Demon Copperhead

Demon Copperhead


Barbara Kingsolver

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Themes and Colors
Exploitation Theme Icon
Class, Social Hierarchy, and Stereotypes Theme Icon
Pain and Addiction Theme Icon
Toxic Masculinity Theme Icon
Community and Belonging Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Demon Copperhead, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Pain and Addiction Theme Icon

Almost every character in Demon Copperhead struggles with addiction of one kind or another. Demon’s mom becomes addicted to pills and dies from an overdose. Later, Dori, Demon’s girlfriend, also dies of an overdose. Demon and his friends Emmy and Maggot also struggle with addiction throughout the novel. The novel argues that none of these characters choose to be addicted to various substances. Instead, the novel presents addiction as a very human—if unhealthy and ultimately catastrophic—approach to pain management.

That pain can be both physical and emotional. Demon, for example, first takes pills when Fast Forward gives them to him when he is 10 years old. But, according to Demon, Fast Forward isn’t trying to make him addicted to anything or even to get him high. Instead, Fast Forward is acting out of kindness. He is trying to make the other foster boys—who have never felt meaningfully safe in their lives—feel safe and give them a place where they can feel like they belong. The pills, then, are offered as a kind of emotional balm. Demon then becomes addicted to painkillers when he is prescribed them to treat his pain after he suffers a knee injury in football. Dori and Mom both overdose and die while they are dealing with devastatingly painful circumstances in their lives. Before Dori overdoses, her father has just died, and she doesn’t know how to continue without him. To try and find emotional relief, she turns more and more towards drugs. Demon’s mom has found herself in an abusive relationship, and she cannot find a way out of that relationship or a way to protect Demon from Stoner’s violence. She searches for escape from that hopelessness, then, in drugs and, possibly, suicide. While Demon Copperhead doesn’t shy away from depicting the destructive realities of drug addiction, it also portrays characters who struggle with substance abuse in a sympathetic light, showing that they are often acting on the very human desire to alleviate pain and suffering and turn to drugs when there are no other readily available options.

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Pain and Addiction Quotes in Demon Copperhead

Below you will find the important quotes in Demon Copperhead related to the theme of Pain and Addiction.
Chapter 1 Quotes

If a mother is lying in her own piss and pill bottles while they’re slapping the kid she’s shunted out, telling him to look alive: likely the bastard is doomed. Kid born to the junkie is a junkie […]. Anybody will tell you the born of this world are marked from the get-out, win or lose.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

A kid is a terrible thing to be, in charge of nothing. If you get past that and grown, it’s easiest to forget about the misery and pretend you knew all along what you were doing. Assuming you’ve ended up someplace you’re proud to be. And if not, easier to forget the whole thing, period. So this is going to be option three, not proud, not forgetting. Not easy.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Mom had walked down the road and Stoner was bent over kissing her like he was trying to suck something out of her guts with a straw. And her a willing party to the crime.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Stoner
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

For whatever reason Emmy said okay, let’s do it. I had to hold her hand. She kept her eyes closed.

It was true about Aunt June keeping track. Which was not true of my mom in any way, shape, or form. So that was me promising Emmy that life is to be trusted. I knew better. I should have let her go with her gut: Never get back on the horse, because it’s going to throw you every damn chance it gets. Then maybe she’d have been wise to the shit that came for her later on, and maybe it would have turned out better.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Maggot, Emmy, Aunt June
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

A ten-year-old getting high on pills. Foolish children. This is what we’re meant to say: Look at their choices, leading to a life of ruin. But lives are getting lived right now, this hour, down in the dirty cracks between the toothbrushued nighty-nights and the full grocery carts, where those words don’t pertain. Children, choices. Ruin, that was the labor and materials we were given to work with. An older boy that never knew safety himself, trying to make us feel safe. We had the moon in the window to smile on us for a minute and tell us the world was ours. Because all the adults had gone off somewhere and left everything in our hands.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Fast Forward, Dori, Tommy Waddell, Mr. Crickson, Swap-Out
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

She asked me about Creaky Farm, and I told her. The old man was brutal to Tommy, and Swap-Out should be in some other kind of situation […]. Had Crickson ever hit me, she asked. Answer: no. I myself had not been struck. And that was that. Miss Barks was sorry, but Tommy and Swap-Out weren’t on her. Usually all kids in a home are from one foster company, but Crickson was an emergency-type place, and Tommy and Swap-Out belonged to a different foster company that Miss Bark didn’t work with. So fostering was done by companies, and we, as Stoner would say, were Product. Rotating and merchandising foster boys at more than fifty customer accounts. Live and learn.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Tommy Waddell, Miss Barks, Mr. Crickson, Swap-Out
Related Symbols: Opioid Painkillers
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

If Philip Morris and them knew the devil had real teeth, they sat harder on that secret than you’d believe. Grow it with pride and smoke it with pride, they said, giving out bumper stickers to that effect. I recall big stacks of them at school, free for the taking […]. We drove around with “Proud Tobacco Farmer” stickers on our trucks till they peeled and faded along with our good health and dreams of greatness. If you’re standing on a small pile of shit, fighting for your one place to stand, God almighty how you fight.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Mr. Crickson
Related Symbols: Opioid Painkillers
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

Maybe life, or destiny, or Jesus if you really need to put somebody in charge of things had finally flung down one too many rocks in Mom’s road and she called it a day. That’s option one. Or two, maybe she didn’t aim to die but miscalculated to cap off her twenty-nine-year pileup of miscalculations, one of those of course being me. I could spend the rest of my life asking which it was, suicide or accident. No answer on that line.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Stoner
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

