Male Loneliness: Dostoevsky, Kafka and Bukowski

Dosti Regmi

Crime and Punishment is one of Dostoevsky’s best literary works. Raskolvikov is the male protagonist of this novel. Out of his rationalism that if the end is good, the means doesn’t matter and he kills a pawnbroker.  Maybe he dreamt of being a hero like Napoleon who also was a common man before his rise.  But then follows a deep psychological dilemma and turmoil. He is isolated and only after a tender love from another unfortunate but religious minded Soniya he confesses and gets relieved of his turmoil. Dostoevsky’s male character is isolated but finds solace in love.

Franz Kafka was a prophet of nihilism and doom. Gregor is the main character of Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis”. He works as a traveling salesman in order to provide money for his family. He wakes up one morning finding himself transformed into an insect. After the metamorphosis, Gregor becomes unable to work and is confined to his room. His family wanted to get rid of “it” (not “him” anymore). So he starves himself to death. It depicts an isolated male character who is forsaken even by his family when he can no longer bring money home. Nothing comes to his rescue. For Kafka, Life is absurd. We are all alone and alienated. For this poor son of man, some troubles come from within and some fall from the sky upon his unprotected head and there is no shelter or escape.

Charles Bukowski is an honest writer from America. He writes less bullshit and more in depth. He is an artist rather than an intellectual. As he says, “An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.” All his life he wrote and wrote, held odd jobs and finally got noticed in his forties. His protagonist in his autobiographical novel Post Office is a failed isolated man who works 11 years in post office and is penniless, alone and has failed in the gender role of being a male and thinks being a male is his flaw. For Bukowski gender relation was man’s biggest failure and personally he always had love-hate relationships with women. In his novel Women he says:

“Women: I liked the colours of their clothing; the way they walked; the cruelty in some faces; now and then the almost pure beauty in another face, totally and enchantingly female. They had it over us: they planned much better and were better organized. While men were watching professional football or drinking beer or bowling, they, the women, were thinking about us, concentrating, studying, deciding – whether to accept us, discard us, exchange us, kill us or whether simply to leave us. In the end it hardly mattered; no matter what they did, we ended up lonely and insane.” But for Bukowski failure is freedom. For his alienated character, Bukowski’s recipe is self-love. He says, “If you have the ability to love, love yourself first. Cherish your solitude.”

Male loneliness has been a silent epidemic. It even creep into marriages. In fact, they were found to be over 30 per cent more likely than their single counterparts to claim they have no one to turn to. This suggests that its marriage itself, rather than being a long-term relationship, cuts existing male family and friendship ties. Females are good at making social circles. Research suggests that men bond more during shared, intense experiences for example, drinking or group sporting activities. Women, on the other hand, find making friendships easier and see more options, forging pals with other parents they meet through children’s schools, clubs or sports teams.

Yet, I ponder: Is it not the thought itself that alienates a man from others? The thought that you are separate. The thought that you are rational and logical and hence true. What if Raskolnikov did not have the utilitarian ideal and rationale? Did his rationale outlive his act? How could his rationale defend himself? If Kafka would not have had his traumatized childhood by family issues and his own marriage called off twice, he would not have had the prejudice towards the family. What if Bukowski did not have that thought of distaste for where and how he lived and with whom he coinhabited (woman)? The world would be a better place if we loved ourselves and loved each other. Starting with self-love is an answer to knock the man’s loneliness out of the pedestal.