An Analysis Of Sick Boy

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10th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Apart from his sexual success he is on the same social level as his friends, his background is working class, his education is rudimental and his intelligence, compared to Mark Renton, on a much lower level. Yet, he shows or rather shows off, flashes of knowledge and culture (“Well, non, non, non, Monsieur Renton…”253). Especially to impress women, he leaves his social Scottish background and plays the role of the helpful pseudo-educated Scot and invents his own cultural background (being basically a ‘jazz purist’254). His role model is the Scot Sean Connery, the ‘true James Bond’. Ian Fleming’s “gentleman spy”255 is himself a sexually successful womaniser, intelligent, tough and strong, providing attributes Sick Boy very much approves of. His pseudo, imaginary connection is continued in the imagined dialogues Sick Boy has with his idol. He impersonates the voice of Connery and justifies his actions by doing so. The chapter Deid Dugs256 gives us some more interesting insights of Sick Boys concept of himself and his masculinity: “Ah…the enemy ish in shite, as the old Bond would have said…”, “Call me the unsheen ashashin Mish Moneypenny.”, or “Good shooting Shimon. Why shank you Sean.”257

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These quotes, comically built around Sick Boy by WELSH, underline Sick Boy’s association with the actor Connery and his portrayal of masculinity that itself is built on the fictional one of the movies. But for Sick Boy James Bond’s attributes fit exactly into his chosen life style. Not only does Sick Boy relate to the fictional world of the James Bond cult movies, he compares Sean Connery’s history (born in Edinburgh, from a working-class background, delivering milk to the area) with his own. Sick Boy picks out the characteristics that suit him best and comes to the conclusion that: “Auld Sean and I have so many parallels.”258 In Sick Boy WELSH constructs an extremely self-confident character. This is underlined in the fact that Sick Boy sees his friends as being below him, they are all “l-i-m-i-t-e-d”259 and his ego is unreachable.

His attitude towards homosexuals is very much heterosexual stereotype, homophobic (a homosexual confying his AIDS illness is simply a “sleazy fucking queen.”260). Sick Boy’s morals are very much self-orientated. He is egoistic and attracted by crime. Apart from petty theft he is even involved in criminal action on a much wider scale as Sick Boy is responsible for organising the big ‘skag deal’ in Station to Station.261 So with Sick Boy WELSH presents a character whose masculinity is very much based on his heterosexual performance, rooted very much in the subcultural surroundings of the drug world. With the next character I have chosen to look at in more detail WELSH goes a step further. Begbie’s masculinity is based on domination and suppression.

III.3.2.4 Franco – Beggar – Frank Begbie

With Frank Begbie WELSH creates a very special form of male representation. Frank Begbie’s actions fall into that of a hyper-masculine persona: Drinking, fighting, aggressiveness (even against his so-called mates) and resisting society by choosing a criminal career. WELSH presents a form of masculinity that being marginalised follows the pattern of modern western patriarchal culture, as the dominant masculine form is “aggressive and misogynist”262, and by doing so tries to enhance its masculine status. Frank Begbie’s definition of a masculine ideal stresses the domination of women, strong competition between men, a very strong display of aggressiveness and predatory sexuality. ‘The Beggar’s motto to life is: “no one gets fuckin lippy with me”263 and it underlines his traits of character psychologist Michael HERZFELD would define as ‘machismo’264. A closer look at what marks Begbie as machismo shall underline these findings.

Begbie is the second character in Trainspotting that is extremely self-confident. But his masculinity is based on aggression, against his friends, against his girlfriend June and especially against strangers. Also, WELSH describes his character as showing strong traces of psychopathic behaviour. Begbie cannot control his facets of aggression; they control him and are the basis for his violence. The chapter The Glass265 shows this quite impressively. Although he is the person responsible for glassing a pub visitor, he at first plays the role of the helpful but “psychopathic detective”266 until he finally looses all self-restraint and lets his violence run wild. He uses force, brut force if necessary to bulldoze his opinion onto others and dominates them. Begbie’s background is working class, he also comes from Leith, Edinburgh and is unemployed and a criminal. WELSH emphasises the stereotypical picture of an aggressive macho by letting Begbie show absolutely no interest in high culture (“products preferred by and designed for the well-educated elite”267), neither literature, nor standard English. Instead WELSH accentuates Begbie’s lack of education by underlining the fact that his protagonist relies on the mass media by claiming that one learns all one needs “ootay the paper n fae the telly.”268 Also, Begbie’s language can be described as being the crudest in the novel. ‘Fucking’ and ‘cunt’ appear in his dialogues most frequently (cf. chapter III.3.9) and stress his special form of hypermachismo.

