Helen Martin, Charles Roth, and the Passengers that ride them share a complex relationship that dives much deeper than simple characters in a science-fiction story. Each piece of the story represents something much more profound. When the context of The Passengers is explored, the elements and plot can be compared to a real life situation that is prevalent in American society- a drug addiction.
In Robert Silverberg’s story, Passengers are the root of all evil- the metaphorical drug addiction. Passengers grab onto their victim and take away their ability to function with an independent mind. Charles says “So the Passenger had me for three nights,” (Silverberg 261). The use of the word “had” makes it sound as if the Passenger completely takes over the human body. This relates to an addiction in which the victim has lost the control to function without using. Furthermore, as Charles is walking through town he notices other people that are being ridden. He describes an adolescent girl that is trying to push another female over the ledge of the highway (263). Another man is dressed haphazardly and sticking his tongue out (263). The Passengers are causing their victims to behave in strange ways, which is characteristic of an addiction. Drugs provoke people to act in ways that they would not normally act. Furthermore, when Charles discusses the brief time periods that he experiences freedom, I think of a relapsing addict. Charles explains “The last time, I had three months of freedom between rides. Some people, they say, are scarcely ever free… and they know only scattered bursts of freedom, a day here, a week there, an hour,” (264). Similarly, one who is recovering may experience sobriety for only a short time before reverting to old habits. Overall, Passengers represent an addiction that Charles cannot escape, much like the effect an addiction has on a drug user.
Charles Roth is representative of a drug addict coming to terms with his addiction. On page 261, Charles struggles to remember the events that occurred during the prior few days while he was being ridden. He explains “We can never be sure of all the things our borrowed bodies did. We have only the lingering traces, the imprints,” (Silverberg 261). This moment of internal struggle when trying to clear up the haziness of the past days is reminiscent of an addict coming down from a prolonged high. Similarly, a “borrowed body” is comparable to a person who is under the influence. Furthermore, there is an apparent sense of dazedness in Charles. An example of Mr. Roth haphazardly going through the motions of life is as follows: “I began to walk without purpose. I cross Fourteenth Street, heading north, listening to the soft violent purr of the electric engines,” (263). After reading this sentence, I can vividly imagine Charles slowly, aimlessly walking around town without a clear destination. In the same way, I can picture an addiction victim sluggishly making their way down the sidewalk with no real motive, except perhaps to purchase more drugs. Likewise, Charles’s thought process is very similar to a drug addict’s. He states “We go on thinking even while we are ridden, and we live in quiet desperation, unable to halt our courses no matter how ghastly, no matter how self-destructive,” (263). This quote is a perfect example of how an addict’s mind might think. The aspect of quiet desperation can be seen during the discreet search for drugs, while trying to remain under the police’s radar. In the same way, most addicts are unable to halt their courses due to the addictive nature of drug use. Charles Roth’s behavior and way of thinking throughout The Passengers shows that this story is a science-fiction author’s interpretation of a drug-affected world. However, he is not the only character in the story who exhibits such a demeanor.
Helen Martin represents a road block in Charles Roth’s attempt to live a free life, much like an obstacle in an addict’s struggle to get sober. In some ways, Helen acts as Charles’s “drug” or a sort of hindrance. For example, Charles says “Yet I need her. I want her,” (Silverberg 266). This desire coincides with a junkie’s need for stimulants. Additionally, Charles has an internal debate trying to decide if it is right to continue seeing Helen. He beats himself up wondering which decision is correct. He asks himself “But why not leave her alone? I have no right to follow her. In the place our world has become, we are wisest to remain apart,” (266). Charles goes back and forth considering how much he wants to see Helen, but knowing that it is not in either of their best interests. Likewise, addicts often have contradicting opinions about getting sober but seeking the stimulation they receive from using. Many addicts know that they should stop their life-threatening actions, but cannot find the strength to give it up. Charles continues to provide the reader with the sense that Helen is an obstacle in his life when he says “Some of her pessimism seeps into me that night. It seems futile for us to try to salvage anything,” (266). Her reluctance to let go of her qualms holds Charles back from grasping his freedom and moving forward. Therefore, Helen embodies an interference in the same way that a relapse might hinder an addict’s desire to become clean. The difficulty that an addict faces during their journey to sobriety can sometimes result in giving up altogether.
When The Passengers is explored from an analytical perspective, the reader can find a broader meaning to the story. On the surface, this science-fiction story appears to be about a man’s attempt to escape a mental demon. My interpretation, however, is that the story is a metaphor for a world that has been devastated by addiction. The different characters and elements of the story represent multiple aspects of an addiction.