Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Robert Pirsig

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

The travelers move through the prairie, and a storm hits. They take refuge in a town, and the narrator surprises his companions with an uncanny knowledge of where to find the best motel in town. At the motel, Chris asks to hear ghost stories. Initially, the narrator debunks ghosts as irrational fantasy. Chris then explains that an American Indian friend of his believes in ghosts, and his father reverses his position. The narrator explains to his companions that the laws of science are no more reasonable than a belief in ghosts, as both are simply fabrications of the human mind.
The narrator’s almost supernatural behavior suggests that there is more to his persona than has been revealed so far. His philosophical discussion is the first of many in-depth explorations about the nature of reason.
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John and Sylvia are taken aback by the ideas the narrator expounds, and the conversation winds down. Later, in bed, Chris asks to hear another ghost story. The narrator tells him about a man named Phaedrus, who spent his life hunting for a ghost, only to become a ghost himself. Chris asks more questions, but his father snaps at him to go to sleep.
This episode marks the first explicit mention of Phaedrus, a man who, as the text will later indicate, has deeply influenced the narrator’s personality.
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Lying awake, the narrator confesses to the reader that Phaedrus has seen the land the group now travels through, and has led them to this motel. The narrator also confesses that the ideas he elaborated about science and ghosts actually belonged to Phaedrus, and hopes that Phaedrus will allow him to sleep after making this confession.
Though this confession seems obscure and difficult to interpret, later discussion of Phaedrus’s identity will reveal that he can only be introduced in an oblique manner.
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