His distorted concept of the masculine idol is that of aggressiveness and ruthlessness. Not only does he define his self in that way, he also defines others after his own hyper-ego. Other men are either mates (long-standing acquaintances Begbie can dominate), hard cunts (men who use force and can stand a fight and show the same high level of aggression as Begbie does) or “fucking shitein cunts269” (men who do not reach Begbie’s level of aggression and show no ability to fight). This concept of the masculine is held up throughout the novel. Frank Begbie’s relationship to women is another indication of his chauvinist attitude. He is violent towards them and sees women as purely sex objects. WELSH’s portrayal of Begbie is rather stereotypical in this point. Women are described in the passages the character Begbie narrates in slang terms as being nothing more than “birds”, “fanny” or “rides”270. They are degraded to meat as simply being “pieces to be shagged”271 thus one encounters a very strong dominant, patriarchal attitude, which coincides with the theoretical part of this thesis. The characterisation WELSH has formed for Begbie is even taken a step further when one looks at how Begbie’s ‘the father’ is described272. He does not show any caring feelings, neither for his son, nor for the mother.

Begbie has no relationship to his own father who is presented twice in the novel. His aggressive outburst after the second encounter in the chapter Trainspotting at Leith Central Station273 directed towards an innocent bystander is not just added evidence of Begbie’s aggressive character. It can be seen as an indication of how Begbie ‘s childhood and his family background must have been an unhappy one as the encounter with his father, who is nothing more than an old drunkard, triggers a large, suppressed pool of anger. WELSH constructs a violent male showing strong traces of Alfred ADLER’S concept of “masculine protest”274, a concept that was based on the fact that due to weak vis-à-vis adults (a weak father in Begbie’s case)the child is not able to set up an “internal contradiction between masculinity and femininity”275. This flaw in childhood development leads to “over-compensation in the direction of aggression and restless striving for triumphs.”276 Begbie’s reaction triggered by the encounter with his father, fits well with ADLER’s concept. Begbie does not want to talk about his feelings towards his father and Mark Renton, who does not tolerate Begbie’s actions, still understands them. An absurd form of male bonding if you like.

III.3.3 Male Relationships

WELSH’s Trainspotting centres around a close, heterosexual circle of men. The male characters come from the same marginalised background: they are all working class and spent their entire life in Leith – so friendships have a long history. School, adolescence and the first step towards the consumption of drugs, first common drugs like alcohol or soft drugs, later heroin, were taken together. Mark Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie – although he does not consume heroin but rather regularly alcohol – accompanied their childhood and in the novel’s present go through thick and mostly thin together. When individuals of the group go through crisis situations (the arrest and trail of Mark Renton and Spud277, the death of Matty278, Tommy getting infected with HIV279) the experience is shared, but does not lead to closer bonding in the protagonist’s future. Other than the consummation of hard drugs (heroin) and the consumption of alcohol280 common interests are women and different aspects of popular culture (e.g. football, music, films [Jean-Claude van Damme videos]). WELSH clearly shows the stereotypical side of chauvinistic male bonding. His characters individually may show strains of an anti-chauvinistic attitude to women (as pointed out Mark Renton and Spud can be seen as representatives of an anti-sexist attitude) but within the group a chauvinistic demeanour is dominant. Its function even strengthens the ‘fraternal bond’ (c.f. the sexist joke in The Elusive Mr Hunt281). Friendship or the situation of being ‘mates’ exists only as long as the drug habit is not affected. As soon as a ‘junk dilemma’, the bodily craving for the next shot of heroin, sets in, male bonding loses its appeal and organising drugs and injecting become more important. WELSH’s protagonist, the drug dealer and beggar, Johnny Swan finds words for this development: “Nae friends in this game. Jist associates.”282

