Human Beings, Kudzu, and Substance Abuse: An Exploration of Invasive Species in Works by Ron Rash

According to the National Wildlife Federation an invasive species “can be any kind of living organism…that is not native to an ecosystem and causes harm…[to] the environment, the economy, or even human health.” In this paper I hope to explore how the rise of opioids, and other drugs, can be seen as a type of invasive species within the literature of Ron Rash. Even though drugs are not living organisms, the affects seen in the presence of the substances mirror those of an area affected by organisms scientifically defined as invasive species.

In many of his works Ron Rash uses nature and its proximity to human beings as a plot device and often uses the two as influences upon each other. For example, in his work The World Made Straight, Rash uses the borderline extinction of rainbow trout to lead Travis to the marijuana patch that puts him on his path for the rest of the story. The World Made Straight begins with Marijuana, but the reader is shown how the abuse of “black beauties” have turned Dena into a shadow of her past self. This is also shown in his short story “Those Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven” and “The Ascent.” The effects that drugs have on the characters of Rash’s stories lend to the interpretation that they have the same effect on the characters that Kudzu had on the Appalachian Mountains, spreading quickly, and choking the life out of anything caught underneath its rapid growth.