Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Michael Galchinsky

Second Advisor

Christine Gallant

Third Advisor

Paul Schmidt


The thesis examines Thomas De Quincey’s opium use as a product of social strain. De Quincey’s collection of work provides evidence that he felt alienated from society prior to his addiction and that his feelings of inadequacy contributed to his dependence on drugs. Utilizing Robert K. Merton’s strain theory, this thesis delineates De Quincey’s aspirational references and perceived failures through an examination of his imagery and interprets his perceptions of human life as a catalyst for his compulsions to cope with opium. De Quincey, strained by the aspirations of an industrial and imperialistic society, looked for several avenues of escape. The Romanticism of William Wordsworth presented De Quincey with a method for alleviating social strain; however, when De Quincey failed to discover the transcendence evident in Lyrical Ballads he turned to the intoxicating effects of opium and retreated from English society.