Relating to a tough man

Ham on Rye, by Henry Bukowski, is a semi-autobiographic novel that reveals parts of his childhood on how he grew up as an outcast. A vulgar yet funny novel that shows his struggles to be a tough guy while discovering the pleasure of alcohol and writing. Henry tries to be indifferent about everything and never showing any attachment to anyone, yet his sensitive side is why I am attached to this character. I can easily relate to being cold and pretending I don’t care, but deep inside we are all sensitive about something. It is what makes us human. We easily hide our pain because we don’t want to show to others that we are hurt. However, we are just lying to ourselves.

I empathy Henry in many ways as I read this book (…) There is a specific moment in my life has reminded me of Henry. I was 16 years old when it happened. I was graduating high school that year and my teacher nominated me for being one of the best students. I was getting a scholarship and I was only allowed to invite two people to the event, so I chose to bring both my parents. I was really excited to bring them because I always wanted to make them proud especially my dad. I felt like I really had a lot ahead of me. My dad wasn’t home yet, but I was getting ready for the event as I played my favourite song out loud. I was very nervous to go up on stage in front of everyone, but I was mostly happy. Time started to pass and eventually it was time to leave. My dad didn’t arrive, so my sister came instead. The room was filled with chatters of other students and their parents. You could feel the energy of the room. Everyone was rather happy, yet for me, I felt a knot in my throat and my eyes were stinging. I remained silent, not wanting to let my disappointment show. I simply smiled and kept the night going as if it didn’t bother me Arriving home, my dad was there. All he said to me was that he couldn’t make it because of work. I brushed it off and told him it was okay.

Henry tends to be very cold and distant about everything which fools us to think he doesn’t care about anything. However, he is actually very sensitive but refuses to let it show. For example, when he graduates from high school, he searches through the crowd for his parents: ” I walked around, looking. My parents weren’t there. I made sure. I walked around and gave it a good look-see. It was just as well. A tough guy didn’t need that ” (124).

It is obvious that Henry actually feels let down inside but he refuses to show that directly. By pretending it doesn’t bother him, it just shows how much he wishes it didn’t. That way, he wouldn’t be hurting. The reason he acts cold is because showing emotion means you care. When people know you care, they have power over you because it makes you vulnerable. Therefore, we hide our feelings from those who can use us/ hurt us. Yet, Henry shows some sensitivity when it comes to animals, to injustice or people who are genuine.

(Things he cares about/ is sensitive to )
Throughout the novel, Henry encounters many animals and they are always being mistreated in some way by other people.They are the only characters that Henry approaches in a kind and friendly way. For example, on his first day of work, he meets a stray dog and he offers it some food. When the dog walks off without having a bite, he says : “No wonder I had geen depressed all my life. I wasnt getting proper nourishment” (202). This shows the Henry reflects himself in these animals because they represent the outcasts that are always rejected by the people just as he was. Regarding a similar scene where he shows humanity towards the disadvantaged is when he watches a group of boys play touch football and “King Kong” wasn’t playing fairly (269). Henry stepped up into the game and went to teach him a lesson by injuring him as he did to other players. This is just a way of him showing how he cares about injustice. I like this very much about Henry, because I share the same value. The fact that he has the courage to face a bully is impressive since Henry did not have the guts to do so which is a normal reaction for most of us. For instance, when his classmates wanted a bulldog to kill a helpless cat, he felt terrible for not being able to do something about it. Yet, now Henry has become more self-assertive. He proves himself a lot through violence when he feels that he is being underestimated. The reason he has become like this is because he knows something that others didn’t. He knew how to handle defeat, so he wasn’t afraid of failure anymore and uses it to his advantage.

(Things he doesn’t care about/ he is indifferent)

On the other hand, there are many things that Henry does not care about and those are things that seem to be a constant routine. For instanece, as he is getting kicked out from his house, he does not seem emotionally attached to his family : ” I didn’t feel much different than I had always felt. I was neither elated or dejected; it all seemed to be just a continuation ” (247). Concerning his parents, he had becomed used to being looked down upon no matter what he did. He knew that there was just no used in fighting it since it was always the same story. He feels a similar way about his work and school. It’s just two places where he does not fit in and that is constantly doing the same things every day. It’s just part of the routine. He sees no meaning in conformity which shows well his character as an outsider. (to be continued…)

To conclude, I believe Henry’s sensitivity about particular things is what makes his character interesting. I believe that he’s a very good person with good intentions despite his violence. I think that he has different ways of expressing how he cares but what’s important it’s that he does have strong emotions. He is simply a person that has been victimized his whole life and doesn’t want to fall into that again so he puts up an act as a way of protecting himself…


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