Violence and Vice: Acts of liberation in the works of Charles Bukowski

Simon Hertel


Foul imagery, graphic content and coarse language are the signature tools of Charles Bukowski’s writing. His works are replete with invective,outbreaks of societal norms, substance abuseand violence. The aim of this dissertation is to refute the prevalent opinion that such a vulgar style was solely adopted for its shock value. On the contrary, his gruesome depictions essentially served as expressions of liberation from a society to whose cultural convictions people like Bukwoski could no longer relate.Due to the revolutionary nature of the 20thcentury, deflating traditional ideals and exposing delusional values, the era of modernization left in its wake a society of disillusioned and alienated individuals. Especially in America, the stark contrast between the hopeful ideology of an American Dreamand the bleak reality of a life consumed by monotony and drudgery produced a cultural fabric from which Bukowski desperately tried to break away. To emancipate himselffrom the inhibitions and obstacles of everyday life, he adopts a radical lifestyle. Both Bukowski and the protagonists of his stories and poems lead lives of crime, of abuse and self-deprecation, of violence and vice. In this dissertation it will bearguedthat behind the façadeof escapism lurks a strong will to erupt from the barren stagnancies of society as a whole,exemplifying his lifestyle as a deliberate act of liberation that utilizes living at the fringes of society in order to break away from the oppressive status quo.Even the exceptionally graphic language of his works acts as a means to break the literary conventions of prudishness and shame.As such, Bukwoski’s advocacy of a secession from society by means of deteriorating to the farthest extremes should be recognized as a revolutionary action and serves as a suitable subject for analysis in the context of a dissertation.

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