Rough Draft

The novel Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski, is about the main character, Henry growing up and becoming a man. As Henry goes through life, the readers can see that Henry has a tougher time as a child and also growing up into adulthood. Life’s ways are generally not in his favour, which leads him to an alcoholic path. One of the many aspects of Henry’s character is that at the end of the day he knows that he’s not worth much, and throughout this novel; throughout his life, Henry is always trying to prove himself as a man, or as a tough guy, which in that way I cannot relate to. However, through the tough exterior Henry is desperately trying hard to display, to prove his manhood from all the pain that he had gained physically and mentally through others, Henry has a soft and genuine side to him which shows that he is not a lost and misguided soul after all.

Although I love Henry and his humorous ways using sarcasm, to block away any actual gushy emotion he may be feeling, I cannot relate to Henry for trying to prove myself. I guess it’s a sort of sexist thing that I believe in, because as a girl, punching out my friends to be tough is not something I ever do or will ever do, for that matter! If I’m jealous, I just deal with it, I accepted the fact that I’m just a regular person, but I feel as though, the way Henry was brought up, with the abuse with his father, he will never really realize that he’s a regular person. I really do believe in the love at home can really reflect on how your character is going to be, because if you are loved by others, then without realization you will eventually love yourself. In Henry’s case, there is no love uncovered to him, so he isn’t exposed to the knowledge of loving himself, the love he gets is one that comes with cruelty and mistreatment and so Henry grows to act as a tough guy, fighting away through the pain. The last beating Henry had from his father was only when he didn’t cry, he was so used to the pain he couldn’t cry, which marked the beginning of Henry’s toughness, which would protect the soft side of him, and the pain of not being loved or accepted.

Henry goes through a lot of physical abuse, as well as verbal abuse which seems to be always tying him down. Henry’s fathers’ many beatings towards Henry mark the beginning of Henry’s agony and mistreatment. In the bathroom, during Henry’s first beating from his father, Henry describes that “the tears ran from my eyes as I remained silent” (39). This not only marks Henry’s young-self trying to be the tough guy that he eventually grows up to be, but it also signifies Henry’s life, and how no matter what happens to him, he has no say in the situation. Not only his father, but also the kids at school would pick on Henry and follow him home to show him that he isn’t anything special, or that he’s not like the other kids; he’s an outcast. As one of the first friends Henry ever made in grammar school, David, was too an outsider. The other kids would follow him home and beat him up, so when Henry walked home with David from school, the other boys turned to Henry once after they were done beating David. Henry narrates: “I didn’t understand their motive. They kept circling and I kept turning. It went on and on” (30). This demonstrates how Henry deeply isn’t inflicted with anger or rage, he’s a sensitive boy who doesn’t understand the logic behind pain. Although Henry is constantly becoming accustomed to pain and resentment in a circle going “on and on”, deep inside Henry lies the little boy who “kept turning” his back on that anger, and makes him a stronger person because of it (30).

As Henry grows up in the ways life treats him, he becomes stronger throughout his experiences that do not always favour him as he pleases. Henry grows to use sarcasm as one of the ways to demonstrate his tough side to others. In Henry’s college experience, Henry always shows up late to a specific morning class to show others that he’s cool and not to mess with him. Therefore, one day the teacher decides to call him out for it, as he always does, however this time it took a different turn:

“[…] I am assigning you a ‘D; for English I” “A ‘D,’ Mr. Hamilton?” I asked, flashing my famous sneer. “Why not an ‘F’?” “Because ‘F,’ at times, equates with ‘Fuck.’ And I don’t think you’re worth a ‘Fuck.’” (235)

This passage illustrates how the teacher actually saying that Henry’s not worth a “‘Fuck,’” is what Henry has been told several times indirectly from all the pain people had inflicted on him. However, this was the final cut, as Henry narrates, “I turned around, walked out, closed the door behind me” (235). This foreshadows how not only is Henry walking away from the maltreatment he always is imposed on, he is also moving on from it as he “closed the door behind” him, which is unfortunately the alcoholic aspect of Henry that is what’s taking him away from reality and making him move forward (235). However alcohol doesn’t last forever, “I walked down the hallways, still hearing them going at it in there,” when the whole entire class roared and cheered after what the teacher had said to Henry (235). This indicated that, although Henry found alcohol as a way to move on, when it fades away life comes back to him and the agony constantly inflicted on him will always remain the same.

