Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The group is forced to travel through a more populous area in order to cross the Missouri River. As they reenter the prairie, the narrator thinks more about the difference between his approach to motorcycle maintenance and John’s. He recalls one instance where John refused the narrator’s easy fix for his shaky handlebars simply because it involved an improvised part, not a factory-issued one.
The contrast between John’s and the narrator’s approaches to motorcycle maintenance is used to highlight a fundamental duality in contemporary western thought.
Themes
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
The narrator realizes that he and John regard motorcycles—and reality in general—in a completely different manner. John subscribes to a reality of “immediate artistic appearance,” while the narrator is more focused on scientific reasoning.
Much of the narrator’s later philosophizing aims to reconcile the differences he perceives between John’s emotional approach and his own more rational one.
Themes
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
While setting up camp, Chris acts out and subtly disobeys his father. Chris complains excessively and unreasonably, rankling John and Sylvia as well as his father. The boy refuses his dinner and walks away from the camp complaining of a stomachache.
From the reader’s perspective—and that of John and Sylvia—Chris’s disobedience is hard to justify.
Themes
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
The narrator reveals to John and Sylvia that Chris suffers frequent stomachaches that rarely have any physiological basis. These pains were diagnosed as precursors of mental illness. When John and Sylvia hear this, their frustration with Chris turns to sympathy. The narrator goes on the explain to them that in spite of this diagnosis, he cannot stand to send Chris to a psychiatrist—the medical professionals lack the empathy and concern of family.
Until the narrator revealed its origins, Chris’s misbehavior was difficult to justify in John and Sylvia’s worldview. The narrator’s revelation expands their logic and their empathy. Furthermore, the narrator’s reluctance to seek psychiatric treatment for Chris illustrates his jaded view of the mental health community.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
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Chris returns to the tent and gets ready for bed with his father, whining interminably. He cries himself to sleep. Meanwhile, the narrator lies in his sleeping bag, exhausted but unable to sleep. He has a haunting vision of Phaedrus, whom he describes as an “Evil spirit. Insane. From a world without life or death.” The narrator fears that Phaedrus has come to claim Chris.
The narrator’s conflict with Phaedrus mounts, and Phaedrus’s role becomes still more mysterious and threatening.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon