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Tales of Ordinary Madness Summary & Study Guide Description
Tales of Ordinary Madness Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
Charles Bukowski, appears in Doing Time with Public Enemy No. 1, The Great Zen Wedding, G
Although this collection of short stories contains many fictional characters, all of the main protagonists resemble Charles Bukowski. Bukowski himself is a self-loathing alcoholic who hates poetry and pretension. Otherwise, he seems to be a relatively easygoing though often cranky companion, a man who only changes out of his bathrobe on an occasion. In "Doing Time" Bukowski goes to jail for dodging the draft, only to be released from military service because of his sensitivity. The foul-mouthed drinker laughs at the idea, but this is a man who gives money to men who are more down than he is, and a man who, in "Zen Wedding", spends hours looking for the perfect wedding gift for his friends. Bukowski has a tender heart, although he would sooner rape a stranger on the street than admit to it.
Bukowski is an animalistic man with basic needs. He needs liquor as sustenance and sex when he can get it. Other companionship seems to irk him, especially since his visitors all seem to want to discuss literature with him, and thinks that literature is boring.
Henry Chinasky, appears in Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?
Henry Chinasky is a common pseudonym used by Bukowski not only in short stories but in novels as well. He is a thinly veiled version of Bukowski himself. A heavy drinker who loves women's bodies but not their personalities, Chinasky is a writer who works by day in a dead-end job. In "Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?" Chinasky flies to Seattle and reads at two universities in between drinking binges.
Duke, appears in A .45 to Pay the Rent
Duke is a convicted criminal, thief, husband, and father. His daughter, Lala, is the love of his life, and he is honest with her about his profession. He does not want to be a thief anymore, but cannot gain more respectable employment because of his criminal past. He thinks of industry as the greatest crime in society, because a few powerful men can manipulate the masses, for their own benefit.
Lala, appears in A .45 to Pay the Rent
Lala is the young daughter of Duke and Mag. She is inquisitive, bright, and devoted to her father. At the grocery store, she asks why a coconut has milk inside of it, what the inside of the sun looks like, and why the other people driving their cars are trying to kill her and Duke.
Nameless Women, appears in Goodbye Watson, Great Poets Die in Steaming Pots of Shit, Ra
Bukowski portrays many nameless women throughout the collection who play a variety of roles, usually one of two archetypes: beautiful and untouchable or accessible but fatally flawed.
The beautiful, untouchable women both inspire and shame Bukowski. In "Goodbye Watson", a beautiful woman takes Bukowski home and they sleep together under an open window in the rain. When they wake up in the morning they are both blue, shivering, and thrilled with the sensation. They have no future together. Similarly, in "Great Poets Die in Steaming Pots of Shit", Bukowski cites a gorgeous woman climbing out of a car as the greatest work of art in the world. He never speaks to her, simply admires her legs from afar. In "My Stay in the Poet's Cottage", Bukowski fantasizes about a sensual maid who will not clean his house. These women fuel his desires and fantasies. However, in "A Rain of Women", Bukowski experiences shame when a beautiful woman who actually flirts with him intimidates him into inaction.
Conversely, most of the women that Bukowski considers to be accessible are also unattractive or irritating. In "Rape! Rape!", Bukowski returns to have sex with Vera's overweight, ugly neighbor. She does not refuse him, but she does not excite him either. In "Too Sensitive", and "One for Walter Lowenfels", Bukowski lives with a woman who cares more for literature than she does for the the man in her home or, indeed, reality in general. Another strange woman that Bukowski picks up at a bar has sex with Bukowski's friend Luke before she will have Bukowski.
Sears, Blaine, Ned, Joe, appears in Scenes from the Big time
Sears, Blaine, Ned, and Joe are all inmates who serve time with the narrator. Each of them demonstrates a unique quality that supports the narrator's view that men are largely animals. Sears attacks other strong men in order to establish his dominance and he preys on weak men, like Ned Lincoln, to keep the men around him afraid. Blaine protects himself with his ugliness, as would a skunk or blowfish. Joe is the only man who demonstrates a human trait: he perseveres even in a hopeless situation and inspires his prisonmates to do the same. That sense of community service is more human than animal.
Mad Jimmy, appears in Nut Ward East of Hollywood
Mad Jimmy is a trinket-peddler who often visits Bukowski's home. He has various psychological and physical ailments, but he still drinks and smokes often. He owns a new Panama hat which he thinks makes him look very handsome. His girlfriend, Mary, is taking him to court for breaking her rib during a recent argument.
Belford, appears in Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?
Belford is the young student who guides Henry Chinasky through his brief reading tour in Seattle. Belford is dedicated to his task, and takes Chinasky wherever he wants or needs to go, whether it be to an appointed reading or a liquor store.
Roy and Hollis, appears in The Great Zen Wedding
Roy and Hollis are friends of Bukowski's who get married in a new-age Zen ceremony. They are friends with the fringe elements of society, liberal intellectuals, hippies, and artists like Bukowski himself. Though they love their friend, they do not like his wedding gift, a small carved coffin.
