Hero of the inglorious kind: Bukowski and the American Dream
López Prieto, Mikel
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Charles Bukowski is, perhaps, one of the most recognizable authors of the second half of the 20th century because of his direct, almost raw form of writing. Nevertheless, one of the major implications of this work has been neglected: his criticism of the philosophical and social construct of the American Dream, one of the first marks of identity of the United States of America, which is still present to this day. In this context, this essay is focused on the analysis of the Bukowskian depiction of the ideal in the novels Post Office (1971), and Factotum (1975) and on the autobiographical magnum opus of the author, Ham on Rye (1981). It is argued that the American Dream is portrayed as a source of alienation, victimization, and dehumanization of the character and the working class as a whole via the character of Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego. To this end, the paper firstly includes the historical and literary framework of Bukowski’s works in order to provide the reader a basic understanding of the American Dream, as well as Bukowski’s placement in the American literary canon and his own relationship with the Dream inspiring his writings. The analysis of the characterization of the Dream in Bukowskian literature covers the following aspects: a) the topic of isolation, implying the character’s rebellion, his individual victimization within the family sphere and the social mainstream, and the victimization of the working class; and b) the character’s embracement of the reality of the Dream, which will lead to the auto destructive tendencies of alcoholism and suicide. The major claim of this paper is that through his alter ego, Bukowski exposes the reality of the American Dream as a source of a generalized disillusionment (rather than the prosperity it promises), and in the case of the collective of the working class, a social collapse translated into its dehumanization. Apart from this, this essay also discusses how the character’s resistance against the Dream will only result into an existential crisis, related to the conflict between his desire to break with mainstream American values and the need to accept them in order to survive in 20th century American society.