June 15, 2006
Almost everyone’s ideal life consists of a nice car, a big house, and good private schooling for the kiddies. Many authors to their almost hermit-like life styles shoo away anything that isn’t a necessity. Now I’m not saying every author is like this but those who are shine their images through their writings. A main instigator of this lifestyle and style of writing is Charles Bukowski. Over his long career Bukowski has written tons of prose and non-prose. Charles Bukowski, through Factotum, Post Office, and Ham on Rye, relays his disdain for popular culture’s ideas of materialism and conformity.
Henry Chinaski was born in Germany and moved to the states at the age of 2. He grew up normally until about fifth grade when Henry begins causing trouble and getting in a lot of fights. Because of miniscule things his father begins beating him “…I used to hate him with his face white with lather, standing before the mirror shaving himself. Then the first blow of the strop hit me.” This doesn’t make his behavior any better. It did have a physical effect but the desired mental effect his father had wished for. This began progressing Henry’s hate towards his father and his aspirations for his to become and “ideal” person. Like many parents, he believed not having a good education would lead to not having a good future.
This hatred towards society begins to flourish through Henry’s later years in high school where he began to get incredible acne, which held horrible symptoms of giant boils, and ghastly pimples covering most of his body. Around this time he began hanging out with the neighborhood kids who were bigger and strong than the kids from the surrounding towns. “Yes I’d be happy to take their new cars and their pretty girlfriends and I wouldn’t give a fuck about anything like social justice.”(Ham, 94) This made Henry and his neighborhood look down on the other kids because they were also rich which made Henry associate the rich with the weak.
These may seem like horrible things for a boy to think, but growing up in the district Henry Chinaski was raised in it is a good thing. It helps bring the community boys together even though it may be while breaking some noses. “Miranda never got a chance to bat in the 8th. Our 5th graders went over and challenged them to fight…we ran them off, up the street.”(Ham, 63) But over powering the good points are the later consequences. These actions bring Henry alcoholism, poverty, and many bad relationships.
The two novels continuing Henry Chinaski’s like are titled Factotum and Post Office. As you can guess Post Office is about Henry’s venture through the United States postal service. Henry begins working at the post office thinking it’ll be a cushy job, referred to him before Christmas. Henry is told that they’ll hire “damned near anybody.” (Post, 1)
The first supervisor Henry runs into turns out to be a prime example of what Henry hates. It seems like this is a portrayal of Henry’s father in the first book, except the beatings are translated into punishments of no work. He begins to piss this supervisor off who then in turn creates punishments furthering Henry’s hatred for those in authority.
Somehow Henry winds up marrying a beautiful woman whose father owns a great deal of property and money. This sets him up with a cushy life on a farm living with this woman. Her father and grandfather then play a joke on him to go to a buffalo farm and be run down by a heard of buffalo therefore making him the town joke. This, once again, brings up a hatred for a person with authority. “Me, I rather enjoyed playing the villain,”(Post, 102) Not long after the woman leaves him for an office flirt, which Henry seems unaffected by. This shows his lack of interest in this lifestyle and he soon moves back to Los Angeles where he picked up his first post office job. He falls back into this life of barely getting by with booze and loneliness.
Henry’s alcoholism is a recurring theme throughout these three novels. Many times it gets him in trouble. This disposition to have alcohol be his only friend adds to the ideas that he does not want any material possessions. He begins drinking at a young age in his friend’s father’s wine cellar in Ham on Rye when he is in fifth grade. This continues to get worse as his life grows longer. He often resorts to buying a bottle of cheap port and going back to his single room apartment only to spend the night alone by himself. “I went into the bends. I got drunker and stayed drunker than a shit skunk in Purgatory.”
Beating the national capitalism machine is also one of Henry’s main agendas. He does this by journeying to the racetrack every once and a while. He does not go the track that much but becomes enthralled in the racing jargon. Bukowski often goes on for pages explaining how the favorite had gone the first quarter in 22 and 4/5. Figuring he can live of this, he flagrantly spends his money on fancy clothes, good cigars, and expensive clothes. Realizing he’s not that good at betting on the horses he soon loses all these commodities, again with almost not a care.
Factotum is an in-depth resume of what Henry Chinaski has done with his life. It explains all his jobs before post office. It tells about how he does not like each job and ends up either getting fired or quitting each job all because there are struggles with the supervisors. These little odd and end jobs gain Henry little money and he continues his lifestyle as an outcast living basically on skid row.
In conclusion, Charles Bukowski personifies his own disdain for materialism and society through the main character, Henry Chinaski. Henry Chinaski has always been out of the stream and doing his own thing. While it may not seem like this is the best life, it is fine to him. Every time he gets on tops, he loses it and seems to not care that he is back living his dismal life. This shows Bukowski’s hatred by not supporting and not funding the average American life.