Pirsig reflects that his literary career is best viewed the way the Ancient Greeks viewed time: with the past receding from view and the future coming up from behind. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had been declined for publication 121 times before one editor decided to publish it, and neither Pirsig nor his editor expected the book to be at all successful. The enormous popularity the book achieved has come to dominate Pirsig’s outlook, while the future remains unknown.
Pirsig’s willingness to embrace this aspect of the Ancient Greek outlook shows that he has moved well past Phaedrus’s petty, egotistical jealousies.
Pirsig refers to his book as a “culture-bearing” work: it gives a “positive goal to work toward that does not confine,” at a moment when American counterculture yearned for exactly that. Hippies had rejected the capitalist American dream, but their ideology of freedom was an exclusively negative one, and Pirsig’s Zen approach to life offered a way to react positively to the cultural dissatisfaction of the sixties and seventies.
The narrator’s guidance for motorcycle maintenance is designed as a practical, constructive approach that helps address the problems o f contemporary life.
Chris has been murdered in a botched robbery, just weeks before his 23rd birthday. He was a student at the San Francisco Zen Center. Pirsig’s grieving causes him to recognize that Chris was not an object, but a “pattern,” and Chris’s death has removed the central part of that pattern. He likens the remnants of this pattern entity to the spirit or ghost.
Pirsig’s departure from scientific convention has helped him make sense of Chris’s senseless murder, and to be able to see an eternal nature to people, all of whom are patterns.
Pirsig’s wife became pregnant, and the couple initially decides to abort. Later on, they choose to keep the child, and a daughter named Nell is born. Pirsig thinks of Nell as a way of repairing the hole rent in the pattern by Chris’s murder.
By refusing to approach his tragic scenario with rigid values, Pirsig allows himself to appreciate, and benefit from, an unexpected development in his life.