Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Characters

The Narrator

The entire novel is told from the perspective of the narrator, a forty-year-old man who writes technical manuals for a living. He is undeniably based on Robert Pirsig, the book’s author, as the two’s biographies… (read full character analysis)


Phaedrus, named after an Ancient Greek Sophist who appears in Plato’s Socratic dialogue Phaedrus, is the name by which the narrator refers to the consciousness that once occupied his body. Phaedrus was a highly… (read full character analysis)

Chris Pirsig

Chris is the oldest son of the narrator/Phaedrus. He is eleven years old when he accompanies the narrator on the transcontinental motorcycle trip that forms the bulk of the storyline. Chris frequently… (read full character analysis)

John Sutherland

John is a friend of the narrator’s from Minneapolis. With his wife, Sylvia, John accompanies the narrator and Chris to Bozeman, Montana. John rides a BMW motorcycle that he has no interest in maintaining… (read full character analysis)


Aristotle was an Ancient Greek philosopher from the fourth century B.C.E., and a successor to Plato and Socrates. His rigid taxonomies of philosophical concepts have provided much of the groundwork for the western intellectual… (read full character analysis)
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Plato was an Ancient Greek philosopher who lived during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.E. He is famous for his Socratic dialogues, which depicted the philosopher Socrates in conversation with other thinkers; his work Phaedrus(read full character analysis)

The Chairman of the Committee

The Chairman of the Committee, a thinly veiled reference to the American academic Richard McKeon, oversees the interdisciplinary study program at the University of Chicago, in which Phaedrus enrolls. The Chairman is a staunch Aristotelian… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Sylvia Sutherland
Sylvia is John’s wife. She rides with him as they travel to Bozeman with Chris and the narrator. She shares John’s romantic aversion to technology.
Robert DeWeese
Robert “Bob” DeWeese teaches art at Montana State University in Bozeman. He and his wife, Gennie, are old friends of Phaedrus’s, and they host the narrator, Chris, and the Sutherlands when the travelers come to Bozeman.
Gennie DeWeese
Gennie DeWeese is Bob DeWeese’s wife. She and Bob talk with the narrator about his philosophy of Quality when he arrives in Bozeman with Chris and the Sutherlands.
Socrates was an Ancient Greek philosopher who lived during the fifth century B.C.E. He appears in many works by Plato, and in Phaedrus he uses his trademark style of logical argumentation to refute the rhetorician Phaedrus.
David Hume
David Hume was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher whose work, A Treatise of Human Nature, influenced Phaedrus’s understanding of intellectual reason and helped him shape his philosophy of Quality.
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was an 18th-century German philosopher who wrote A Critique of Pure Reason as a response to David Hume’s analyses of reason. Kant’s Critique marked a point of inflection in western philosophy, and was instrumental in guiding Phaedrus towards his philosophy of Quality.
Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu was an Ancient Chinese philosopher from approximately the sixth century B.C.E. His text, the Tao Te-Ching, established the Taoist religion. Phaedrus, after reading the Tao Te-Ching, realized that his concept of Quality is identical to Lao Tzu’s concept of Tao.
Jules Henri Poincaré
Jules Henri Poincaré was a French mathematician and philosopher who lived from 1854 to 1912. His struggles to answer mathematical and scientific questions that lay beyond the scope of scientific reason are very similar to the struggles Phaedrus experienced during his formative years.