Deborah Blum’s novel, The Poisoner’s Handbook, highlights the prevalence of poisons in liquor during Prohibition in Jazz Age New York. Blum’s historical nonfiction details how the government allowed the public to drink to its death proving that the prevalence of poisons in government-produced liquors show the government’s attempt to eradicate the lower socioeconomic classes. Two key components show how the government’s actions in 1926 targeted lower classes: the deliberate distribution of poisonous alcoholic beverages to the poor and the lack of governmental response.
Although there was pressure from the scientific community and forensic evidence showing the negative outcomes of Prohibition, the government continued to add poisonous substances to liquor. Which resulted in the strategic targeting of lower socioeconomic classes. In response to the increased rates of drinking and rates of death by alcohol.
The government commissioned chemists to develop new denaturing methods that would require higher levels of methyl alcohol. Norris and Gettler. along with government officials, knew that poisons within liquor disproportionately affected the poor.
People from upper levels of society used their money to import and buy better-denatured alcohol, which acted as a barrier between them and the devastating effects of poisoned government liquor. The lower classes had no choice but to pay for nickel and dime bottles, which had high concentrations of methyl alcohol (52). For example, Norris wrote in the North American Review, expressing his concern.
“The really poisonous liquor was sold in low dives, funneled from backroom stills, and delivered by bootleggers who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low-grade stuff with a low grade of trade”.
Upper class drinking glamorized the activity for the lower classes that wanted to partake in the same festivities during their economic ruin. However. the “upper levels of thirsty society” contributed to a small portion of the deaths by methyl alcohol. Both Norris and I believe that the lack of deaths among the rich show that the motives of government were sinister: an “experiment in extermination,” more specifically class extermination. After the demand of ”tougher measure and better poisons” from dry advocates in Congress, both Norris and Gettler issued statements of disapproval against governmental actions and how it continued to defend its practices.
The leading forensic scientists agree that the government‘s steadfast adherence to Prohibition and its continuation of poisoning the alcohol supply was a deliberate attack and “an act of betrayal”. Dry government advocates countered by saying “the drinker himself is to blame for the ills that befall him as a result of his libations”. This statement shows the government‘s apathetic stance towards the misfortunes of the poon Although poisons do not discriminate, Prohibition helped the government selectively poison those in the lower classes. This allowed them to differentiate between those who could pay to evade death and those bought it at the price of nickels and dimes, aiding in the government’s attempted extermination of the lower socioeconomic classes.