Ham on rye is a semi-autobiography novel written by Charles Bukowski gives us a general conception of himself and he is living his life through Henry’s. Bukowski’s novel is a rather easy to read, and he takes us through the thoughts and inner mind of a character living in an unhealthy and abusive environment, and your surroundings can greatly influence you. Henry shouldn’t be blamed for as he didn’t contribute to it all that much. As the novel progressives, the reader notices that Henry tries to portray himself as having an extremely tough exterior, but in reality he has a very sensible spirit
-> Henry’s tough side:
- “nobody stood near me but I didn’t care. I was gaining ground” (48)
- “I didn’t have any friends at school, didn’t want any. I felt better being alone. I sat on a bench and watched others play and they looked foolish to me.” (29)
- “And when we got in the shower, I found out I had the biggest balls of anybody” (91). Henry is trying to make himself seem tough. How could he make such a claim, how much could he have possibly examined without getting a beating from the other boys?
- Quote on p. 117 about the demerit points. Thinks that if he doesn’t graduate he’ll “just stay around getting older and older and bigger and bigger. [He’d] get all the girls” (117). What he doesn’t realize is that girls don’t typically like loser boys who fail school and think they’re tough when they’re actually not. à he cares a lot about his image and how he’s perceived by other girls
- à RELATES TO: “I must have had 5000 demerits by graduation time but it didn’t seem to matter. They wanted to get rid of me” (123) ; He’s aware of how hated he is, nobody loves him [not even his parents]
->Henry’s sensitive side:
- “She took me into the bedroom and sat me on the bed. ‘Henry, do you love your mother?’ I really didn’t but she looked so sad that I said, ‘Yes.’” (52)
- Parents don’t show up to his graduation, “My parents weren’t there. I made sure. I walked around and gave it a good look-see” (124) à Sense of disappointment. He’s actually extremely sensitive.
- Henry stands up to his dad (p.121), but every time things go well, they end up turning to shit eventually. Things always stop him from moving forward and he simply doesn’t get a break.
- Henry says “I didn’t know if I was unhappy. I felt too miserable to be unhappy.” (68)
- “The guys with the cars didn’t worry about acne. They were very handsome, they were tall and clean with bright teeth and they didn’t wash their hair with hand soap. They seemed to know something I didn’t know. I was at the bottom again.” (126)
- “About the 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.” (122) à He started off by having an emotional separation to the rest of the kids his age because he was never given the opportunity to really try to fit in a be like the rest of them, but now he also has a physical separation he must cope with.
- His parents choose to send him to a school with wealthier kidsà Henry hasn’t fit in once in his entire life. How good can he feel about himself when he’s surrounded by people who have that much of a higher social status in comparison to him.
- This once again can be blamed on his parents.
- We see how Henry views himself, when he states “As for me, I had no desire to go to war to protect the life I had or what future I might have. I had no Freedom. I had nothing” (236).
- Henry is exposed to things that no child should ever be exposed to (Speak about beatings, how it eventually takes a toll on his mentality)
- Henry is continuously deprived from interactions with other children. He states that “[His] father always ran the neighborhood kids away from the house. [He] was told not to play with them but [he] walked down the street and watched them anyhow.” (60).
->His true colors shown with the example of the cat
- Henry wants to help, but doesn’t feel powerful enough (ACTS TOUGH BUT WHEN IT COMES TO IT, HE DOESN’T ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING)
-Ex “There was a small white cat backed into a corner of a wall” (88), and it was being faced Chuck’s large bulldog. à Similarly to how Henry’s back is now against the wall and is faced with a bunch of bullies. Both the cat and Henry are underdogs in this situation. He wants to help the cat, but doesn’t feel as though he is powerful enough, similarly to how he can’t even help himself in this situation and man up to even do something about it. Chuck says, “Let it fight its way out” (88) [about the cat] to demonstrate how underdogs need to fight their own way out of situations, they never have any help.
-Henry states, “I couldn’t watch the kill. I felt a great shame at leaving the cat like that… The cat wasn’t only facing the bulldog, it was facing Humanity” (90). This portrays Henry’s identity. Humanity is written with a capital H. They are both hopeless in human condition. Humanity=cruel.
->His father leaves him with severe threats…(RELATES TO ME HOW?)
When I was younger, my mom would threaten me to listen… She would threaten putting me in time out, or washing my mouth with soap if I ever dared to say a bad word
– “And don’t look so god-damned unhappy or I’ll really give you something to be unhappy about!” (67) à come out of her mouth. No matter how severe my tantrums were… and let me tell you I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with my tantrums as a baby, my mother would never threaten me in such a way.
- “The words sounded good to me. Everybody was listening. My words filled the room, from blackboard to blackboard, they hit the ceiling and bounced off, they covered Mrs. Fretag’s shoes and piled up on the floor. Some of the prettiest girls in the class began to sneak glances at me. All the tough guys were pissed” (83)
- Personifies his words?
- “There was trouble at the house, much fighting between my mother and my father, and as a consequence, they kind of forgot about me.” (66). à Henry is forgotten and realizes this.
- He isn’t blinded or naïve towards his harmful and negative situation
->Henry is miserable, feels as though there’s nothing left to fight for.
- Every needs some form of ambition and motivation in their lives, and the fact that Henry has no drive or desire (has completely given up on himself) to succeed in life.
- “He can’t eat, he can’t work, he can’t do anything, he’s not worth a fuck!” (217).
- “Why not an ‘F’? Because ‘F’, at times, equates with ‘Fuck’. And I don’t think you’re worth a ‘Fuck’” (235).
- “Without drink I would have long ago cut my god-damned throat” (259).
- RELATE TO THE FEELING OF NOT BELONGING
There’s nothing worse than feeling as though you are not wanted somewhere. You feel worthless and useless, because those around you don’t appreciate your presence. Henry is bullied by his peers, his boils make him feel absolutely horrible about himself (no girls want him), it is every teenage boys nightmare.
- Due to the fact that Henry is surrounded by desperate and horrible characters, he ends up becoming one of them.
- “I just finished examining a young girl with acne vulgaris. Her back was covered. She cried. She told me, ‘How will I ever get a man? My back will be scarred forever. I want to kill myself!’ And now look at this fellow! If she could see him, she’d know that she really had nothing to complain about!” (131)
- When the doctor must push the electric needle into Henry’s back, he associated it with “being drilled”. Henry states, “Just go ahead and drill” (134). All of his pretentiousness is being drilled out of him. He’s trying to get his true colors out à There’s some kind of vulnerability that is being forced to come out, something inside of him is being released.
- “I felt singled out, as if I had been selected to be this way.” (137)
- “Gathered around me were the weak instead of the strong, the ugly instead of the beautiful, the losers instead of the winners.” (155)
- “Drink was the only thing that kept a man from feeling forever stunned and useless” (244) ->Shows how he’s beginning to become an alcoholic
- “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.” (247)