Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Study Guide

Robert Pirsig

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 4, Chapter 32 | Summary



Now the narrator understands why Chris has felt troubled and anxious for so long. The narrator realizes, too, that "to have let him grow up alone would have been really wrong." Maybe, thinks the narrator, he can relieve Chris of his burden by acknowledging that he and Phaedrus are one and the same. "Be one person again!" he exhorts himself.

After a nap, father and son awake feeling more rested than they have in a long time. For the first time on the trip, the narrator allows Chris to ride without his helmet. Suddenly they don't have to shout at each other, and Chris notices how much more he can see with the helmet off. "I could never see over your shoulders before," he says. "All this time," realizes the narrator, "he's been staring into my back."

Chris asks if he can have a motorcycle when he grows up. The narrator says yes. "Is it hard?" asks Chris, and the narrator answers, "Not if you have the right attitudes." Chris wonders if he'll have the right attitudes. "I don't think that will be any problem at all," the narrator replies. He's thinking things are going to get better now and adds, "You can sort of tell these things."


The helmet discussed in this chapter represents an obstacle that prevented the narrator and Chris from communicating throughout the trip. Chris can see better now, his father understands why he can see better, and they can speak without having to shout. It also symbolizes the idea that sometimes opening up and being completely honest with loved ones requires risk, perhaps leaving one vulnerable and unguarded. Removing their guards, both Chris and his father may now be able to move forward and patch up their relationship.

In this happy scene, one detail jumps out: the narrator's statement, "To have let [Chris] grow up alone would have been really wrong." Readers may wonder how the narrator could ever have questioned this conclusion. However, severe depression sometimes causes sufferers to believe they are so flawed, their loved ones would be better off without them. It must come as a shock to readers to learn the narrator thought leaving Chris would be a positive action.

At the same time, knowing more about the narrator's state of mind explains some of the book's more troubling aspects. Like Phaedrus—and Chris—the narrator has been struggling throughout this saga. Like his motorcycle, he has needed tune-ups and maintenance; fixing the cycle has been a way of trying to fix himself. The reader closes the book hoping the narrator's future is as bright as it seems in this last chapter.

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