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Still, when the characters are not in need of drugs, their definition of friendship is still a distorted one. A fine example is the relationship the skag boys have to Frank Begbie. He is portrayed as being a general psychopath (c.f. chapter The Glass283) and in this chapter one finds out a lot about the peculiar male bonding that goes on between ‘the Beggar’ and ‘his mates’. Frank Begbie terrorises his friends and as the narrator Mark Renton makes clear in the ‘Myths List’284 fear is the reason for maintaining the status quo. Still, the same working-class background (being part of) is a strong bond. The boys are part of a marginalised subculture, they grow up together in Leith – starting in primary school – so the time factor is important of their relationship. For the working-class characters in the novel the factors explained play a great role in defining what a friend, a ‘mate’, is. Friendship goes a long way for the skag boys. So even with all the negative aspects of Begbie’s personality male bonding exists. “The big problem is, he’s a mate n aw. Whit kin ye dae?”285 WELSH’s men, when heroin is not part of the bargain, stick together. Nevertheless, the skag boys are afraid to show their emotional feelings to each other. They fear that the image of the tough, heterosexual man could fall apart if platonic male love were expressed. The chapter Strolling Through The Meadows286 enforces this finding. Daniel Murphy and Mark Renton show a close emotional bond by talking about their feelings for each other and embracing. Yet they are insecure, whether they should go so far. One can observe how both characters seem to take two steps towards the line, then one step back. Nevertheless, they cross the line of emotional suppression and let it all out, only to be ridiculed by womaniser Sick Boy for expressing homosexuality:

You two fuckin buftie-boys. Either go intae they trees n fuck each other, or come n help us find

Beggars and Matty.287

This homophobic utterance and the immediate release of the embrace show the fact that WELSH’s concept of men in Trainspotting is strongly underlined by the fear of homosexuality.

Apart from his sexual success he is on the same social level as his friends, his background is working class, his education is rudimental and his intelligence, compared to Mark Renton, on a much lower level. Yet, he shows or rather shows off, flashes of knowledge and culture (“Well, non, non, non, Monsieur Renton…”253). Especially to impress women, he leaves his social Scottish background and plays the role of the helpful pseudo-educated Scot and invents his own cultural background (being basically a ‘jazz purist’254). His role model is the Scot Sean Connery, the ‘true James Bond’. Ian Fleming’s “gentleman spy”255 is himself a sexually successful womaniser, intelligent, tough and strong, providing attributes Sick Boy very much approves of. His pseudo, imaginary connection is continued in the imagined dialogues Sick Boy has with his idol. He impersonates the voice of Connery and justifies his actions by doing so. The chapter Deid Dugs256 gives us some more interesting insights of Sick Boys concept of himself and his masculinity: “Ah…the enemy ish in shite, as the old Bond would have said…”, “Call me the unsheen ashashin Mish Moneypenny.”, or “Good shooting Shimon. Why shank you Sean.”257

These quotes, comically built around Sick Boy by WELSH, underline Sick Boy’s association with the actor Connery and his portrayal of masculinity that itself is built on the fictional one of the movies. But for Sick Boy James Bond’s attributes fit exactly into his chosen life style. Not only does Sick Boy relate to the fictional world of the James Bond cult movies, he compares Sean Connery’s history (born in Edinburgh, from a working-class background, delivering milk to the area) with his own. Sick Boy picks out the characteristics that suit him best and comes to the conclusion that: “Auld Sean and I have so many parallels.”258 In Sick Boy WELSH constructs an extremely self-confident character. This is underlined in the fact that Sick Boy sees his friends as being below him, they are all “l-i-m-i-t-e-d”259 and his ego is unreachable.

