Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Chris is aloof, and he and the narrator ride south along the coast. They stop to look off a cliff, and the narrator grabs his son when he gets too close to the edge. Chris begins to complain, and the narrator realizes that Chris wants to hate him because he isn’t Phaedrus anymore. The narrator realizes that his inability to reconcile his own identity with Phaedrus leaves him unable to satisfy the role his son needs him to fulfill.
At long last, the narrator appears ready to confront the rift in his identity that he has left unaddressed throughout the book.
Themes
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Duality Theme Icon
The narrator observes that Chris’s inquisitive, combative nature reminds him of Phaedrus. The two stop at a diner, and Chris says he has no appetite because of a stomachache. The two then ride to a cliff, where the narrator explains to Chris that he is going to send him home. The narrator explains that he has been insane, and is likely to have another break. He also warns Chris that he, too, may be predisposed to insanity. Chris begins to wail uncontrollably. The narrator tries to reassure his son, but talks in a voice that is no longer his own.
This confrontation between the narrator and Chris is the emotional peak of their relationship. The narrator finally fulfills his obligation to explain his past to Chris.
Themes
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Duality Theme Icon
Chris asks the narrator why he refused to open the glass door between himself and his family at the hospital, and the narrator realizes that he may be in another dream. He explains to Chris that he was instructed not to open the door, and Chris confesses he thought it was because his father did not want to see him. The narrator begins to recall more of his time in the hospital as Phaedrus. Chris then asks whether the narrator was actually insane, to which the narrator responds no. Chris seems delighted to hear this, and says, “I knew it.” The two ride off on the motorcycle together.
The revelation that Phaedrus was not allowed to open the glass door is crucial. It illustrates that Phaedrus’s isolation from his family was not self-imposed, but rather provoked by external forces. This, in turn, validates the notion that Phaedrus was not insane. After all, his least sane action—refusing to open the glass door—was a result not of his own free will, but of his obedience to institutionally-ordained standards for behavior. The narrator's realization also fuels Chris's self-identification, as he no longer must contend with the idea that his father was crazy or that he himself might be predisposed to craziness.
Themes
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Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon