The Detrimental Effects on Father-Son Relationship in “Ham on Rye”

Charles Bukowsky’s novel, “Ham on Rye” focuses on a father’s detrimental influence on his son’s psychophysical growth. Henry Chinaski, the protagonist of the novel, grows more and more violent as a response to his father, Big Henry Chinasky’s violent behavior towards him. Indeed Both Henry has been developed as an anti-heroic character like Shelly’s Frankenstein. The author shows that a child is essentially reflective and its psychophysical growth can be determined by its relationship with the parents. Henry’s mental growth has further deteriorated because of his father’s irrational and apparently malicious behaviors to his teenage boy. Because of his father’s restrictive aggression, Henry is forced to pass his childhood and boyhood in sarcastic loneliness. Henry’s loneliness is evident in the following lines: “I didn’t have any friends at school, didn’t want any. I felt better being alone. I sat on a bench and watched the other play and they looked foolish to me.” (Bukowsky 29)

Big Henry’s self-deception and the illusion of having a higher social status grossly affect his relationship with his son. Though he has lost his job and has become poor, he is not ready to accept this truth. Indeed Henry’s father hates to be poor and still imagines that he belongs to a class that stands higher than the poor. His hatred for poverty is obvious in his advice to his son: “What you must do, with money and the poor, is never let them get too close to one another.” (Bukowsky 251) He continues to appear to the people at his neighborhood as if he still has the job. Therefore in order to hide the truth of his condition, he prevents his son from mixing with other children. Also, he becomes brutally aggressive to his son. Such restrictions and aggressive behaviors prevent Henry from growing a calculative view of the world and provoke him to be physically violent to his friends instead of forming a relationship of understanding with his friends.
Indeed Henry reflects what he receives from his father. He is the horrible creation of his home life in which he receives malignant behavior instead of homely love and care. In most cases, his violent nature has been determined by his father’s oppression. Big Henry, the father, habitually beats his son often for no reason and keeps alienated from his friends. In the following lines, he describes his father’s obnoxious malice in the following lines: “He reached and took down the razor strop which hung from a hook. It was going to be the first of many such beatings, which would recur more and more often. Always, I felt, without a real reason.” (Bukowsky 39)

In his son’s life, Big Henry’s role is that of a tyrant who suffocates his son’s healthy psychological growth. Indeed Henry’s healthy mentality should have grown through free interaction with his friends. Henry, like his father, is physically aggressive to his friends who want to alienate him. Henry’s violent nature is, ultimately, the result of his alienation and his father’s brutality. His father’s violent behavior, instead of love and understanding, during his childhood, forces him to resort to drinks to numb his pain and to violence to hide his impotence. He often becomes physically aggressive to those who alienate him. Also, he is hardly “confident with his own abilities and often second-guesses whether he can win” (Fontana 57).


Works Cited
Bukowsky, Charles. Ham On Rye. New York: Bentham Pubs, 1987
Fontana, Ernest. “Bukowski’s Ham on Rye and the Los Angeles Novel”. The Review of Contemporary Fiction. 1985, 5 (3):4-8