Henry Chinaski is the tough and rough character that Charles Bukowski portrayed as his younger self in the novel Ham on Rye. In the novel this character gets into many fights and even becomes a leader of a group of kids he may rather not have around. He is the defender of underdogs and is also an underdog himself although he tries to hide this with the persona he puts out to the world. The beauty of this novel for me aside from how well written and raw the book is, would be the way I can personally relate to the character of Henry Chinaski.
While reading the novel I was able to connect with Henry because I saw some of the aspects of his character in myself. He was someone who tried to be his own person but also felt like an outcast because of it. When looking deeper he was an outcast because he tried to be his own person and that is what happened to me in high school. Growing up I was always nice to people and had friends but kids would always call ,e weird because I was interested in different types of shows or movies than they were. I was also a tomboy and so a lot of the girls did not really befriend me because I watched a lot of sports and I was into playing them as well. I remember one day talking to my history teacher about the baseball game that had been on the night before and one of the guys in my class said ” Here we go with the girl talking sports thinking she’s a guy.” When he said that I was pretty upset because girls can be into sports just as much as guys and I didn’t get why that was an issue. I had to develop the mentality of not caring what people thought of me at a young age although it was difficult. I embraced my personality and projected it even more in order to accommodate the fact that I did feel some insecurity about myself. In high school in order to keep my reputation as a sporty girl and different girl I joined three different sports teams and made sure that everyone knew I was a huge sports fan by wearing the jerseys and having conversations with my teachers about them. I was so well known for being the sports “fanatic” that at a parent teacher conference some of my teachers would tell my mom that I was an encyclopedia of sports knowledge and if they ever missed a game they could come to me and ask what happened the night before. I was able to solidify my reputation just like Henry was able to in the novel.
Henry pretends that nothing bothers him and that he can get along fine without anyone and that is part of his tough persona. In reality he cares about people and even animals. There was a time when a cat was cornered by a bulldog and Henry would think to himself ” I though of rushing in, grabbing the cat and running, but I didn’t have the nerve”(89). When Henry had the though of even attempting to save the cat from getting hurt by that dog and cared about what happened to it, this showed his true compassion. He may not have done it but to even care enough to want to do it means Henry is a lot less tough than he pretends to be. The next line he says ” the knowledge that I didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary made me feel terrible”(89). This shows that if Henry truly were tough as he puts out there his conscience would not have gotten to him. The protective barrier that Henery shows the world I believe was first developed at home; “I tried not to scream. I knew that if I did scream he might stop, but knowing this, and knowing his desire for me to scream, prevented me” (39). When Henry’s father would beat him, Henry had to keep all the pain he felt inside and not acknowledge them because he knew that if he did he would be showing his weakness. The last thing Henry wanted was to show weakness and give people what they were expecting of him and that all started with his father. In order to keep his tough guy persona Henry would get into many fights growing up. He would use this approach to deal with the insecurities he would feel growing up. Things like not having a lot of money or the boils on his face and body were things that Henry did not feel very good about and I believe being tough and acting as though nothing bothered him and trying to make himself believe it and everyone else was a way to deal with these things. To Henry the boils that started growing on his face happened at the worse time ” it happened just as I was beginning to be accepted as a tough guy and a leader” (122). This is when Henry felt he could have been more but because of this condition he no longer could be exactly what he wanted to be. When Henry was graduating from middle school his parents did not show up and Henry pretended not to care but he said” My parents weren’t there. I made sure. I walked around and gave it a good look-see. It was just as well. A tough guy didn’t need that”(124). In this moment he shows that the support of his parent meant something to him but since they were not there he decided that his persona didn’t need them anyway and so it was just as well. This is used as a coping mechanism by Henry to not be as hurt as he must have been. The fights he would get into in order to prove his toughness to other people would be many and one in particular was fighting a guy who was an amateur boxer and a friend of one of his friends. He decided he would fight him in order to prove that he wasn’t a punk. He was able to somewhat hold his own and had to be talked out of continuing the fight because his boils had been punctured on his face and blood was running down from them. Once home Henry looks in the mirror and thinks to himself ” Pretty damn good. I was coming along…it had finally been a successful day, and I hadn’t hart oo many of those”(159). This shows the aspect of Henry who feels like he accomplished something because he was able to keep his tough guy reputation but also prove to himself that he was.
This novel is one that I believe can connect to most people just by the writing style and the feel of truth that it gives off when reading the paragraphs. It has a sense of being honest and cutting through the crap to get to the meaning of something but it also gives a humbling feeling. Henry is a character that I feel if you really pay attention everyone can relate to from growing up poor to not looking the way you wanted to in high school. As the novel progresses you discover many different facets of Henry’s character that were not apparent before and that makes him a true character. The character Charles Bukowski was able to bring to this novel is one that has many imperfection but also can bring out and show his caring and generous nature that makes him all around a humble character.