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 January 24, 2019. 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 January 24, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 3, Chapter 18 | Summary



The long climb up the mountain wears Chris out. He stumbles, half on purpose, but refuses to stop and rest. Angrily, he tells the narrator the trip is no fun. To this, the narrator answers, "That may be true, but it's a hell of a thing to say."

As the narrator continues his climb, he thinks about Phaedrus's search into the meaning of Quality as Chris falls farther behind. Finally, he stumbles, says he has hurt his ankle, and begins to cry. This disgusts the narrator. Chris senses his father's resentment and feels ashamed of himself. The narrator decides to carry their backpacks up a stretch of the climb one at a time so the boy can rest while the narrator fetches the packs.

The flashbacks to Phaedrus's analysis of Quality lead to the conclusion that even though Quality cannot be defined, it definitely exists. The problem then, according to Phaedrus, is "those peculiar habits of thought called 'squareness' that sometimes prevent us from seeing [Quality]." The term squareness refers to the manner of an academic, scientific search for truth, rather than an experiential, living and breathing search. Quality cannot be defined through science, but it definitely exists. In fact, Quality cuts the world cleanly into two distinct halves: "hip and square, classic and romantic, technological and humanistic."

By remembering the intellectual meanderings of Phaedrus, the narrator gradually "works off" his resentment toward Chris. He soon realizes that reaching the top of the mountain shouldn't be his only goal. The real goal is "putting in good minutes, one after the other," despite Chris's tears. "I just don't know what it is," thinks the narrator, "It isn't just ... egotism that's making him this upset." Struggling to maintain the right mood, he tells Chris that he'll put the heavy gear into his own backpack and let Chris carry a lighter load. Naturally, this makes the narrator's climb much harder.

Finally, father and son stop to camp for the night. Chris seems cheerful and asks his father what he is "thinking all the time." Instead of talking about Phaedrus, the narrator chooses to say only that he's thinking about the weather and "things in general." Further questioning by Chris leads nowhere.


Again in this chapter the narrator alternates between his hike up the mountain with Chris and his memories of Phaedrus's life just before his breakdown. Now done with the problem of Quality—he will "hold Quality undefined"—Phaedrus begins to attack the process of analysis itself. Readers might note at this point that they are given little information about Phaedrus's childhood, family relationships, or life experiences that may have contributed to Phaedrus's insane compulsion to unravel a difficult philosophical conundrum. Because of the book's autobiographical nature, it is possible Pirsig, at the time of writing, does not fully understand the reasons for his mental breakdown himself.

In this chapter the reader sees the fracturing between father and son. What is unspoken here—but referenced elsewhere—is that Chris remembers Phaedrus. He sees his father now and the way his father had been, and to a child (possibly to anyone other than the narrator) there is only one man. The narrator self-defines his then and now as if there were two men. There were not; the child can see this but not the father.

Much of the trip is spent with Chris having no voice—and it is an acknowledged fact that Chris disagreed with the book and his portrayal in it. Chris, the DeWeeses, John and Sylvia, and the very landscape are all utilized as devices to put forth the ideas that the narrator is contemplating. There are moments, however, when the father shines through the philosopher. The narrator notices that his son is unhappy, that he is struggling and dissatisfied. Still, his solutions are shallow: carry the packs, offer to quit, reshift the contents of the pack. He does not share his thoughts, even when Chris asks about them. As the disconnect between father and son grows deeper, it seems the narrator either does not know what to do about it or chooses not to do much to resolve their issues.

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