His attitude towards homosexuals is very much heterosexual stereotype, homophobic (a homosexual confying his AIDS illness is simply a “sleazy fucking queen.”260). Sick Boy’s morals are very much self-orientated. He is egoistic and attracted by crime. Apart from petty theft he is even involved in criminal action on a much wider scale as Sick Boy is responsible for organising the big ‘skag deal’ in Station to Station.261 So with Sick Boy WELSH presents a character whose masculinity is very much based on his heterosexual performance, rooted very much in the subcultural surroundings of the drug world. With the next character I have chosen to look at in more detail WELSH goes a step further. Begbie’s masculinity is based on domination and suppression.

III.3.2.4 Franco – Beggar – Frank Begbie

With Frank Begbie WELSH creates a very special form of male representation. Frank Begbie’s actions fall into that of a hyper-masculine persona: Drinking, fighting, aggressiveness (even against his so-called mates) and resisting society by choosing a criminal career. WELSH presents a form of masculinity that being marginalised follows the pattern of modern western patriarchal culture, as the dominant masculine form is “aggressive and misogynist”262, and by doing so tries to enhance its masculine status. Frank Begbie’s definition of a masculine ideal stresses the domination of women, strong competition between men, a very strong display of aggressiveness and predatory sexuality. ‘The Beggar’s motto to life is: “no one gets fuckin lippy with me”263 and it underlines his traits of character psychologist Michael HERZFELD would define as ‘machismo’264. A closer look at what marks Begbie as machismo shall underline these findings.

Begbie is the second character in Trainspotting that is extremely self-confident. But his masculinity is based on aggression, against his friends, against his girlfriend June and especially against strangers. Also, WELSH describes his character as showing strong traces of psychopathic behaviour. Begbie cannot control his facets of aggression; they control him and are the basis for his violence. The chapter The Glass265 shows this quite impressively. Although he is the person responsible for glassing a pub visitor, he at first plays the role of the helpful but “psychopathic detective”266 until he finally looses all self-restraint and lets his violence run wild. He uses force, brut force if necessary to bulldoze his opinion onto others and dominates them. Begbie’s background is working class, he also comes from Leith, Edinburgh and is unemployed and a criminal. WELSH emphasises the stereotypical picture of an aggressive macho by letting Begbie show absolutely no interest in high culture (“products preferred by and designed for the well-educated elite”267), neither literature, nor standard English. Instead WELSH accentuates Begbie’s lack of education by underlining the fact that his protagonist relies on the mass media by claiming that one learns all one needs “ootay the paper n fae the telly.”268 Also, Begbie’s language can be described as being the crudest in the novel. ‘Fucking’ and ‘cunt’ appear in his dialogues most frequently (cf. chapter III.3.9) and stress his special form of hypermachismo.

His distorted concept of the masculine idol is that of aggressiveness and ruthlessness. Not only does he define his self in that way, he also defines others after his own hyper-ego. Other men are either mates (long-standing acquaintances Begbie can dominate), hard cunts (men who use force and can stand a fight and show the same high level of aggression as Begbie does) or “fucking shitein cunts269” (men who do not reach Begbie’s level of aggression and show no ability to fight). This concept of the masculine is held up throughout the novel. Frank Begbie’s relationship to women is another indication of his chauvinist attitude. He is violent towards them and sees women as purely sex objects. WELSH’s portrayal of Begbie is rather stereotypical in this point. Women are described in the passages the character Begbie narrates in slang terms as being nothing more than “birds”, “fanny” or “rides”270. They are degraded to meat as simply being “pieces to be shagged”271 thus one encounters a very strong dominant, patriarchal attitude, which coincides with the theoretical part of this thesis. The characterisation WELSH has formed for Begbie is even taken a step further when one looks at how Begbie’s ‘the father’ is described272. He does not show any caring feelings, neither for his son, nor for the mother.

