From One Outcast to Another

Charlotte Lapointe

Paragraph 1 – Opening

Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye is a semi-autobiographical rendering of his childhood years, told from a young Henry Chinaski’s point of view. We follow the young boy through all the hardships of Bukowski’s early years; the beatings from his father, the teasing from the other kids at school, the boils on his body and his love for alcohol. Ham On Rye also gives us a glimpse into the mind of the author, as he explains, through Henry, how he fell in love with writing. Being so closely related to his character, it can be easily said that Bukowski has created a ‘real’ character; one that can easily be related to.

Aspects of Henry’s character:

  • outcast
  • lonely
  • vulnerable/tough
  • act/mask/stage

Paragraph 2 – Personal Event

The moment mom told me: Thursday morning on April 2nd, in 2015, my school had a pedological day and like countless times before, I had a gymnastics practice in the morning. I remember getting out of bed and pulling an old pair of sweatpants over my leotard and i remember being really excited. My sister and I (my coach’s daughter) were going to Montreal to shop for my prom dress right after practice.

People spend their lives trying to find a place to belong, but I was born into mine. Minutes away from being born in a gym, gymnastics has always been a very prominent part of my life. From being the daughter of a coach and from my constant presence in the gym, I became a gymnast. I trained with the same coach and teammates for 17 years, and the bonds that came out of this are stronger than anything else I had ever experienced. Especially in the last years, I would see them more than my own family; from the 20 hour training every week, to the competitions and coaching on the weekend, we were always together. To say that I loved those people would have been an understatement, there is no word that I can come up with to try and communicate just how tight we were. Our coach knew us better than our own parents knew us; better even than we knew ourselves. These people were there through everything; the falling, the injuries, the fear, the success, the comedy, the anger, the happiness, the excitement and then more recently the pain. My coach was diagnosed with cancer, a blow that none of us were expecting, and then economic problems soon led to the closing of our gym. A lifetime of training, learning and bonding was suddenly ripped from me. To this day it is still hard to talk about, because nothing has ever hurt as much. Along with this, I moved to Montreal and started college. But what did that make me? A gymnast? A student? Where did I fit in, if going back wasn’t an option? Lost, lonely, scared… that’s just scratching the surface of what I felt. I was, for the first time in my life, forced into the role of the outcast.

Could be related to Henry being an outcast and lonely but…

My definition of an Outcast: I blamed myself for my not fitting in. An outcast is a person that cannot fit into the society they live in. They do not share the same values or ideologies as the general population, which leaves them on the sidelines. My views and ideas did not match society’s.

Henry’s definition of an Outcast: Henry blamed society for his not fitting in. An outcast is a person that has been cast out of society because there is some aspect about them that does not fit with the values and ideologies of the general population. Society’s views and ideas did not match Henry’s.

At odds with each other in terms of why we feel like outcasts and what we will do to change that.

Paragraph 3 – Analysis

Moments from the novel where Henry feels like he doesn’t belong:

  • at home: his father’s obvious dislike for him, his mother’s indifference matched with their refusal of him playing with other children or people that he likes in general (grandfather), Henry cannot find a place for himself.

“There was trouble at the house, much fighting between my mother and my father, and as a consequence, they kind of forgot about me” (Bukowski 66).

  • in grammar school: again Henry’s lack of contact with other kids his age deprives him from feeling like he belongs.

”I didn’t have any friends at school, didn’t want any. I felt better being alone” (Bukowski 29).

  • high school: in high school it isn’t only the way he is that pushes people away, now there is an actual physical reason that explains why people tend to stay away from him: his boils.

“He had won the grand prize. He climbed out. He was a fat guy, just like his airplane. I had expected a handsome tough guy. He had been lucky. Hardly anybody applauded.” (Bukowski 79).

“He was so pitiful that I couldn’t tell him to get lost. He was like a mongrel dog, starved and kicked. Yet it didn’t make me feel good going around with him. But since I knew that mongrel dog feeling, I let him hang around.” (Bukowski 94).

“About 8th grade, going into the 9th, I broke out with acne. Many of the guys had it but not like mine. Mine was really terrible. I was the worst case in town. I had pimples and boils all over my face, back, neck, and some on my chest.” (Bukowski 122).

“I felt singled out, as if I had been selected to be this way.” (Bukowski 137).

“They all danced beautifully and the music was loud and clear and good, powerful. Then I caught a glimpse of my reflection staring in at them – boils and scars on my face, my ragged shirt. I was like some jungle animal drawn to the light and looking in. Why had I come? I felt sick.” (Bukowski 193).

  • college/work: here Henry finds himself in an adult world where everyone follows their daily routine and he finds that he wants none of it. A life of marriage and work, he would rather die.

“These people knew what to do and they wouldn’t talk. I felt as if I was in grammar school again, being mutilated by the crowd who knew more than I did” (Bukowski 222).

“I didn’t feel much different than I had always felt. I was neither elated nor dejected; it all seemed to be just a continuation.” (Bukowski 247).

“Everything else just kept picking and picking, hacking away. And nothing was interesting, nothing. The people were restrictive and careful, all alike. And I’ve got to live with these fuckers for the rest of my life, I thought.”

“And my own affairs were as bad, as dismal, as the day I had been born. The only difference was that now I could drink now and then, though never often enough. Drink was the only thing that kept a man from feeling forever stunned and useless.”

“I had no interests. I had no interests in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn’t understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go. Suicide? Jesus Christ, just more work. I felt like sleeping for five years but they wouldn’t let me.”

“People don’t do me much good.”



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