Charles Bukowski & The Use Of Conflict In Storytelling

Conflict is typically central to a story. It can be some internal conflict that a character is trying to resolve, it can be a conflict with another character that needs to be addressed or it may even be a conflict regarding meaning or purpose in life that the character is trying to figure out. It is a need that the character must face and has to face.

In some ways, writing is about having a character and understanding what the character dislikes, hates, what he doesn’t want to happen, what he is avoiding, what makes him uncomfortable and then, having the character confront all of these things constantly throughout the text and see how he reacts and changes.

Knowing this, when one reads The Post Office by Charles Bukowski, the simple narrative structure gives rise to constant conflict, resolution, conflict, resolution cycles. As the reader, we follow the life of the main character, Chinaski, who attempts to find a stable job, a good relationship and to do something meaningful in his life while his self-sabotaging tendencies create conflict with other characters and ruin different aspects of his life which he then attempts to either mend or simply move on to some other woman or line of work, while still harboring conflict creating attitudes.

The idea of conflict is what sticks out as you read the text. Sometimes the conflict is resolved in a single page and other times the conflict runs the course of the text. Whether it is Chinaski’s conflict with the Jonstone, his boss at the post office, conflict over the placement of a hat at the workplace, conflict with his girlfriend’s father, conflict at the funeral over flowers, conflict caused by the schemas he has to learn, conflict with his coworker Janko, conflict with a pimp, conflict when he gets his girlfriend pregnant, the fire at the workplace is another conflict, the decrease in water fountains acts as conflict too and so on.

The text is riddled with minor and major issues that the character has to deal with and confront. These conflicts are either caused by other characters or they are a result of Chinaski’s character flaws. An example of such a flaw being the issue of the hat. Whether it is Chinaski’s attitude, pride or ego, he rather come into conflict with his supervisor instead of abiding by the new rule of placing hats in one’s own locker.

The story is driven by the main character but, it is the interaction of that character with people, things, feelings, emotions that cause conflict that fills out the text. In the Post Office, one is reading about a degenerate womanizer who is drunk most of the time however, it is still interesting and captivating because, through the resolutions or the lack of resolution of these conflicts, the reader can reflect on their own choices and decisions and take away either how to act or most likely in this case, how not to act.

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