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 18, 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 18, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 3, Chapter 25 | Summary



As the narrator and Chris ride through a landscape blasted with heat, the narrator wonders why people like the Sutherlands are so unhappy with technology. One answer is they think it's ugly. The narrator doesn't understand how making things can be considered ugly. Many people disapprove of cheap modern materials, feeling, for example, that if an object is made of plastic, it's shoddy by default. But to the narrator, mass-produced plastics aren't bad; what makes them seem that way is the human habit of assigning Quality to objects. In fact, he says, Quality doesn't reside in "either the maker of the object or the object."

What's ugly is the fact that both the creators and the consumers of technology "feel no particular sense of identity with it." This is why it has no Quality. Quality exists only in the mind, and if the fabricators feel alienated from the objects they produce, they can't respect the process of producing them. If consumers can't recognize the beauty and ingenuity of the production process, they will automatically denigrate the object.

The narrator muses that peace of mind is essential to producing something that has Quality. A skilled mechanic or machinist has the peace of mind to be at one with the machine being worked on. He recalls the Zen concept that "Right thoughts produce right actions." And right actions, he says, produce items that have Quality. This is a central tenet of the narrator's philosophy.

Day moves toward evening, and the narrator begins to feel lonely and depressed. Once Chris is asleep, the narrator wonders what he should be saying to help his son. Perhaps there's nothing to say. Perhaps, he thinks, the relationship between one person and another is unknowable.


Earlier themes continue to arise in this Chautauqua. Unification and the merits of not being one way or the other come through clearly. Art and science, for instance, need to be merged so both artists and scientists have a "spiritual sense of gravity."

This ties back to the earlier musings on John and Sylvia with their leaky pipe, for example. Technology, separated from art and Quality, is alienating. This is contrasted with a wall in Korea that Phaedrus saw. It was beautiful not "because of any masterful intellectual planning," but because the people who worked on it "didn't separate themselves from the work in such a way as to do it wrong." The narrator continues to argue that the solution to this problem, as with many others, is unification. He seeks a "fusion of nature and the human spirit." The new creation that will arise will "transcend both."

As in prior chapters, the question of the Chautauqua is also connected to the frame story. The narrator is talking at great length on ways to overcome the alienation of technology, but the chapter closes with a very different kind of alienation: between father and son. The earliest part of the chapter has the physical landscape of enclosure and entrapment in the form of tall, narrow canyon walls. So both the literal journey and the Chautauqua address themes of isolation and alienation.

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