Henry Charles Bukowski was born on August 16, 1920 in Andernach, Germany but later immigrated to America. Bukowski was a famous poet, novelist, and also short story essayist. In this paper we will look at his works and how they were related. Bukowski’s writings were influenced by his life in his beloved Los Angeles and they were set in the alleyways, brothels and bars of this city. He was considered as the gutter poet as his poems and writings were about the realities of life in the city. He wrote about the poor, those that the society had shunned like prostitutes and drunks. He was unapologetically crude in his works and that is what distinguished him from other writers of his age. He died in 1994 (bukowski.net). This paper will try to show how the prevalent theme of life in LA is common in almost all of Bukowski’s works. This life was characterized by drunkenness, prostitution, poverty among other issues that face the impoverished in an urban setting like that of LA (Madden).
From his various writings, short stories and poems, we can see that they are all influenced by the cultural, social and economic environment in his home city of LA. He writes about the poverty that is found in this place; lack of jobs and opportunities; vices like prostitution and alcoholism. He tries to show his audience of the plight that faces the people of LA which is not shown in the media as these people are considered as the outcasts of the society. He lived among these people and identified as one of them. This can be seen in his book Ham on Rye where he commented that ‘beside him were the weak instead of the strong; the ugly instead of the beautiful; the losers instead of the winners.’ He went on to quip that he was destined to travel in their company throughout his life. This shows that he identified fully with his city and the people whom he wrote about.
The theme of alcoholism can be found all over his short stories, poems and novels. He is quoted saying that he could not function without alcohol; it was because of alcohol that he was sane and it gave him the guts to face the world and even the creativity to write. His life was made bearable by writing and alcohol. In his work Women he is quoted saying, ‘I think I need a drink. Almost everybody does only they don’t know it.’ In his other work Love is a Dog from Hell, he says that stay with the beer because it is continuous blood and likens it to a lover (bukowski.net). In his book Factotum, he shows his love for alcohol when he is quoted asking for it when he is released from jail. When asked about it he says that this is one of the times that a man needs a drink the most. He writes being in bars, drinking in his hotel room, sending students alcohol when his supply runs out. Therefore, we can see that alcoholism is a large part of his writings (Madden).
Poverty was another prevalent theme that was found in his writings. In the work Ham on Rye, he talks extensively about it. As seen earlier, he was quoted saying that he kept in his company the poor and the disadvantaged of the society. He goes further to say that the young rich who encounter the stink of the poor find it amusing. If they knew the reality of things, they would be terrified about the state of things. In his poem, We ain’t got no money, honey, but we got rain, Bukowski paints a bleak picture of poverty where people are living in bad conditions in houses that are leaking when it rains and they have no money (bukowski.net). He wrote about the life in the gutters, the poorhouses where he sometimes ended up in, the brothels he went into and even the manual jobs that people sometimes did when life beat them down with poverty. Poverty, as can be seen above is a theme that Bukowski tries to portray in all his works.
Women were a central theme in many works by Charles Bukowski. He even wrote a book about them titled Women. He had various views on women in which some of them made him very unpopular. Sometimes he had very flowery opinion about them as can be seen where he says that good women frightened him because they eventually wanted his soul and what he had left he wanted to keep. He went on further to quote in Women that when a woman turns against on, you should forget it as they may love you once but when something turns in them, they do not care anymore and they can watch you die, bleeding in the gutter. Sometimes however, he saw women as a source of pleasure, calling them whores and he even went ahead to write several poems like A Flower in the Rain which show himself having sexual pleasure with a woman. In his book Post Office, he is quoted saying that occasionally, a woman may walk up, her blossom full bursting out of her dress. He saw this as a curse, a sex creature that ended it all. Another quote from the book was an indication of how women were meant to suffer for it was seen in the fact that they constantly demanded constant declarations of love.
Prostitution was another prevalent theme that was present in many of his writings. For instance, he writes the poem, The Whore who Stole my Poems, in which he talks of how a prostitute whom he had had a relation with the previous night had stolen his poems. In the book Women he can be seen making comedy of his situation where he says if he had been born a woman, he would have certainly become a prostitute. He is quoted having many sexual relationships with prostitutes and women who he had picked on his forays in the bar. In another poem a 340 dollar horse and a hundred dollar whore, he talks about gambling and having paid sex with a woman. Thereby, we can see that this is a common theme of his when he is writing (Madden).
From the above accounts, we can see that the life in LA had a lasting impact in the life of Charles Bukowski and his writings; he wrote in a manner that many saw as crude and unrefined. He was like the ghetto and slum messiah who spoke of what was happening in the most vivid ways possible. He talked about poverty that was being experienced in LA during his life, the various vices like alcoholism and prostitution which were rampant. When compared with other writers like Robert Frost, we can see that Bukowski stays loyal to his setting as compare Frost. Frost wrote on a wide range of subjects with none of them having loyal to their settings and themes like in the case of Charles Bukowski. Frost did not have a lot of works that showed any relations. Thereby, we can see that Bukowski has stayed loyal to his themes and setting all through his works as compared to his fellow American Robert Frost.
- Bukowski.net “Charles Bukowski, American Author”. Bukowski.net. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 July 2016. Web
- Madden, Frank. Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing About Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.