lack of a sensitive and loving childhood. Death as the last phase in the aging cycle represented an enlightenment to Knapp. The death of her parents made her resolve to change her life for the better (Knapp, 1996). The transformation was precipitated by her desire to live her life fully without necessarily fearing the consequences of alcoholism which in many instances would have culminated in death or chronic illness.
The Sociological Perspective of Race in Drinking: A Love Story
Race is a social construct that categorizes individuals based on their phenotype and skin color. In the social context of Knapp's book race does not stand out as expected in understanding the author’s relations with the society effectively. However, through the symbolic interactionism race can be viewed as a sign or a symbol of societal status (Andersen & Taylor, 2008). In the book, Knapp being from the majority white race enjoys the benefits of being a wealthy individual with much less care. Much of her mannerisms and liberal nature are associated with the white race and ethnicity which is said to be more inclined towards individualism as opposed to collectivism (Knapp, 1996).
The Sociological Perspective of Education in Drinking: A Love Story
Caroline Knapp, as illustrated in her novel, is well educated and exposed to much information. This is observed in her education level and caliber of schools she attended. Through sociological theory of education, the outcome of the author’s interaction with educational institutions can be analyzed. It is through sufficient education that the author is able to make a living and also establish new ties (Gewirtz & Cribb, 2009). The theory of education and social reproduction links the author’s family background to her educational success. Her family was wealthy enough to put her through good schools which were instrumental in enabling her tap her full potential. The fact that her father was a respected academician and a professional can also be said to have influenced her education success. Additionally, through symbolic interactionism education was instrumental in helping Knapp package herself as a liberal modern woman despite the underlying elements of male dominance in the professional realm (Gewirtz & Cribb, 2009).
This analysis has been integral in highlighting the role sociology plays in understanding events and experiences of an individual. Drinking: A Love Story shows how Knapp’s behaviors and addiction was brought about by external forces that were beyond her control as an individual. Through the focus on class, gender, education, age and race much can be appreciated regarding the author’s life and her pursuit of change.
Andersen, M. L., & Taylor, H. F. (2008). Sociology: Understanding a diverse society. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Gewirtz, S., & Cribb, A. (2009). Understanding education: A sociological perspective. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Grusky, D. B., Ku, M. C., & Szelenyi, S. (2008). Social stratification: Class, race, and gender in sociological perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Holmes, M. (2007). What is Gender?: Sociological Approaches. London: Sage Publications.
Kirby, M., & Assessment and Qualifications Alliance. (2000). Sociology in perspective. Oxford: Heinemann.
Knapp, C. (1996). Drinking: A love story. New York: Dial Press.
Niemonen, J. (2002). Race, class, and the state in contemporary sociology: The William Julius Wilson debates. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner.
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