Original Research

Alienation in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting

B.A. Senekal
Literator | Vol 31, No 1 | a35 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v31i1.35 | © 2010 B.A. Senekal | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 July 2010 | Published: 13 July 2010

About the author(s)

B.A. Senekal, Department of Afrikaans & Dutch, German & French, University of the Free State, South Africa

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This article examines how Melvin Seeman’s theory of alienation (1959) and modern alienation research manifest in Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting”. This is an important novel, not only because of its commercial success, but also because it depicts a specific marginalised subculture. Postmodernism and systems theory approaches, as well as changes in the social and political spheres have motivated researchers such as Geyer (1996), Kalekin-Fishman (1998) and Neal and Collas (2000) to reinterpret Seeman’s theory. This article attempts to incorporate this new theory of alienation in the analysis of contemporary fiction. Seeman identifies five aspects of alienation, namely powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, social isolation and self-estrangement. Following Neal and Collas (2000), in particular, this article omits self-estrangement, but shows how the other four aspects of alienation have changed since Seeman’s formulation. It is argued that “Trainspotting” depicts a specific occurrence of alienation in modern western society, besides normlessness, meaninglessness, and social isolation, highlighting Seeman’s concept of powerlessness, in particular. The article further argues that applying Seeman’s theory of alienation in the study of contemporary literature provides a fresh theoretical approach that contributes to the understanding of how fiction engages with its environment.


Alienation; Contemporary British Fiction; Irvine Welsh


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