Post Office – Charles Bukowski
Final Thoughts: N/A
Okay. I think many ladies have bones to pick with the macho writers of the post. Today, I’m talking Charles Bukowski. I’m talking about writers who applauded their male egos and dominance, who create bitchy, one-dimensional female characters, and who’s senses of humor pretty much consist of vulgarity and shitty attitudes toward others, especially women.
Feminism is not new, but sexism isn’t dead yet. Sure, ladies have had the right to vote for almost a century. But it wasn’t until 1972 that women could run in the Boston Marathon. Not until 1974 could women sign for their own credit cards. And it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was criminalized in all fifty states.
Chauvinism and sexism were ways of life in the past. Men were supposed to be pillars of “manliness”, and “manliness” usually meant getting plastered, finding the wilderness, and/or ogling girls’ tits.
What do we do with this kind of art? What do we do with the songs and books and movies that are so clearly offensive and archaic, but still reflect an important view of general society at that time? What do we do with the creations that represent frustrating eras that we’ve left in the past?
Do we throw them away?
This is my first encounter with Bukowski. My boyfriend recommended it to me, which is cute because it’s a detailed look at a postal employee, and my man happens to be a UPS driver. Like I said, cute.
Henry Chinaski is a bitter postal worker, moving hedonistically through a life of poverty and mundanity. I think loads of us can appreciate his resentment at the day-in, day-out life of servitude, and the sour taste of capitalist classism.
The semi-autobiographical book is chock full of obscenity and a vulgar sense of humor. Vulgarity is such a shock tactic for many authors of the 1960s and ’70s. But hey, I have a super dark sense of humor and a deep love for profanity, so I can still hang.
Where I can’t hang, though, is about forty pages in, where one scene makes all of Bukowski’s future quips toward women questionable at best.
Chinaski is working his route, when a women steals her mail from him without signing for it. Chinaski, frustrated, chases her to her house to explain the policy to her, but it is clear that she’s a few nails short of a tool box. She’s mentally unstable, and she screams that he’s an evil man who’s come to rape and violate her. He tries his best to explain, but she won’t listen.
So he nonchalantly rapes her, and walks away.
The scene is so incredibly brief, so oddly lighthearted, and so intensely revolting.
The entire scene lasts seconds:
I reached down with my mouth, got one of her tits, then switched to the other.
“Rape! Rape! I’m being raped!”
She was right. I got her pants down, unzipped my fly, got it in, then walked her backwards to the couch. We fell down on top of it.
She lifted her legs high.
“RAPE!” she screamed.
I finished her off, zipped my fly, picked up my mail pouch and walked out leaving her staring quietly at the ceiling…
The scene turned my stomach. I was utterly grossed out by the calmness of it. I was confused by it. I was angry at it, especially when this is a semi-autobiographical novel.
I hope against hope that Bukowski didn’t rape a mentally ill customer when he was a postal worker.
I hope against hope there is some kind of higher symbolism or meaning to this scene.
I hope against hope that anyone is as revolted as I am, because a quick Google or Goodreads search of reviews shows an underwhelming amount of vitriol.
I enjoyed this book in the way that I usually enjoy classic literature: I calmly and quietly savor it; it might not make me feel passionate or enthused or completely excited, but it gives me a sense of literary respect. The book is dark and biting and funny and completely resonates with me when it evaluates a life of meaningless employment. But, at this scene, it stops me fully in my tracks, catches my tongue in my throat, and renders me silent. I have no idea what to say or how to evaluate a book that uses a rape scene as shock value, that sees its narrator rape a stranger, and moves completely onward. This scene is a relic of the recent past, and I hope against hope that we’ve left it there.