Nonetheless, with all the violence Henry grows up with, he begins to act upon it. As Henry, known as Hank when he becomes a tough guy, is drinking with his friends, he punches one of them out for no reason at all. As a result, Jimmy, one of Henry’s friends, says to him “You’re an ugly man, Hank. You need to be taught a lesson,” (253). The only thing that Jimmy and the rest of the guys don’t know is that Henry has been taught a lesson all his life. Henry has been taught the lesson of pain with no reason. Life somehow always tends to mistreat Henry, if it’s not his father and the other boys abusing him, it’s his boils that take over his whole body, stripping away any capability of loving himself.

Julia Graziani





One thought on “Rough Draft

  1. Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski, is an autobiographical novel that tells the story of young man, son of the immigrants from Germany, growing in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. It is a story of survival the father’s beatings, the aggressive environment, and disappointment against the Humanity. We, readers, rarely find similarities or differences with characters from books, just because we thing that is not real, and is not tangible. Nevertheless, Henry Chinaski, the novel’s main character, made me review my opinion on fiction characters. I find I can relate to Henry on his feelings of sadness and pity towards the vulnerability of people, and anger towards injustices done in the world. Moreover, I would like to have his assertiveness and ability to advocate for myself, and why not sometimes hide my emotions and go with the flow.

    Being in the Social Services program I have to work on my personality, and on the way I see the things around me. This program made me realize that we are a product of our environment, and we have to change first in order to change the outside world. I can see why Henry chooses to be tough rather that showing his emotions, because by showing our emotions we tend to be labeled as weak. I am a very emotional person, and I remember once in my class we were talking about our families, , as I tend to get sensitive when I talk about my parents, I felt very nervous. It was my first class in the program, and when my turn came I burst into tears, and I could not express myself through the tears. I felt so weak, and disappointed with myself, that I let that happened. I did not know all those people, and I felt ashamed next day in class, and I just did not share any more. I wish I had Henry’s ability to hide my emotions, and be able to express them in appropriate places with appropriate people.

    However, I relate with Henry the most in our compassion towards vulnerable people, and disappoints about the world around us. After watching the movie about author’s life, I assured that there is a big gap between who Henry is and what he wants other people believe he is: “I felt as if I couldn’t get up. I had to get up. I was supposed to be a tough guy” (p. 234). Henry grew up in a period of unemployment, poverty and aggressiveness, a period of fighting for survival, he had no other choice that to be alike: “Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love or kindness from anybody” (91). I do believe that Henry would have had a different life if he had leaved in a different historical period. My favourite moments from the book are the once where Henry reveals this side of his character, they are not too many, but they are significant in understanding Henry’s personality. Sometimes he would take actions, and would show the kindness of his heart, but sometimes he preferred to stay silent, and keep the feelings for himself.

    A funny moment in the book is when Henry and his friend decide to baptize the dog so the dog could go to heaven:

                “It’s too bad dogs can’t go to heaven, ” said Frank

                “Why can’t they?”

                You gotta be baptized to go to heaven.”

                “We ought to baptize him.”

                “Think we should?”   

                “He deserves a chance to go to heaven.”                           (72)

    I am quite sure that the only reason Henry accepted to baptized the dog is because, “He looked very thin and hungry” (72). The dog was alone on the street, accordingly he is alone in this world, and somehow Henry can relate to him. He tried to make the dog’s life better even if it would be after death. Henry reveals the same feelings in the scene where he shares his lunch with a dog from the streets: “Easy now! You need something to eat! FOOD!” (202). He took the moment to help the dog even with the risk to be late to the first day at his new job. This scene proves that Henry just could not pass indifferently near a wondering soul, and again I think that Henry sees a reflection of himself: “The dog was beaten, cowed, deserted, frightened, a victim of Homo sapiens” (201). However, he would not let anyone to approach him, and would not accept help from no one else.

    Nevertheless, there are situation where he would not take actions, and prefer to keep his emotions bottled inside, and not for “the public” eyes. The scene in the novel that portrays the bulldog against the cat, and how disappointed Henry felt about his helplessness: “The knowledge that I didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary made me feel terrible. I began to feel physically sick” (89). It is hard for him to witness the cruelty of the world he is surrounded, but I guess much harder is to comply with the reality, and move forward pretending that nothing happened. Henry was upset, and angry not only on him, but also on the Humanity, and on the people that witness injustice and prefer to be the silent observers: “Where were the grownups? Where were the authorities? ” (89).

    Lastly, Henry found a way to escape the reality by expressing his thoughts in writing, as the paper is not judgemental, and cannot attack and doubt, and putting those thought down brought some light in Henry’s life. Through writing his life got a meaning, was probably the only thing that brought him satisfaction, except the drinking.

    Henry is a product of his environment, and more I pursue with my studies more I convince myself that our environment, our family of origin impacts us more than we want. The cruelty of the world we grow in hinders the good qualities, and we set free only the once we use to survive.

    By Marcela S.


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