From the speakeasy musicians of the 1920s to the rebel Beatnick writers of the 1950s, marijuana has long been a part of American art culture. It’s no wonder, then, why cannabis use is so prevalent in fiction. Here is a list of 7 book characters that spent some time enjoying the benefits of cannabis.
1. Invisible Man (1952)
Ralph Waldo Ellison opens his famous 1952 novel, Invisible Man (not to be confused with H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man), with the Invisible Man listening to some Louis Armstrong while smoking cannabis. The Invisible Man claims that the cannabis helps him hear the “low frequencies” in Armstrong’s music. These “low frequencies” act as representatives of the Invisible Man’s need to operate underneath the radar throughout the novel.
2. The Color Purple (1982)
The womanizing Grady in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple frequently lights up, eventually leaving his main gal Shug to start up a marijuana plantation in Central America with a new lover, Squeak. This novel is set in the 1930s, when cannabis was just about to face the first battle for legality. Grady’s frequent marijuana use both demonstrates the prevalence of the plant and the development of its bad reputation–Grady smokes so much that Squeak eventually leaves him because he is too lazy.
3. Union Atlantic (2011)
In the 2011 New York Times bestseller Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett, recent high school graduate Nate Fuller and friends frequently use cannabis throughout the novel. Nate, a young man struggling to cope with the death of his father and coming to terms with his own homosexuality, regularly engages in pseudo-philosophical debates among his friend group while inspired by cannabis use. While using cannabis, Nate attempts to come to terms with concepts such as the individual’s place in a world increasingly abstracted by technology.
4. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
In one of their many bonding moments, Yunior and Oscar of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao share a joint while catching up. Oscar, who has long been tired of his life as an overweight, Puerto Rican scifi nerd, was introduced to marijuana by Yunior, a family friend. It can be argued that both Oscar and Yunior use cannabis as a gateway to discuss their life decisions and simply enjoy a relaxing afternoon with friends.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999)
Charlie, in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower, incorporates marijuana into his coming-of-age experience. As Charlie is in the experimental phase of his life, he and his friends test out marijuana use in order to cope with and understand the major crises and stresses of adolescent life.
6. On The Road (1957)
In true Beat fashion, Dean, Sal and their crew from Kerouac’s On The Road spend their days traveling around the U.S. and Mexico with the company of jazz and cannabis. At a time when U.S. culture was obsessed with the nuclear family and static forms of identity, the Beats represented the counterculture which eventually evolved into the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the cultural ideas we have today.
7. Ecotopia (1975)
Perhaps appealing a little too much to the “hippie” side of cannabis history, William Weston in Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia engages in cannabis use while on a journalistic mission to the newly created country, Ecotopia. Though Callenbach may have exaggerated stereotypes about Pacific Northwest culture, he also might have been onto something. This futuristic tale depicts utopia as the would-be environmentally conscious, sexually liberal, and marijuana smoking Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.