Beth Macy

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Coal Symbol Icon

Coal, which used to be an economic staple in Appalachia, represents an older way of life that is no longer viable in the modern world. On the one hand, coal stirs nostalgia among residents of Appalachia: it represents a time when well-paying jobs were more plentiful and before the opioid crisis had begun spreading through rural communities. This idealized memory of coal may not be entirely accurate, however. Coal mining is back-breaking and sometimes even deadly work. In fact, on-the-job injuries for coal mining were one of the reasons that residents of Appalachia got prescribed heavy painkillers like OxyContin in the first place, showing a clear link between the past and present. The life of Sister Beth Davies helps further draw a connection between coal and opioids—she goes from advocacy for miners to advocacy for addicts, showing how the biggest problems facing people in these rural areas have evolved over the years. While coal represents the past in Dopesick, it also shows how the past is inseparable from the present, and how social problems in the past may take on different forms in the present.

Coal Quotes in Dopesick

The Dopesick quotes below all refer to the symbol of Coal. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Prologue Quotes

Though the opioid epidemic would go on to spare no segment of America, nowhere has it settled in and extracted as steep a toll as in the depressed former mill and mining communities of Central Appalachia, where the desperate and jobless rip copper wire out of abandoned factories to resell on the black market and jimmy large-screen TVs through a Walmart garden-center fence crack to keep from “fiending for dope.”

Related Characters: Beth Macy
Related Symbols: Coal
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

In rural counties decimated by globalization, automation, and the decline of coal, the invisible hand manifested in soaring crime, food insecurity, and disability claims. In Martinsville and surrounding Henry County, unemployment rates rose to above 20 percent, food stamp claims more than tripled, and disability rates went up 60.4 percent…

It was easy to understand the connection between joblessness and hunger, to get that hunger fueled some of the crime. It was growing clearer, too, that the federal disability program was becoming a de facto safety net for the formerly employed, a well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous way of incentivizing poor people to stay sick, with mental illness and chronic pain—conditions that are hard to prove and frequently associated with mental health and substance use disorders—prompting the majority of disability awards.

Related Symbols: Coal
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
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Coal Symbol Timeline in Dopesick

The timeline below shows where the symbol Coal appears in Dopesick. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Race, Healthcare, and Criminal Justice Theme Icon
...involved with a heroin ring. This particular area of West Virginia used to be a coal mining hotspot, but shortly after the turn of the millennium, most of the mines shut... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Cycles of History Theme Icon
...the Rust Belt, and rural Maine—places where families traditionally depend on high-risk industries, like steel, coal, and logging. Jesse was born right around when the epidemic started, in the mid-1990s. (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Cycles of History Theme Icon
Opioids made an impact in a diverse variety of communities. First were the coalfields, in places like St. Charles, Virginia (where OxyContin was introduced in 1996). Then there were... (full context)
Chapter 2
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...Island native with a masters from Columbia. She has a history of activism in the coal industry, helping miners demand reparations. She threatens to quit the coalition if they accept the... (full context)
Chapter 13
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon programs (although despite success in West Virginia with a similar program in 2015, the coalfield legislators across the border in Virginia all voted against the measure). Cantrell starts pitching even... (full context)