Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski, is a worthy book to not disregard. It is an autobiographical novel about Henry Chinaski who lives a relentless tough life during his young ages. A good portion of Bukowski character is recounted into Chinaski, portraying his own outlook and values on life throughout the novel. Fondness between him and his parents, especially from his father, got neglected by their grueling education. Most of his schoolmates were not better: they were fruitless and hostile. All of this renders Chinaski as a tough person, disconnected from the world. However, his loneliness led him to find his passions: drinking and writing. So did I. I can easily relate myself to Chinaski’s vulnerability, in regard of his many unpleasant moments and finding his passions that flourished his life.
Back in elementary school, I was not the toughest but the weakest. I was the most oblivious and dumbest kid at school. Sometimes I wonder if I had autism or some sort. Most kids made idiotic things when they were young, right? In my case, I was the worst. The reason behind was the lack of proper education from my parents; divorce. It made stuff worse. I learned most things alone and sometimes beaten when I’ve done wrong stuff. Regardless, as stupid as I thought I was, I still managed to get friends where I could be close with, bromance. But I was the dumber of the two, doing childish stuff. Some left me alone because I was too weird for them. Often, I got intimidated by schoolmates and they called me “gay”, despite I was not. It was foolish and ignoble from them. In grade 4, that was it: acne grew on my face. That was really early. Like Henry, my acne portrayed a bad physical image that nobody liked: “I got through the term but the boils got worse and worse. They were as large as walnuts and covered my face. I was very ashamed.”(127). Similar to him, acne widely affected me and I no longer cared about my appearance. People didn’t want to talk to me and I became ashamed of myself. The lack of acceptance made me sad and I decided stay home more often. I didn’t want to see anybody. (To be continued)
Henry got educated the hard way. That hard way taught him to become strong and mature. In fact, his parents’ education became an inheritance that rehabilitate him to a superior human being. For instance, his father used to beat him with a razor strop. The torture was painfully hard to endure, but it gradually changed:
“Finally I couldn’t see anything. As he beat me, he berated me…” (39).
“The sound of the strop was flat and loud, the sound itself was almost as bad as the pain… It was as if my father was a machine, swinging that strop” (70).
“He hit me again. But tears weren’t coming… The pain was still there but the fear of it was gone… The room no longer blurred… ‘Give me a couple more,’ I told him…” (121).
He became fearless. This made him feel good about it because he became stronger and resistant to the hits. As he grew and endured the maltreatment from his father, suffering is no longer an issue for him. The agonising pain got alleviated by his mental state. Henry gets used to harder things and learns to ignore the bad side of things: he no longer cares. As a matter of a fact, the affection between his parents and him is lessened. Hatred grew on him. Even being kicked from the house by his own father is impassive: “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). This is what the lack of love does. From his childhood to adulthood life, his father shows nothing but desperation and distaste. Barely any rewards, sympathy and amusement were done to the child’s education. From a reader point of view, that was not the greatest way to educate a kid. Henry needed love, but the father never showed him. Daddy probably tried his best to make his son the best gentleman of Los Angeles, but he failed to do so.
What is controversial is the little Chinaski becomes the bad guy at school. It’s a part of his character that grew on him from experience at home and especially at school: “I felt good about that. I liked being picked out as one of the bad guys. I liked to feel bad.”(93). After fights after fights with his own schoolmates, being bad was the way to set him at a higher standard. The world around him were like little ants that had nothing on him: he was the king. As a reader, this is a feeling that enunciates the shame and the bad moments he had endured in the past. Usually people with a sorrowful past wants to feel bad to have a sort of power to make their life a bit more entertaining. Thus, Henry is one of them. Additionally, friendships for Chinaski were similar to my kind of friendships: ending up with a guy that follows you. But the character was the one rejecting them because he got tired of them: “Enough of this kind had attached themselves to me already. I didn’t care much care for any of them: Baldy Jimmy Hatcher, and a thin gangling Jewish kid, Abe Mortenson.”(155). This bromance thing, he couldn’t resist to it. He wanted to be free and to be at least with someone that could be useful and share the same values as him. He needed someone that could be interesting for once. Rejecting could be the way to move on.
Henry’s got a depressing life, but there is always something that’ll certainly make your own self cheerful. Loneliness is not only good but advantageous at the same time. Lonely, Henry found his passions: reading, writing and not to forget, drinking. In particular, he showed an impressive writing skills on his little story about the presidential day towards his teacher and classmates:
“My words filled the room, from blackboard to blackboard, they hit the ceiling and bounced off… Some of the prettiest girls in the class began to sneak glances at me. All the tough guys were pissed. Their essays hadn’t been worth shit. I drank in my words like a thirsty man.”(83).
Certainly, he has a hidden talent that he discovers: he finds who he is. He simply needed to explore things and put them to test. He gets recognized as a real writer, a real man because the words were beautiful, well written. By impressing and stomping the others, he is savoring the great feeling of being respected. Furthermore in the novel, he meets his rival: Becker. He is one of the few friends were Henry felt he was worthy because he shares the same passion as him and he is a great writer: “Becker not only knew how to write, Becker knew his people. I would dedicate my first novel to Robert Becker”. (232). That type of friendship is golden for Henry. He finds someone that loves drinking and writing, and that respect the others. After all the friendship he had with the others, this one takes the cake. Moreover, Henry is not only a typical drinker, he is a true alcoholic. Drinking is not only something to ruin yourself, but it is more something as a cure. He conveys it is the drug that keeps him alive to Becker:
“’Every time I see you you have a drink in your hand. You call that protecting yourself?’
‘It’s the best way I know. Without drink I would have long ago cut my god-damned throat’…
‘You’re just hiding from reality.’ Becker said.
‘You’ll never be a writer if you hide from reality.’
‘What are you talking about? That’s what writers do!’” (250).
Drinking is like escaping from reality because it makes you drunken and unaware of your surroundings. So you become unaware of all the misery and conflicts on Earth. You are free to think positively for moment and have fun for once. Writing makes you creative. You are creating a world: alone, enclosed in your room, writing, doing what you love in life. Love and freedom. These are the whole point: do what you love, freely.
I wanted to stay home most of the time now, ignoring the bad guys out there:
“’What’s so nice about laying in bed all day?’
‘I don’t have to see anybody.’
‘You like that?’
‘Oh, yes.’” (135).
Just like Henry, I liked to stay in my bedroom doing what I loved to do: drawing and playing video games. Those became my passions. Staying alone was the best way to learn new things because I had to explore myself. I often used the computer. Not just to play, but to learn things that could increase my artistic skill. Even my mother was worried because she thought I was a loser losing my time on a computer. But that is not true: I learned how to speak in English more profoundly; I learned how to do animations; I learned how to create videos. Most importantly, I became less oblivious and became mature. When I got out of my zone, I could control myself and be reasonable with people surrounding me. Yes, I became more introvert but I needed to grow that quality to stay balanced. The bromance thing was no longer a thing. Gaming is like drinking for me and drawing/editing is like writing for me. That is where I can relate to Henry.
On a final note, Henry learned to live the hard way. It was not easy endure the lack of love from his parents. Suffering, violence and the lack of affection led to who he is. The evilness of the people changed his perception. To forget all of that, he becomes lonely. He sets himself free by writing and drinking, and getting out of the reality. His vulnerability makes him a fantastic character. I totally believe Bukowski created a fantastic recreation of himself with Chinaski. I wish a sequel was made before the author’s death. I want to know the real end of Henry’s story to see the outcome of things. Nonetheless, Henry Chinaski is practically Charles Bukowski. He is an amazing writer, so does Henry.
Work Cited: Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.