Begbie has no relationship to his own father who is presented twice in the novel. His aggressive outburst after the second encounter in the chapter Trainspotting at Leith Central Station273 directed towards an innocent bystander is not just added evidence of Begbie’s aggressive character. It can be seen as an indication of how Begbie ‘s childhood and his family background must have been an unhappy one as the encounter with his father, who is nothing more than an old drunkard, triggers a large, suppressed pool of anger. WELSH constructs a violent male showing strong traces of Alfred ADLER’S concept of “masculine protest”274, a concept that was based on the fact that due to weak vis-à-vis adults (a weak father in Begbie’s case)the child is not able to set up an “internal contradiction between masculinity and femininity”275. This flaw in childhood development leads to “over-compensation in the direction of aggression and restless striving for triumphs.”276 Begbie’s reaction triggered by the encounter with his father, fits well with ADLER’s concept. Begbie does not want to talk about his feelings towards his father and Mark Renton, who does not tolerate Begbie’s actions, still understands them. An absurd form of male bonding if you like.

III.3.3 Male Relationships

WELSH’s Trainspotting centres around a close, heterosexual circle of men. The male characters come from the same marginalised background: they are all working class and spent their entire life in Leith – so friendships have a long history. School, adolescence and the first step towards the consumption of drugs, first common drugs like alcohol or soft drugs, later heroin, were taken together. Mark Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie – although he does not consume heroin but rather regularly alcohol – accompanied their childhood and in the novel’s present go through thick and mostly thin together. When individuals of the group go through crisis situations (the arrest and trail of Mark Renton and Spud277, the death of Matty278, Tommy getting infected with HIV279) the experience is shared, but does not lead to closer bonding in the protagonist’s future. Other than the consummation of hard drugs (heroin) and the consumption of alcohol280 common interests are women and different aspects of popular culture (e.g. football, music, films [Jean-Claude van Damme videos]). WELSH clearly shows the stereotypical side of chauvinistic male bonding. His characters individually may show strains of an anti-chauvinistic attitude to women (as pointed out Mark Renton and Spud can be seen as representatives of an anti-sexist attitude) but within the group a chauvinistic demeanour is dominant. Its function even strengthens the ‘fraternal bond’ (c.f. the sexist joke in The Elusive Mr Hunt281). Friendship or the situation of being ‘mates’ exists only as long as the drug habit is not affected. As soon as a ‘junk dilemma’, the bodily craving for the next shot of heroin, sets in, male bonding loses its appeal and organising drugs and injecting become more important. WELSH’s protagonist, the drug dealer and beggar, Johnny Swan finds words for this development: “Nae friends in this game. Jist associates.”282

Still, when the characters are not in need of drugs, their definition of friendship is still a distorted one. A fine example is the relationship the skag boys have to Frank Begbie. He is portrayed as being a general psychopath (c.f. chapter The Glass283) and in this chapter one finds out a lot about the peculiar male bonding that goes on between ‘the Beggar’ and ‘his mates’. Frank Begbie terrorises his friends and as the narrator Mark Renton makes clear in the ‘Myths List’284 fear is the reason for maintaining the status quo. Still, the same working-class background (being part of) is a strong bond. The boys are part of a marginalised subculture, they grow up together in Leith – starting in primary school – so the time factor is important of their relationship. For the working-class characters in the novel the factors explained play a great role in defining what a friend, a ‘mate’, is. Friendship goes a long way for the skag boys. So even with all the negative aspects of Begbie’s personality male bonding exists. “The big problem is, he’s a mate n aw. Whit kin ye dae?”285 WELSH’s men, when heroin is not part of the bargain, stick together. Nevertheless, the skag boys are afraid to show their emotional feelings to each other. They fear that the image of the tough, heterosexual man could fall apart if platonic male love were expressed. The chapter Strolling Through The Meadows286 enforces this finding. Daniel Murphy and Mark Renton show a close emotional bond by talking about their feelings for each other and embracing. Yet they are insecure, whether they should go so far. One can observe how both characters seem to take two steps towards the line, then one step back. Nevertheless, they cross the line of emotional suppression and let it all out, only to be ridiculed by womaniser Sick Boy for expressing homosexuality:

You two fuckin buftie-boys. Either go intae they trees n fuck each other, or come n help us find

Beggars and Matty.287

This homophobic utterance and the immediate release of the embrace show the fact that WELSH’s concept of men in Trainspotting is strongly underlined by the fear of homosexuality.

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