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 16, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 4, Chapter 31 | Summary



Chris is still unhappy the next morning, and the slugs crawling around the room don't do much to cheer up the narrator either. Chris dawdles and complains, repeatedly asking, "Why don't we just go back?" Readers may entertain the notion he's talking about more than the motorcycle trip. Now that Chris has made it clear he preferred his "former" father, the narrator feels he's been exposed as a hypocrite.

The narrator wallows in self-hatred at this point, certain that, in abandoning Phaedrus, he let his true self go. He does not seem to remember his earlier statement that what caused the "replacement" of Phaedrus with this new personality was his involuntary commitment to a mental institution. Of Phaedrus he says, "He was true to what he believed right to the end. That's the difference between us, and Chris knows it." Attributing this much perception to an 11-year-old shows the narrator isn't thinking clearly. Chris is worried and afraid; he's not sophisticated enough to suspect Phaedrus has been replaced by this imposter.

When the narrator suggests sending Chris home on a bus, he is surprised the boy does not seem relieved. He suggests they have a talk, and his first question is, "What about the future?" Chris doesn't have a good answer, and this surprises the narrator, too. Wishing to elicit any kind of response, he tells Chris, "You're looking at a father who was insane for a long time, and is close to it again ... This is going to be goodbye, and I'm not sure we'll see each other anymore."

Shockingly, the narrator adds that "they" are saying Chris is also insane—and that the narrator was the only one holding "them" back: "Now there won't be anyone. Do you understand?" Chris does not see this as a supportive speech, which again confounds the narrator. He realizes, "I'm not giving him strength," as Chris collapses and begins to wail, "I'm killing him."

But the harshness of his father's words gets Chris to open up about his fears. "Why did you leave us?" he cries, "Why wouldn't you open the door?" With a shock, the narrator realizes that Chris, too, remembers standing on one side of a glass door he couldn't open. At the time, he was too young to understand why his father had "abandoned" the family, and he couldn't understand why the narrator wouldn't just open the door that separated them. The narrator explains he wasn't allowed to open the door: "I had to do everything they said." To this, Chris answers he thought his father hadn't wanted to see them. Then he bursts into tears and cries for a long time.

When Chris stops crying, he finally asks, "Were you really insane?" "No!" answers the narrator. "I knew it," says Chris, his eyes sparkling.


In the Introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of the book, Pirsig discusses this pivotal chapter at length. "Many people have noticed that the ending somehow does not clear things up, that something is missing," says Pirsig, "Some have called it a 'Hollywood ending' that undermines the artistic integrity of the book." Those people are right, Pirsig adds, but he never planned to write a feel-good ending: "A much different ending was intended that was not sufficiently clear." Pirsig had meant to show that the narrator maligned Phaedrus throughout the book and that "an honorable Phaedrus" now triumphs over the narrator. In the end, however, Chris's agony releases Phaedrus. Chris asks his father, "Were you really insane?" It is Phaedrus, not the narrator, who answers "No." "The dissembling narrator has vanished," and Chris knows he's talking to his long-lost father again.

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