Forced into isolation


Andrew Augoustis

In the novel, Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, Henry a young man struggles to follow his dreams in a world not ready for his talents. This semi-autobiographical novel allows the readers to see how Bukowski became a writer. Young Henry’s passion for writing stemmed from his father, where he learnt that feelings had no place in a man’s life. Henry did not agree with his father the majority of the time so he discovered a place where he could express himself without getting beaten. In his writing, Bukowski discovered the feelings of hate and passion, which would later on in life represent his unorthodox writing style. As Henry progresses through life he realizes that he is not like the other people around him and likes to be alone. Personally I have always been accepted in a social environment, so this is something Henri and me do not have in common. Henry develops a more pessimistic view to the world where as I stayed positive as a young kid trying to make new friends that I still have to this day. Henrys pessimistic attitude, his lack of respect and his preference to be alone all force him to be out casted by society.

I remember when I was sixteen I got invited to come try out for our provincial rugby team and get a chance to represent Quebec at the national tournament that summer. The first day, the sun was radiating so hot that it felt like your shoes were going to melt. When I showed up I knew absolutely no one. I was standing around like the shy kid that I was not speaking to no one at first until the coach came to introduce himself. All these guys had all played together and I was that new guy. Little did I know it was easy to make friends. We all loved to play rugby, which made it easier to interact with each other. Towards the end of the training session where they ran us down to the ground in fitness, we played a scrimmage. Basically the returning players played against the newbies. I remember these three guys; they reminded me of the three stooges because they were all beef and goofy looking. They were on the other team. While my team was on defense, I lined up in front of this monster of kid whose nickname was Big Red, which fit his description pretty well. I watched that ball get right into his hands but while he had his eyes on the ball I had already caught up to him. Right when he caught it I sent him right into ground that was harder than ever. Everyone was pretty surprised and the coach even put me on the other team. Surprisingly in rugby, you can knock a kid down and become really good friends after! Henri doesn’t really have many things in common with other kids that are around him, which makes him feel left out and have the idea that the world is not a place for him. I found it easy to make friends when there was a common interest between you and others.

Henry is a very strong man, in the way that he can take care of himself. He may be a little aggressive in the manner of how he expresses himself but he’s usually alone when doing so. Henry isn’t an ordinary kid and it is clear to the reader that he is a loner for most of his life. Henry states, “Since some people had told me that I was ugly, I always preferred shade to the sun, darkness to light”(94). The kids at school would tease him because of his appearance. He had very bad acne and his face was filled with boils. Henry felt very strong about his appearance and just figured he would avoid people as much as possible so that he wouldn’t get teased and called ugly. This made Henry really mad but at the end of the day he always found himself alone, writing away. We don’t see henry’s passionate side very often in the novel but we do when he almost witnesses a cat being attacked by a bulldog on his way home one day. He describes the situation in a complex way, he says, “That cat wasn’t only facing the bulldog, it was facing Humanity”(90). I believe he feels so attached to this cat because it represents himself and his struggle in life. The bulldog symbolizes all the people who put him down everyday and try to slow him down. Henry isn’t able to watch what is about to happen so he turns away from it all just as he does in real life. He turns his head the other way when kids make fun of him, when he gets into trouble or even when his father beats him.

Your household is somewhere one should feel at peace and confortable, yet this is not the case for Henry. He stills feels lonely when he’s in the comfort of his home. This feeling stems from his parents and how their interactions with each other are so overwhelming for Henry. During the time period this novel is set in, his father is the man of the house and whatever he says goes. Henry being a young kid wants to play outside and just be an innocent kid but his father deprives him of this opportunity. One day when he was out playing football on a Saturday his dad calls him to back to the house, “ It’s time you did something around here. Its time you go off your dead ass!”(67). Henry’s father is always making him do chores around the house and not allowing him to play with the neighborhood kids. Here is another example of how his life at home is forcing him to become an outcast. His parents should be supportive and not bash him for making mistakes, like when he missed one little hair while mowing the lawn. His mother has no say in anything around the house so really his father is the one who handles his issues with his belt. Henry tells us something that has affected his life for a good part of his youth, “ All a guy needed was a chance. Somebody was always controlling who got a chance and who didn’t”(62). I believe that in this passage Bukowski is talking about how he never got a chance when he was growing up. He is always seen as a little monster and even his parents didn’t give him the chance to grow. His parents did a horrible job raising him but some how Henry used that negative energy to create something. He created a new way of writing, one that he would have never discovered without the hardship and loneliness he suffered from growing up. It took Henry a long time to realize this, and for the most part of his life he was a very miserable person.

Henry has a very negative attitude throughout the novel and feels like all the odds are stacked against him. This makes Henry feel very miserable for a huge part of his life. His pessimistic point of view molds his thoughts, “Gathered around me were the weak instead of the strong, the ugly instead of the beautiful, the losers instead of the winners”(155). Henry understands he’s an outcast and is being dragged down with the ship. He feels like this is his destiny because the people that surround him are what he believes are losers however they are similar to himself. He’s crying out for help but there’s no one there to accept him. This can be very stressful for a young man and changes his feelings of the world. During a conversation Henry is having with Becker they are conversing about how they both want to be writers. Becker tells Henry, “ You’re too bitter and you hate everything”(258). Henry immediately changes the topic of the conversation after Becker says that. He doesn’t think that his work is too bitter because it’s a reflection of his own reality. Henry believes that the world isn’t ready for his work and that the “they” aren’t ready to hear a change in literature. Henry is not intimidated easily but is easily rattled by the slightest things. He finds solace in the smoking and drinking to the point he feels most confortable writing when he is drunk, “It felt good to sit alone in a small space and smoke and drink”(275). The only thing that makes him happy is when he can be alone while having a drink and a smoke. This miserable lifestyle all adds to his overall image of an outcast, which is exactly what Henry is. Once Henry opens his eyes and realizes this, will he stop blaming the world for his misfortune and start planning his future.

            Henry is a very complex character with a lot of different sides to his personality however they all lead him towards the same goal. His pessimistic view of the world around him, his home life and the overall loneliness he seeks forces Henry into becoming an outcast. The choices he makes all influence this overall outcome yet it takes him a long time to realize what he has done to himself and the people around him. Henry is one tough kid to be able to bear with all the hardship he undergoes and we have to applaud him for never giving up on his dream. Despite all the loneliness, Henry is victorious in achieving his dream of becoming a writer.





One thought on “Forced into isolation

  1. This is a nice look at how Henry does not fit in well with others. Your personal narrative is really well-written and quite interesting. It provides a nice point of contrast to open up your argument. Then, you do a nice job of moving through several key moments in the novel. All in all, this gives us a accurate view of Henry’s character. Good.


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