The essay examines the first U.S. novel about hypodermic morphine addiction, Edward Payson Roe's Without a Home (1881) in the context of the broader cultural history of addiction. When habituation to hypodermic morphine became a noted phenomenon in the years following the Civil War, writers described it by the temperance movement's familiar metaphor for habituation to alcohol: self-enslavement. “Opium slaves” joined the ranks of figurative “slaves to the bottle,” as implicitly white men who had ironically squandered their freedom in exchange for a degrading compulsion. At the same time, the temperance plot was updated to include the idea that such habituations might be nervous illnesses afflicting modern professional workers. Through its addicted protagonist Martin Jocelyn, Roe's novel engages these unevenly developing medical, reform, and popular early representations of addiction. A Confederate veteran inured to the slave-owning economy of the South, Jocelyn fails to become a modern professional when he moves to New York City after the end of the war. The cause of his downfall is his dependence on morphine, which is portrayed both as a diagnosable condition and as the shameful, emasculating servitude of self-enslavement. Attempting to pass as a breadwinner, husband, and professional, Jocelyn's addiction makes him an impostor of freedom. But it also shows how the history of chattel slavery haunted the late nineteenth-century conceptualization of addiction, in spite of the nation's attempt to forget its own shameful dependency on chattel slave labor.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| September 01 2008
Susan Zieger; Impostors of Freedom: Southern White Manhood, Hypodermic Morphine, and E. P. Roe's Without a Home. American Literature 1 September 2008; 80 (3): 527–554. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2008-021
Download citation file: