by Lissom Huang
Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, depicts the life of a boy named Henry Chinaski. Branded as a “sissy boy” during his childhood years he tries to grow into a feared and tough man. Although this is a work of fiction, it has been inspired from the era of the Great Depression and represents the consequences caused by the dying economy of America against weaker social groups. Thus, I do not particularly relate to this social group due to my current social status and our era. I am not sure whether if I liked this novel or not, because I feel like it had a rough ending. Though, there were moments where I shared a connection with Henry, during the times when he felt disconnected from his entourage, not knowing where to belong and wanting to be left alone.
I used to feel depressed all the time during high school. I always wanted to stay home and sleep in. Due to this, I had upset my friends because I had been often ditching them whenever they asked me to hang out, and instead I would stay in and sleep. They had called me, telling me how upset they were. I was not sure why they got upset, but they were very mean and they insulted me. They went as far as telling me that I was better off dead. I got very upset and cut the call. I felt mixed emotions : anger, sadness and fear. I could not believe how that they dared to do this to me. We cherished years of lasting friendship, but they did not accept me for who I was nor did they try to understand me. I realized how the years of friendship and everything that I had cherished with them was withering away. I could not help myself and cried for a long time in my room. I got up from my bed, and felt very dizzy, as if the earth spinned quickly around me. I could feel my ears getting hot, and also the steamy flowing tears on my burning cheeks. I felt messed up. I felt unable to go on. I tried to walk around, but every step I took felt so heavy. My whole body trembled. I heard my cell phone ring afterwards, but the ringtone felt so unfamiliar, it had a different sound to it. It felt alien. My vision became blurry with all the tears and at that point I could taste the saltiness of the tears that reached my lips. I was exhausted.
Henry escaped reality through reading. Once he was infected with boils, and could not go to school, he had started to spend a great amount of time reading. He could not endure the ways people looked at him with disgust. “[He] felt better being alone” (29) Henry had found a place where he belonged; in books. Though, the books did not seem attractive to him at first. He had found a few of his favorites, like Turgenev whom wrote with delicacy on vulgar things and he had a liking to cynicism. For him, books felt more real than reality, because the unspoken truth about life was told, and connections form between a reader and a protagonist. These words spoke to Henry: “When someone else’s truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you, that’s great.” (153) Truth is expressed as the actuality of life. Thus, if you were to share the same truth with someone else, it would mean that you relate and have a connection with this other individual, no matter if it is a real person, or a fictional character. It would make the reader feel better, because there was this feeling of attachment. This familiarity that Henry experienced, it felt like magic for him. He had isolated in a world where he feels comfortable alone, with the presence of the protagonists.
Through his attitude, and inclination to reading, Henry expressed signs of being an introvert. He had went back to Chelsey High and realized once more that the weak always followed him and worshipped him in a sense. He had despised the weak and the poor. The strong fellas always stood out with their cars, they always had girls; they did not have to try to look good and strong. Henry wanted to be strong, he wanted to be part of them, but he was unable to. He had blamed “Somebody [that] was always controlling who got a chance and who didn’t” (62)Thus, he wanted to be tough, but it rather seemed like introverted thoughts. Others might have thought of him as a cynic, but he was lesser than that. Introverts usually only concerned themselves with their own interests and they liked to minimize contact with other people. Henry “wanted to live alone [and] felt best being alone, cleaner, yet was not clever enough to rid myself of them” (156) He wanted to be seen as strong because that was the only way he could feel better about himself while facing the rich kids. The weak people around him did not help his image, so he hated the weak. He wanted to get away from this reality and destiny of staying weak. Being alone helped, because at least he was not placed among the weak ones. He wanted to belong to a better place.
Henry tried to go out of his way from being an introvert, ditching his books, and went to senior prom. He probably went because he wanted to finally belong somewhere and there was his attempt. He might have regretted going there, because he did not blend in. He felt out of place and he felt that “everybody knew something [he] didn’t know.” (Bukowski 194) Others knew how to dance, the boys matched with the girls but Henry felt inferior to them. He did not know how to dance, nor was he good with girls. Everyone dressed well, and there he was with a ragged shirt. He was looking at everyone from afar, observing their behavior. A behavior that he might never be able to achieve. There was a big contrast between him and everyone else. His wishes to connect with people were crushed once again as the janitor distrusted him as being a Senior. Nobody from his year noticed him.”[He] didn’t have any friends at school, [he] didn’t want any.“(29) Henry had voluntarily and forcibly left the place before the janitor kicked him out. He did not belong among those people nor did he belong anywhere.
After finding out people who shared a common interest of loving books, he had been thinking of how bad things have been since his birth. Everything he lived through had been awful and dark. From his early sissy boy years, to the beating, and finally to now, it seemed that there were only a few rare moments where he felt happy. “Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love or kindness from anybody” (91) Perhaps this is why he liked to read, because he lacked love from his parents. Henry mentioned how alcohol was the only thing that kept him going through life. He had been drinking a lot more. He felt disconnected to this world and he asked himself: “Was I the only person who was distracted by this future without a chance?” (245) He was unable to see his own future. He was responsible enough to think about his future, but he felt like there was nothing he could do to improve it nor make his future happen, He was miserable to the extent where he did not wish death but instead a moment to shine. He felt alone, isolated from everything and everyone. While wanting to belong, nothing worked out for him and that’s why he hated everyone, it was because he was disconnected to them.
Henry’s story was a particular sad one, and he had tried growing into a tough man. Although that did not necessarily happen, he did grow up in a mature way, because he had outgrown his father. He knew he had done it when his father stopped beating him, but he still lack, because he is not the man he thought of becoming. All these tough acts are not true, because no matter how hard he tried, he still felt like an alien to his world.
Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2014. Print.