Charles Bukowski is no ordinary man; through his own eyes we are taken through the life journey of his alter ego Henry Chinaski. Charles wrote the novel Ham on Rye as a self-autobiographic novel to depict his early years of life. We are introduced to a character that encounters tremendous troubles of acceptance from the society that he is surrounded by. Reading about a character that struggles in life is not necessarily an easy topic to relate to however while reading I often found my self-thinking about my most challenging days. I was able to connect with the emotion that Henry brings forward about feeling alone, it is a scary feeling that I will later discuss. Henry resorts to different methods of self-destruction as a response to being an outcast in society.
We are aware that Henry is a man who feels deeply alone. Throughout his life we see that people do not feel comfortable when he surrounds them and it is clear that he is an outlier. Generally I would not consider my self an outlier, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by close family and friends my whole life, however I do believe that at times everyone knows what it is like to feel like the outcast. In grade 1 most kids begin to read, by grade three most kids know how to write. I was not one of those kids, opening up a book was a form of torture, looking at a page filled with words was an immediately blinding effect and I was unsure why. I would stare at the same page for what felt like hours with no hope. Words jumping all over the place, letters backwards and sentences broken, I felt weak, vulnerable and even worse at times STUPID. Why did it come so easily for all the other children when I had to suffer? At first my parents had told me I would get it eventually but in my head that day was never coming. By grade 4 I was diagnosis with dyslexia, the professional told that reading and writing would always be a challenge for me. The label just made it worse, I was surrounded by constant reminders that I was different, missing recesses to meet with tutors, having to work long hours after class just to catch up to the “normal” kids level. I just wanted to be like everybody else.
The feeling of being different is at many times scary, unsure as to why you are unlike the rest. This is the best way for me to relate to Henry, it may be in a different situation however I believe that the feeling of being an outlier is the same regardless of the specifications of what makes you different. It is something difficult to live with because it is very much internal and no one else has to deal with that trait that makes you different except yourself.
The feeling of being alone is extremely prevalent throughout the novel. Henry is a character who has struggled his whole life making friends. The “cool” kids never accepted him and he eventually became comfortable with the feeling of being alone. This is demonstrated through his thoughts, for example, “Since some people had told me that I was ugly, I always preferred shade to the sun, darkness to light” (94). For a man who felt alone, his place of comfort was often a dark space, no one to call him names, no one to make fun of him and a place where he could truly be himself. Henry needed time to himself; it is in dark spaces where he does his best thinking, where he feels free and lets his mind wonder. Although others do not accept Henry, it is clear that he finds comfort within by being alone. Over the course of the novel, we discover that Henry is most comfortable when he isolates himself in a dark room with a bottle of liquor and a pack of cigarettes. This sense of comfort is one that he’s carried with him since he was a child; “I had always been good company for myself”(275). Henry’s comfort in being alone is one that is significantly more profound than he makes it to be. When Henry is alone, he does not rely on anything or anyone to make him to provoke his emotions. However, when surrounded by others he is normally left feeling discouraged. It is in a dark space where he can detach from the world that surrounds him and focus on his deeper thoughts.
The theme of dependency is strongly conveyed throughout the novel. Henry feels the constant need to consume liquor and tobacco, which develops the profoundness of his character. When Henry drinks, his desired outcome has surpassed being in a typical drunken state. When he drinks, his spirits are let loose, his body and mind are set free and he is able to go places he can’t normally go. He uses it as an escape from the world he lives in, which he feels as though he has no place. However, when Henry drinks, he feels accepted in the world. During this state, the reader is presented with a new narrator, one who is looser, thinks deeper and views the world in a different perspective. “Getting drunk was good. I decided that I would always like getting drunk. It took away the obvious and maybe if you could get away from the obvious often enough, you wouldn’t become so obvious yourself.”(189) When Henry drinks, he finds the power from within to think unlike others, he forms ideologies that are unique to his own and feels empowered by doing so. Drinking pushes his mind further, which he would not be able to achieve sober. He uses his drunken state as an escape from the reality and as a tool to push his mind further than he can normally achieve.
Henry may be a self-sufficient man who does not rely on others for any compassion, however as a result, has suffered internally. Theses damages severely affect him and have created habits and patterns that cause self-harm. Henry’s view of himself is a significant push factor for these damages. He perceives himself as someone who does not belong and has no place. Although he accepts that he is different, he transforms that acceptance into an awfully ugly self-image. “Gathered around me were the weak instead of the strong, the ugly instead of the beautiful, the losers instead of the winners. It looked like it was my destiny to travel in their company through life.” (155) Henry’s ability to identify with the outcasts essentially destroys his self-confidence. He constantly beats himself up until he is broken inside.
We can see through Henry’s thoughts how damaged he is, “Sitting there drinking, I considered suicide, but I felt a strange fondness for my body, my life.” (274) He has very few encounters with happiness and this causes many issues in Henry’s mind. Life is difficult for him to the point where he feels only a drink will allow him to feel better. His thoughts of suicide show just how low he can go. He is scared from his childhood as well as his everyday encounters. His constant need to have a drink in his hand fuels the damages.
Henry is a character who has many issues on my different levels. He chooses to let those issues become his Identity and creates a terrible self-portrait of himself. The ability to think as deeply and see as far as Henry can is a gift he has yet to harness but we know what lies in his future. My ability to connect to Henry on the level of lonesome is what made the novel most interesting for me, although Henry encounters it on a life long level. Henry’s act’s of self destruction harm him even more then he is already been hurt.