In the long run, that’s how I’ve come to picture Mom at the end: reaching as hard as her little body would stretch, trying to touch the blue sky, reaching for some peace. And getting it.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Mom was the unknown soldier. Walmart would have a new stock girl in time for the Christmas shoppers […]. Our trailer home would be thoroughly Cloroxed and every carpet torn out, so the Peggots could rent it to one of Aunt June’s high school friends that got left flat by both her kids’ daddies […]. Wanting a fresh start for this girl and her little family, I’m sure they scrubbed the place clean of old stains, including the two pencil lines on the kitchen wall that proved I once stood taller by a hair than my mom. Her life left no marks on a thing.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Aunt June
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Miss Barks […] stuck with a different theory. I needed to be more pushy with them. Did she give up on her dreams? No, she worked hard for what she wanted. Did I expect anybody to look out for Damon if he wouldn’t look out for himself? Life is what you make it! Here’s where Miss Barks didn’t grow up: foster care. She had no clue how people can be living right on the edge of what’s doable. If you push too hard, you can barrel yourself over a damn cliff.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Maggot, Emmy, Dori, Hammerhead Kelly, Miss Barks, Mr. McCobb, Mrs. McCobb
Page Number: 144-145
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

I told Angus my mom being dead wasn’t something I pinned exactly on my birthday. “It’s more like this bag of gravel I’m hauling around every day of the year. If somebody else brings it up, honestly, I’m glad of it. Like just for a minute they can help me drag the gravel.”

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Angus
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

I was born to wish for more than I can have. No little fishing hole for Demon, he wants the whole ocean. And on from there, as regards man-overboard. I came late to getting my brain around to the problem of me, and still yet might not have. The telling of this tale is supposed to make it come clear. It’s a disease, a lot of people will tell you that now, be they crushed souls under repair at NA meetings or the doctors in buttoned-up sweaters. Fair enough. But where did it come from, this wanting disease? From how I was born, or the ones that made me, or the crowd I ran with later? Everybody warns about bad influences, but it’s these things already inside you that are going to take you down.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker)
Related Symbols: Opioid Painkillers, The Ocean
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

Where does the road to ruin start? That’s the point of getting all this down, I’m told. To get a handle on some choice you made. Or was made for you. By the bullies that curdled your heart’s milk and honey, or the ones before that curdled theirs. Hell, let’s blame the coal guys, or whoever wrote the book of Lee County commandments. Thou shalt forsake all things you might love or study on, books, numbers, a boy’s life made livable in pictures he drew. Leave these ye redneck faithful, to chase the one star left shining on this place: manly bloodthirst. The smell of mauled sod and sweat and pent-up lust and popcorn. The Friday-night lights.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Stoner (speaker), Fast Forward (speaker), Hammerhead Kelly (speaker)
Page Number: 332
Explanation and Analysis:

She said it was hydrocodone and something. Not oxy then, I said, and she said it was really no better than that. I was struggling for words and possibly catching the asshole bug from Coach because I asked her whatever happened to Kent’s “pain is a vital sign” and all that.

She hissed at me: “Kent Holt is a fucking hired killer for his company.”

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Aunt June, Coach Winfield, Kent
Page Number: 340
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 42 Quotes

The next surprise won’t leave my brain. The kit she took out of her purse. The spoon she used first, to scrape the patch. The lighter she held underneath. The cotton ball, the syringe, pulling the cap off the needle and holding it in her mouth like a nurse giving booster shots. I don’t know what I said but she could tell I was scared, and she was sweet with me, the same voice she used with Jip. She’d been saving this, because the first time you do it with somebody, they say it’s the best you’ll ever feel in your life. Like having Jesus in your blood.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Dori
Page Number: 351
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 48 Quotes

If you’ve not known the dragon we’re chasing, words may not help. People talk of getting high, this blast you get, not so much what you feel as what you don’t: the sadness and dread in your gut, all the people that have judged you useless. The pain of an exploded leg. This tether that’s meant to attach you to something all your life, be it home or parents or safety, has been flailing around unfastened all this time, tearing at your brain’s roots, whipping around so hard it might take out an eye. All at once, that tether goes still on the floor and you’re at rest.

You start trying to get back there, and pretty soon, you’re just trying to get out of bed.

It becomes your job, staving off the dopesickness for another day. Then it becomes your God. No one ever wanted to join that church.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Dori
Related Symbols: Opioid Painkillers
Page Number: 408
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 53 Quotes

Stupid is all the word I’ve had to cover much of my time on God’s grass. But it’s not stupid that makes a bird fly, or a grasshopper rub its knees together and sing. It’s nature. A junkie catches his flight. That sugar on your brain cells sucks away any other purpose. You can think you’re in charge. Walk around thinking this for hours at a time, or a day, till the clock winds down and the human person you were gets yanked out through whatever hole the devil can find. Learn your lesson, get your feet up under you. You will be knocked down again.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Demon’s Mom , Dori
Page Number: 445
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 59 Quotes

“It’s not natural for boys to lose their minds,” she said. “It happens because they’ve had too many things taken away from them.”

I asked her like what. She got up and walked around the room, upset. No decent schooling, she said. No chance to get good at anything that uses our talents. No future. They took all that away and supplied us with the tools for cooking our brains, hoping we’d kill each other before realizing the real assholes are a thousand miles from here […].

She sat down on the bed again. “The question you have to answer now is, What are you willing to do for yourself? And I won’t lie, it’s going to be harder than anything you’ve done before.”

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Aunt June (speaker), Maggot, Fast Forward, Hammerhead Kelly
Page Number: 499
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 64 Quotes

The trip itself, just getting there, possibly the best part of my life so far.

That’s where we are. Well past the Christiansburg exit. Past Richmond, and still pointed east. Headed for the one big thing I know is not going to swallow me alive.

Related Characters: Demon Copperhead (speaker), Angus
Related Symbols: The Ocean
Page Number: 546
Explanation and Analysis: