By Karyna Statko
Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski, is a novel about a kid who is growing up at the time of The Great Depression in America. His parents never let him play with other kids, but he never agrees with this. Because of this he is growing up as a person who will be alone all the time but at one important moment in the novel he decided to change his life. I can relate myself to Henry’s character. Henry’s parents always made him as a dark horse because they never cared about him. As a result of this throughout the novel, we see Henry developing a strong character.
I also considered that I was as well not fitting in at one point in my life because of this I can relate to his strong character, as it resembles so much as mine. It was a sunny day of September, I was around 10 years old, and it was my first day of Kung-Fu classes. I wasn’t excited for my first class. At the academy they were a lot of other kids who were older or younger than me. I began to worry but my mother didn’t tell me that I should not be worried. It was hard for me but she didn’t care about this, she said that it is important for me but I couldn’t say anything. I was crying so much there because it was so hard for me to do all what trainer was telling us to do. We were doing things like leg splits, air kicks, and punching a heavy bag. If you are not doing what he is telling he could hit you and it hurts so much. When everything finished I said that I don’t want to come here anymore, but my trainer said that I should think about this and decide. Also, he said that if I will leave I cannot come back anymore. I decided that I need this. It was something that I did well and I had a pleasure while doing. Finally, made my personality stronger and gave me a confidence that I can do something good in this life. I think that Kung-Fu classes helped me a lot because it help me push myself further than I would if I wouldn’t had taken that class. All of this has helped my character as now I always push myself to reach what I want.
Henry’s character starts to build up when he was a kid. Henry’s father always tries to “give him a lesson” by hitting him. It repeated over and over again and he thinks that this makes him stronger. All the time it was the same thing happen: “All right, Henry. Into the bathroom. All right, take down your pants. Pull down your shorts.” (39). Henry is as a submissive in this situation and his father is a dominant. Henry has strong emotions at that time: “As he beat me, he berated me… I try not to scream. I knew that if I scream he might stop, but knowing this, and knowing his desire for me to scream, prevented me. The tears ran from my eyes as I remained silent” (39). Even readers can imagine all this pain that Henry feels at this moment because probably some people felt the same or similar pain when they were kids and were spank by their parents. But Henry never cried while his father was hitting him. Henry was always expecting support from his mother, but he never received it, she was always on dad’s side as she used to say: “The father is always right” (39). It is unrealistic because no one can be always right. This made him feel alone in this big world, that even mother doesn’t care about him. He wants to feel love from her, but he never felt it from her. From this mother’s position Henry knows that his opinion means nothing in this world but he wants to change this. At this situation he learns pain for no reason, and the worst thing that this pain his own parents made him learn.
The pain didn’t come only from his parents. Henry’s pain evolved, after his father stop hitting him he got acne. His was really terrible one, not as others kids had it. His parents didn’t even come with him to the hospital to know the reason of all boils. This made Henry feel again alone, one on one with his problem. Henry problem with acne can be seen when he goes to the hospital and he met there a woman with a little boy. This little boy was really scared of him because he was asking to his mother, “What’s wrong with that man’s face?” (127). He was asking over and over again until finally his mother was screaming at him and telling that she doesn’t know. For the little boy Henry was not a normal person it makes him stand out from the crowd. When Henry finally gets to see the doctor, the doctor decided that they will treat them with “electric needle” (132). Henry say: “I was being drilled. The pain was immense” (134). He was drilled not just on the literal level but the emotional level as well. He feels so much pain but he is not showing it. This is due to the fact that he is already used to have a pain for no reason. He was one of those poor kids who were “selected to be this way” (137). He is unlucky because he thinks that from so many people to choose from God chose him to be this way. This affected his character as it makes him feel less confident on himself and also lowers his self-esteem.
By the end of the novel we can see that Henry has grown as a loser because of everything that’s happened to him during his life. The situation with his father just confirms that even his parents think that he is not good enough to be their son. This can be seen when Henry’s mom says, “Henry, he found your short stories and he read them! He said that he was going to kill you! He said that no son of his could write stories like that and live under the same roof with him!” (246). For first time, his mother’s is trying to protect him from his father who read his stories. By saying “He said that he was going to kill you!” (246). She is trying to tell him this in advance and the reader can see that his mother is worrying about him and even if she considers him less, that what he is, she will always carry for him. Even Henry’s mother character starts to change. His dad considers him already a loser but his mother shows that she cares about him for the first time. By doing this she is trying to show that she loves him no matter who he is.
Henry’s character starts to develop as he is starting to care more about what he loves doing, which is writing. He discovers that he has worth, self-worth and that writing is his life salvation. This can be seen when Henry’s mother says: “Henry, he’s thrown all your clothes out on the front lawn, all your dirty laundry, your typewriter, your suitcase and your stories! My stories? I’ll kill him!” (246). Henry worries more about his stories at this moment. He does not care about his clothes. For Henry his stories are what it is really important for him. He wants to be a writer and this is his dream. Henry meets with Becker and they have a conversation about writing. “Yeah but it’s petty hopeless. You mean that you’re not good enough? No, they are not good enough” (258). Henry already considers himself as a good writer and he thinks that he is much better than everybody else thinks of him. Henry believes that he is not less than what everybody believes but he is better and it is everybody else are not good enough. By thinking like this Henry confirms to himself that he has a strong character that is hard to destroy.
Throughout this novel it is possible to see how Henry’s character changes and started to develop making him stronger. His own parents consider him a failure. Henry realises that what he loves doing is writing and he comes protective of it. He is really good at writing and he feels that everyone else is not good enough even just to see his stories. Even if he is consider a loser by everyone else he knows that in reality he is more than that and that everyone else is the underdog when reading his stories. All the abuse that he had to endure has made him stronger. This is a good example that even if all world against you, you can become a good person and you can confront him.