Past and Present in “Under the Influence” by Scott Sanders

During a lifetime, each person witnesses a large number of events. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, these instances become an inseparable part of the individual’s life. Because of the ability to memorize things, people keep many events in their minds forever, digging them out under various circumstances. Sometimes, one may desire to recollect delightful moments but cannot do so. On other occasions, one may want to forget about dreadful issues, but they constantly return in retrospection. In “Under the Influence,” Scott Russell Sanders represents the inevitability of the connection between the past and present and shows that past events may have a considerable effect on the future.

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To depict time and memory, as well as the process of recollection, Sanders employs different means in several dimensions. First of all, he uses the present simple tense to speak about his childhood, which makes the audience feel as if the events described are taking place at the moment. The author even says that the “present of memory” is “perennial,” meaning that he has not forgotten anything (Sanders 1). The use of the present simple makes the episodes depicted rather vivid and dramatic. The saddest and most agonizing recollections of the narrator relate to his father’s drinking problem. The author describes how the father “wipes the sandy-haired back of a hand over his lips” and “stashes the bottle <…> inside his jacket” (Sanders 1). By doing so, he makes it possible for the reader to be present at that very moment, in that barn where a little boy is sitting quietly and pretending not to notice anything. Thus, the use of tenses is one of the most expressive ways of making a bridge between the past and present in the story.

Another approach exploited by Sanders is the use of expressive means and stylistic devices, such as synonyms, metaphors, and comparisons, to illustrate the pain and shame that a little boy used to feel. By resorting to these instances, the author depicts the purpose of recollection. In his case, this goal is not to allow the events from the past to repeat. As the narrator notes, he still “shies away” from parties with alcohol (Sanders 10). He correlates his behavior with that of a man shying away “from the lions’ den after seeing his father torn apart” (Sanders 10). The narrator does not want his own son to suffer the way he did, and he promises to himself that he will not leave a single chance for such a situation. Hence, the author explains the need to remember the past so as to avert the repetition of the tragedy in the future.

The use of synonyms in the story is extensive and rich, and with its help, the author demonstrates how excessively dramatic the question of alcoholism is in society. When inviting the reader to consider “a few” synonyms for “drunk,” the author provides as many as thirty-seven (Sanders 2). Thus, it is evident that behind the irony of the word “a few,” there is the pain of a little boy who used to see his father in conditions to which all of these ‘epithets’ could refer. “Tipsy, tight, pickled, <…> juiced and sluiced; three sheets to the wind, <…> loaded or looped”: the narrator knows that it is possible to describe his father by any of these inglorious epithets (Sanders 2). And by realizing this fact, he emphasizes the purpose of memory: one should remember the past and learn from it so that it does not have a chance to rotten one’s future.

There are several important comparisons in the story that help to reveal the inner world of the narrator and his feelings toward his father’s issues. One refers to Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the main character’s family’s expectations of everything to be fine “when he comes back to us” (Sanders 7). In this instance, the narrator explains that his family was also waiting for the father and husband “to come back” and be “the tender and playful and competent man” he used to be (Sanders 7). Sanders offers another layer of recollections here, explaining why the narrator’s family has the grounds for dreaming about their father’s metamorphosis. The mother recollects that he stopped drinking several times: when he became a father and when the doctors said he would die if he continued to drink (Sanders 8). This retrospection within retrospection exemplifies the closeness between the past and present even deeper.

Another major comparison the author makes is a reference to the Bible. The narrator recollects the biblical story about the lunatic and the swine (Sanders 5). He mentions that while other children in Sunday school focused their attention on the swine, he thought of the “redeemed lunatic” and hoped that his father would stop being “possessed” (Sanders 6). Unfortunately, the second time the author mentions this comparison in the story is when the narrator gives an account of his father’s death. Sanders notes that, unlike the biblical swine, the father “left behind a few of the demons to haunt his children” (9). This analogy helps to exemplify the role of memory in the narrator’s life by showing that he and his siblings have never been able to become fully separated from their past.

Sanders makes use of exceptional metaphors to demonstrate his ideas. The first one is “the throb of memory,” which signifies the agony of recollections (Sanders 2). Another metaphor that has a profound effect on the audience is “the key” turning in one’s brain. Watching “the key turn in his [father’s] brain” means that the man becomes an entirely different person under the effect of alcohol (Sanders 9). When referring to himself, the narrator explains that he is cautious of consuming alcohol, and each time he does, he “listen[s] for the turning of a key” in his brain (Sanders 10). The repetition of the same metaphor emphasizes its significance for the narrator. Apart from that, this device demonstrates the connection between the past and present through the narrator’s apprehensions of the possible repetition of his father’s story.

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Sanders’s “Under the Influence” is a story about the inevitability of avoiding the reliving of past events over and over again. The author depicts the indivisible link between the past and present through the agony of being a child of an alcoholic. Despite being a grown-up now, the narrator cannot get rid of the feelings that emerged in his deep childhood. The significance of the essay’s exploration of memory is in its attempt to warn the reader that it is impossible to commit bad deeds and hope that they will not affect the future.

Work Cited

Sanders, Scott Russell. Under the Influence. 1989, Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Past and Present in “Under the Influence” by Scott Sanders." September 10, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Past and Present in “Under the Influence” by Scott Sanders." September 10, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Past and Present in “Under the Influence” by Scott Sanders'. 10 September.

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