Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Study Guide

Robert Pirsig

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Course Hero. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed December 16, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.


Course Hero, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide," September 20, 2017, accessed December 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary



Building on the sense of unease he introduced in Chapter 1, the narrator opens Chapter 2 with the remark: "Lately there's been ... something peculiar about this road, apprehension about something, as if we were being watched or followed." Subtly, almost invisibly, he may be hinting at his first awareness of Phaedrus, his alter ego from before he had a mental breakdown.

The travelers are nearing the Dakotas now, and the landscape of the Central and Great Plains is gradually opening up. This, too, the narrator finds faintly troubling: "I have a feeling none of us fully understands what four days on this prairie in July will be like." John Sutherland is worried Sylvia won't hold up well when she's faced by such monotony; he'd like her to fly across the Great Plains and meet up with them again in Montana. The narrator is more confident Sylvia will be able to handle the trip across the Plains.

The horizon shows signs of an approaching cold front that may mean bad weather. The narrator recalls a previous cycle vacation he took with Chris (then eight), when the rain became so bad the motorcycle broke down and the trip had to be abandoned. Two weeks after the vacation was over, the narrator realized the real problem: the cycle had been out of gas.

John interrupts the narrator's reverie to point out that they've missed a turn. "I hardly noticed," thinks the narrator, "and just now I forgot to tell them about the storm." (The storm clouds are still approaching.) The narrator remembers another ill-fated motorcycle trip, when his cycle needed an overhaul and the mechanics badly botched the job. He compares the experience to reading badly written technical manuals: "Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted." He conjectures that the "separation of what man is from what man does" could be "what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century."


Pirsig's reference to the gathering storm clouds exemplifies a form of personification known as pathetic fallacy, in which a writer ascribes human emotions to natural phenomena. Emotional storms, both present and future, are much on the narrator's mind.

Once again there's a hint of ominous foreshadowing when the narrator mentions the Sutherlands. One danger sign is John's worry about how well Sylvia will handle this leg of the trip; another is the narrator's lack of concern about the same thing. It worries the narrator that if Sylvia takes a plane for part of the trip, it would set up a "disharmony" between herself and the other three travelers: "Anyway, I like to talk to her and I'm thinking of myself too." It is a mild enough remark, but it suggests a conflict between John and the narrator that has nothing to do with their differing views on technology.

The narrator's flashback to his earlier ill-fated trip with Chris also seems to foreshadow events on this trip. Taking an extended motorcycle trip with an eight-year-old may strike the modern reader as being more fun for the father than the son. Though he freely accepts his share of blame for the way things turned out, the narrator seems strangely callous about Chris's disappointment that the vacation had to be cut short: "Chris kept asking questions that started to anger me because he didn't see how serious it was." When Chris finally realized the trip was over, "he began to cry. He was eight then, I think." "I think" is a strangely detached utterance: this detail could easily have been checked. Readers may already wonder if the narrator/father finds it hard to keep his son's best interests front and center.

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