The Zen Master, appears in The Great Zen Wedding
The Zen Master is an older Asian man who performs Roy and Hollis' wedding ceremony. He is most notable for his patience, spirituality, and very thin, translucent ears. After the ceremony, he spends some time socializing with the guests but leaves quickly once Bukowski demands that the Zen Master hand over his ears. The Zen Master subdues Bukowski as gently as possible, but ends up throwing him into a cactus plant.
Harry, appears in Reunion
Harry has just gotten out of an alcohol rehabilitation program and returns home to his girlfriend, Madge. He has no intention of sticking to an alcohol-free lifestyle, and immediately buys more beer. He is verbally and physically abusive to his girlfriend, but nevertheless values the sense of sanctuary that she brings to him when they are under the same roof.
Madge, appears in Reunion
Madge is Harry's girlfriend, a heavy drinker and smoker whom Harry suspects of infidelity. She hates it when he calls her names or hits her, but she remains with him because she truly loves him. She does not help enforce an alcohol-free lifestyle for Harry, and immediately offers him a drink when he returns home from rehab.
Jack Hendley, appears in Cunt and Kant and a Happy Home
Jack Hendley is a writer and gambler who loses money at the race track. He resents the other gamblers who he feels are losers and vagrants.
Dan Skorski, appears in The Stupid Christs
Dan Skorski, former rubber plant worker, is also a writer whose work is noticed by Mr. Signo at WorldWay books. Unfortunately, Skorski does not stay with WorldWay because his drinking consumes his life. He continues to drink in Tijuana, where, while intoxicated, he tries to pull down a statue of Jesus in a public park.
Mr. Signo, appears in The Stupid Christs
Mr. Signo is the robotic editor in chief of WorldWay books. His voice sounds tinny and metallic and he talks over people's heads when he speaks. He admires Skorski's writing but does not believe that Skorski's personal habits fit with WorldWay.
Benny Adimson, appears in Too Sensitive
Benny Adimson, colleague of the narrator's girlfriend, is a sensitive poet who loses his job on a delivery truck and therefore cannot write. He does not submit his poems for publication. The narrator's girlfriend knows that Adimson is too sensitive to work alongside her boyfriend at the post office.
Vera, appears in Rape! Rape!, No Stockings
Vera is a sensual, beautiful woman. She is curvy, alluring, and appears twice, both times as the elusive sexual partner of Bukowski. In "Rape! Rape!" Bukowski sees her wearing a tight yellow dress, and follows her home to rape her. Vera confesses that she loves to be raped, and actually asks him to be more physically brutal with her next time. She is the object of a male sex fantasy, until she diametrically changes and has Bukowski arrested for sexual assault.
In "No Stockings", Vera is a less willing participant in Bukowski's sexual script. He comes on to her, complimenting her curves and her sensual presence, but when he says that he could rape her for hours, she asks him to leave. Again, she calls the police and has him arrested. Her character is a mysterious one, at once hot then cold, largely due to the fact that the stories are told from a man's perspective.
Frank Evans, appears in An Evil Town
Frank Evans, pious Christian man, lives in a hotel in a morally bankrupt town. Homosexual sex rages at the movie theater, and even his own hotel desk clerk attempts to seduce him. Evans stabs the clerk and cuts off his penis, in order to protect his own moral purity. Evans is a figurehead intended to personify the hypocrisy of violently dogmatic religion.
Desk Clerk, appears in An Evil Town
The desk clerk, an innocent man who falls in love with Frank Evans, meets his end when he confesses his love to the homophobic and righteous man.
Mr. Sneed, appears in A Dollar and 20 Cents
Mr. Sneed is a sixty-year-old man who lives in a rented apartment by the ocean. He feels that he has wasted his life, a feeling that is compounded by a run-in with several young and disrespectful lovers. Uncomforted by his landlady or her thin chicken soup, Mr. Sneed dies in peace.
Mrs. Conners, appears in A Dollar and 20 Cents
Mr. Sneed's landlady who brings him a bowl of unappetizing soup in an attempt to comfort the lonely old man.
Maxie, appears in A Quiet Conversation Piece
Maxie is a large Jewish man currently studying to become a rabbi. He believes that a revolution can help wipe clean the problems of the United States in the same way that revolutions have helped other countries rid themselves of tyrants or social limitations.
Tina, appears in One for Walter Lowenfels
Tina is the narrator's four-year-old daughter. She lives with a moody, unpredictable, liberal mother, but she remains pure and kind, untouched by the unorthodox lifestyle she has had to live.
Gordon, appears in Animal Crackers in My Soup
Gordon is a Bukowski proxy, a lost man with a drinking problem who stumbles into Carol's house, penniless, to ask for a glass of water. He falls in love with Carol and becomes one of the animals in her zoo.
Carol, appears in Animal Crackers in My Soup
Carol is the owner and operator of the liberated zoo, a free spirit and loving member of the race of beings. She has sexual relationships with all of her animals, and her love keeps the animals peaceful and passive. She gives birth to a baby that is a combination of all of her animals.
This section contains 1,894 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)