The novel, Ham on Rye, written by the renowned author Charles Bukowski, is a semi-autobiographical story of Henry Chinaski growing up in an environment of sour, violent, and tired adults during the Great Depression. I found Henry’s character to be very relatable as the story went on, as I’m sure many people would agree after giving it a read, because he always seems to be the underdog and outcast despite his longing to fit in with his peers.
I was able to connect with Henry for the most part because of the negative impact all of the seemingly mentally unstable adults he had in his life. My mother is a great woman, but she would invite these horrible men into our lives and one in particular stuck for about five years when I was eleven years old; Tye. ~Queu specific memory of being grounded by Tye, maybe the time he made me pick up all the garbage along Lakeshore ~ The loneliness I felt during those years formed my character and made me the person I am today, much like Henry discovering his passion for literature through his painful upbringing and years of rejection from his peers.
Once reading through the novel and going reflecting on some of its passages, the symbolism of Henry feeling below others and unimportant is evident.
“The first thing I remember is being under something. […] Nobody seemed to know I was there. [..] Two people: one larger with curly hair, a big nose, a big mouth, much eyebrow; the larger person always seeming to be angry, often screaming; the smaller person quiet, round of face, paler, with larger eyes. I was afraid of both of them. (Page 1)”
This passage shows a _____ detachment, an inability to connect, with his family through the way he describes his own parents. Throughout the novel we see this idea be developed more thoroughly to demonstrate that no matter how hard his parents tried to maintain a reputation as normal, they show no effort of ever trying to have a normal relationship with Henry. I’m aware that in that time, corporal punishment was practiced in most homes, but I got the sense that the severe abuse that Henry suffered through wasn’t exactly average. Whatever shitty experience he shared with the rest of his peers, he always seemed to get the worst of it.
Notes (Ideas To Draw Connection in Main Body Paragraphs)
- Henry’s father seemed to be disgusted by alcoholism, was very judgmental of his brothers and father who drank. Henry got along well with his grandfather, but hated his father. His eagerness to start drinking (dove head first into alcoholism) could be regarded as a sense of connection with his grandfather combined with a rebellion against his father.
- As much as Henry disliked his father, he too sometimes presented himself in a false light. Henry’s father pretended he had a job in order to feel superior to all of their unemployed neighbors, and through Bukowski’s writing he sometimes presents Henry in a way that makes him seem macho and tough, when that is most likely not how in went down in real life. For example, the way he describes himself as some sort of athletic superstar but he was always the last pick..
- Henry has an inability to productively channel his desires which often results in self-resentment and self-doubt. He has a lot of anger and frustration built up due to his rough childhood and inability to identify and get along with his family. Rather than working through his issues he engages self-destructive behavior such as rough fights, heavy drinking, and strange attempts at sexual interactions with women who are totally age inappropriate for him.
- Henry has to constantly remind himself that he doesn’t care about all of the puss-filled boils on his face or what people think; that he is above them intellectually and what they think about him doesn’t matter. However, seeing as how this subconscious thought of his persists throughout the novel, we know that he really did care and was bothered by what all of his peers thought about him and about his physical appearance. If he didn’t care, he would not have to continuously tell himself. This is something that I can relate to a lot. Whenever I have an insecurity, I keep telling myself to just let it go. And then I analyze the situation some more, then I tell myself it’s not important. Repeat ten times, then wonder if I was wrong and if whatever was bothering me was actually worth the bother. This happens in situations as juvenile and meaningless to choosing an outfit to wear, but also occurred when someone I care for dearly essentially told me that my collection of personal artwork is crap and that I have no artistic talent. I brushed it off as if I wasn’t phased by the remark, but ever since then I have not been able to start a new piece with the same enthusiasm and confidence as I once had. I have tried to reconnect with my lost passion, but it’s very discouraging to think that all the years of practice and pastel-smeared-fingers were not enough.
“Out of Sheer Alienation and a natural contrariness I decided to align myself against their point of view.” (236) This passage demonstrates how Henry is always an outcast, and many times he is the one to put himself in the position of being an outcast rather than integrating himself into a clique. He somehow ends up with another bunch of degenerates, much like the ones who clung around him throughout high school, who are Pro-Nazi and whose beliefs are perceived as despicable by the rest of America. Henry shies away from profound and meaningful human connection with people of substance. The only friends he ever seems to stick with are not on the same intellectual level as Henry and are unable to understand the complexity of his mind or sense his pain. I think he hangs around stupid people for that reason.
“I loved it. I could make up anything I like. […] Of course I was talking myself further and further away from any chance with the girls.” (237)
“My god,” I thought, “I am in the wrong place!” (240) Sometimes we become part of a clique that may be comprised of bullies, or negative influences, but because of our lonely or vulnerable state we stay with that group even if we don’t share their beliefs.