Ham on Rye written by Charles Bukowski follows the life of a boy named Henry Chianski. This semi-autobiographical novel explains his difficult childhood and the milestones he must pass. It describes his relationships with his parents, friends and how he learns about life and especially; women Henry’s character has many different traits, if I were to connect with one on a personal level it would be his toughness.
When I look back at some of the experiences I’ve had in my life, a few of them connect with Henry’s character, but one of these stories hits straight home. My high school was filled with different types of groups, nerds, tough guys, etc. My group was the sports group, probably one of the biggest groups. I was one of the top players on our basketball team. I played in 2 leagues, our high school team and Dawson’s AAA intercity team. This meant a lot of pressure and a lot of games and practices. One game I got a concussion ( one of my many concussions). This one was different though, I couldn’t remember things like my name and was placed in ICU for a few days. Me being stubborn and a tough ass like Henry, once I got out the hospital I was willing to play again, which was the last thing I was supposed to do. When I returned to school after a few days my team mates from my high school league were saying I was weak for not playing and that if they got concussed they would be back in less than a week. Me being captain for both Dawson and my high school league was determined to prove my toughness and dominance and captain, which did not end well for me. Once again, the game I returned ( 6 months too early) I got another concussion and was back in ICU, but I did prove to everyone that I was a tough ass because I had fought through not one, but 2 concussions one after another in a span of 6 weeks.
Henry’s character can be seen as many things, but a tough guy is one of them. One of the many scenarios is the confrontations with Henry and his father. In the novel Henry seems to have a lot of issues with his father. His tough side is seen when his father is beating him in the bathroom. Henry thought to himself ” I didn’t hate him. He was just unbelievable , I just wanted to get away from him. I couldn’t cry.”( 70) When Henry says he couldn’t cry, it just proves that he is tough. He is getting beaten and yet just thinks of his thoughts and when he will break free from his father. He doesn’t let things like getting beaten or being spoken to by his father that way get to him, which proves that he was a tough kid. There have been many different situations where Henry and his father have gotten into arguments and many beatings, but the interaction when Henry’s stuff was thrown on the lawn was the most important. In this scene there was so many different emotions. Love, indifferences, pain, etc. It starts off with Henry’s mother telling him ” It’s all right, Henry. I love you., but you must go.”(246) Throughout the entire novel we haven’t seen or heard that word come from his mother, but in this time of heightened emotion, we do. When Henry sees his beloved manuscripts and clothes and typewriter he yelled to his mother and told her to ” Tell him to come out here and I’ll knock his god-damned head off!.”( 246) Now, we see his toughness. He is willing to fight his father because he did something that hit Henry personally. On that note, we can also see that Henry does care about something, which is his writing. I will be continuing with this idea later on.
Henry’s interactions with his friends is the most toughness part of him. There are many situations where Henry must act like a tough guy to be accepted by others. As we know, Henry as battling with many obstacles, his social status, his bad acne, and not being accepted. Once he was considered a tough guy, all those things still mattered but not as much. There is a scene where the gym teacher Wagner says he will get back at Henry for something he did. Henrys thinks that “anyone could be a good guy, that didn’t take guts.”(Pg, 93) Henry becoming a tough guy was important to him because in his life, everything else wasn’t very good. His home life was bad, his schooling might have been even worse, but being accepted and being seen as a tough guy was one of the most important things to him because it meant he was being seen as something other than a loser. When Henry found out about drinking it showed how he would conform to be popular and keep his title as a tough guy. ” You think you’re a god-damned man or what?” , ” I’m tough,” I said. (Pg, 95) After having Baldy force him into drinking from the cellar, Henry will go as far as to going against his own self to keep his title. When he keeps repeating he’s tough, it makes it seem like he doesn’t think he can be anything else but tough.
Even though Henry sees himself as a tough guy, there are many situations where we can see other aspects that Henry doesn’t yet see in himself. Going back to the scene when his father threw all his stuff onto the front lawn. Henry says that when his father threw out his manuscripts ” that was the lowest of the blows.”(Pg,247) Seeing how much he cares about these manuscripts we see what Henry really loves, and that’s writing. Even though he doesn’t see it yet, we as the readers see that his stories mean a lot to him which means he does love things in life. Near the end of the novel is where we see Henry changing. He still sees himself as only a tough guy but his actions begin to show us differently. When his friend Becker is going back to war, Henry says that ” You’re the best I’ve known.”(pg,281) Throughout this entire novel, I haven’t seen or heard Henry speak about to speak to anyone like this before. For the average person this is a common thing to say, but for Henry for most of his life showed no emotion, this is a huge step.
In conclusion, Henry’s character has many faults, but also many good attributes as well. In particular Henry views himself as a tough guy because he doesn’t think he can be more than that. He thinks that being something other than a tough guy will make him weak and vulnerable. His family and friend influences are what attribute to this type of attitude. He shows his emotions and his love for writing near the end of the novel, but they aren’t visible to him just yet. Living in Henry’s world was very difficult and the only was he could feel accepted and get through was by being a tough guy.