Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Family, friends, and girlfriends come and go, but whiskey? That's forever. And what better way to stay in touch with his BFF than by keeping it with him at all times, conveniently concealed, but easily accessible?
Never Leave Home Without It
Sutter talks about his flask a lot—because it's always around. It's something he always remembers to take along, like other people carry a cell phone. And just like we might pull out our Smartphones to play Candy Crush when things start getting tense, he pulls out his phone. Check it out:
• "I offer him a hit off the flask." (12.2)
• "I […] carouse around up and down the sidewalks with what's left in my flask." (15.7)
• "Good thing I have the trusty flask." (36.21)
Okay. We're going to go out on a limb here and say that we're pretty sure our guy is an alcoholic. Calling your flask "trusty" the way you'd normally refer to a friend is a big flashing warning sign, Shmoopers. Because he doesn't have a support system of, say, other humans, he uses his flask instead. For Sutter, the flask is a comforting presence. For us, it's a sign—nay, a symbol—that he lacks sustainable human relationships.
We can see the flask in action when he starts dating Aimee. She tries to get closer to him by – what else? Drinking out of his flask. When he treats himself to a swig, "surprisingly, she asks if she can try a little" (32.40).
Sharing in something so near and dear to his heart – even if it is only whiskey – connects her to him in a new way. We're betting Aimee knows what she's doing here. You know the type: watching to see what's important to someone, and then latching on to that thing, too, so they'll have something in common—like when you wear the exact same galaxy print leggings that the super cool girl in your Chem class has. (No? Just us? Ahem.)
So, when Aimee watches Sutter, what does she see him doing all the time?
Bingo. Drinking out of his flask.
Once their relationship is in full swing, Sutter naturally presents Aimee with her very own flask:
"It's a flask," she says.
"Yes, it is. It's just like mine."
She sets the box down. "I love it."
"And you'll notice it's already full too." (50.35-38)
He wants her to have the same constant companionship and sense of security that his flask gives him. It's kind of sweet, right? In a misguided sort of way.
But notice her response. He assumes she'll be thrilled—and she is, just not quite for the same reason. When she says "I love it," what we're hearing is, "I love you."
One is the Loneliest Number
It's not that Sutter doesn't think he has a problem. In fact, he even tries to quit at one point, emptying "the faithful flask into the gutter" (66.1). But notice how he describes this act—as a "less rational moment" (66.1). When he's "rational" again, he's heaving a sigh of relief that his "favorite liquor store is but minutes away" (66.1).
By the end of the book, Sutter has decided to embrace alcohol as his one and only relationship in life. He clings to that flask for all he's worth—and he should. It's literally his only friend. Basically, the flask becomes his future. Rather than spending his life with Aimee, or with any human being who loves him, he decides to stick with a cold hard metal container filled with alcohol instead.
After all, the flask won't ask him to change or take risks or be vulnerable. It'll just help him live in the now—spectacular or not.