“The most beautiful women in town” is a short story written by Charles Bukowski. The short story was published in 1967 together with a collection of other short stories. Similar to many of Bukowski’s other stories, this short story describes a “Los Angels bar culture”. Bukowski is known to write about themes concerning sex, alcoholism, gambling and violence. Bukowski's writing was heavily influenced by the geography and atmosphere of his home city of Los Angeles.
In this analysis I will focus on my interpretation of what Bukowski wants to tell us concerning beauty, depression, objectification, and women in the society. What kind of message is in the story, and which literary devices is he using in order to get the message out? Why does Cass behave the way she does? Why do the first-person behave the way he does? I am also going to focus on the style in the text and its significance for the message of the story. In addition I am going to include some of my personal opinion.
Narrator and point of view
In the story, it is three characters: Cass, a man and a bartender. The two main characters are the man and Cass, whereas the bartender is a minor character. The short story is written in first-person narrative; the first person is the man, whom we do not know the name of, and the story is described from his point of view. This means that the narrator is the man from the town.
In the text, we often meet the first-person in a bar called the West End Bar, and he drinks a lot. Accordingly, the main character in the short story is obviously a barfly. The culture that is described in the short story is a bar culture. Furthermore, the environmental atmosphere in the short story is a little sad and gloomy. The setting is by the coast in the US. It is in Los Angeles. However, the atmosphere is more important to the story than Los Angeles.
Cass is very beautiful and quite fiery. But Cass does not seem to like being pretty. Conversely, she does not appreciate her beauty. It appears that Cass does not think that being pretty is something positive. As a result of this she injures herself. It actually looks as if she gets a malicious pleasure by doing it. Owing to her beauty and the way she is depicted I get the impression that she has been objectified most of her life. Furthermore, by reading the text I am given the impression that she does not cope with reality.
At some point in the story, the first-person describes Cass as a schitzi:
“She kissed me, rather grinning through the kiss and holding the handkerchief to her nose. We left for my place at closing time. I had some beer and we sat there talking. It was then that I got the perception of her as a person full of kindness and caring. She gave herself away without knowing it. At the same time she would leap back into areas of wildness and incoherence. Schitzi. A beautiful and spiritual schitzi. Perhaps some man, something, would ruin her forever. I hoped that it wouldn't be me.”
Regarding this, he point out something of importance to her character. He point out that she is ambiguous; In one way, he gets the perception of her as a person full of kindness and caring, but at the same time, he gets the perception of her as wild and incoherence, both issues displayed in the text I referred to above. Additionally, this extract from the short story displays foreshadowing. The notice we receive from this is in the sentence: “A beautiful and spiritual schitzi. Perhaps some man, something, would ruin her forever. I hoped that it wouldn't be me.” In reference too this, it is a foreshadowing.
I believe that Cass is hurting herself because she wants to show people that she is not just a beautiful object, but also an individual with a personality and feelings. I think it was her way of calling attention too the fact that she also had feelings and could feel pain. She did not want other to look at her at her as just a sex machine and beauty object. I think that she for the first time felt that someone saw in excess of her beauty, but when he responded so unfeeling and relaxed about everything she lost her hope of being loved for who she was.
The sort of conflict that confronts Cass is both external and internal due to the fact that they are linked together; She is beautiful, but she does not take pleasure in it because she feels that people only see her beauty and not her personality. Hence, she has an external problem because she dislikes her beauty, and she has an internal problem with it in view of the fact that it seems to make a major impact on her. She feels that men only are interested in her body and not in her personality. Or as Cass says it in the short story: “I thought they were interested in me, not just my body.”
The main character – the first-person
The first person in the story appears as a solitary person. A example which accentuate this, is when the first-person has come back after six months and Cass asks what he is doing:
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Nothing. I can't get on to anything. No interest."
"Me neither. If you were a woman you could hustle."
"I don't think I could ever make contact with that many strangers, it's wearing."
"You're right, it's wearing, everything is wearing."
He seems to be indifferent and sluggish. It seems to be no guts in him; he is a wimp. Further on, the argument that he uses for the fact that he does not want to be a hooker is that he does not want to make that close a contact with so many strangers. He says it is wearing. Do not misunderstand me, of course it is wearing, but it implicates that he is unsociable and do not like too much human contact.
Moreover nothing seems to make a major impact on him, apart from when Cass is dead. When she dies he blames himself.
The first-person describes himself as the ugliest man in town, which is a contrast to Cass due to the fact that Cass is described as the most beautiful woman in town. In other words, Bukowski uses contrast as a literary device.
Language and style
The language in the short story is very easy to understand. It is not dramatic but rather casual. Basically, it is easy to read. Furthermore, the significant in the text is the style (in which way it is written). The style is very colloquial. In other words, it is very casually. Lovemaking and love is described casually. As a matter of fact, death is actually described casually. A good example of this is when the he is being told that Cass has committed suicide:
“I sat and waited for Cass. Hours went by. After I was fairly drunk the bartender said to me, "I'm sorry about your girlfriend."
"What is it?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, didn't you know?"
"Suicide. She was buried yesterday."
"Buried?" I asked. It seemed as though she would walk through the doorway at any moment. How could she be gone?
"Her sisters buried her."
"A suicide? Mind telling me how?"
"She cut her throat."
"I see. Give me another drink."
(Bukowsk, “The Most Beautiful Women In Town”: 6 -7)
Another example that point out the casualness of the narrator is when he just moves away for six months as it was no big deal:
I left town for 6 months, bummed around, came back. I had never forgotten Cass, but we'd had some type of argument and I felt like moving anyhow, and when I got back I figured she'd be gone, but I had been sitting in the West End Bar about 30 minutes when she walked in and sat down next to me.”
Style is actually very important for this short story, because the style is linked to the point of view and the narrator. The style implies that the narrator (which is the first-person) is indifferent and apathetic. He seems very careless and insensible.
How does the author handle the characterization?
The author handles the characterization of the first-person by the actions of the character, and by conversation between the characters, and by description, where he as the first-person describes the situation. So you could say that the author uses a combination these methods to describe the first-person.
As I referred to earlier, we learn to know him through his actions, dialogues, descriptions, thoughts and emotions. Nevertheless I never truly feel that I get under his skin and into the heart and the mind of him. The only time that I to a certain extent felt that I got into his heart and mind was in the end of the story, when he is feeling guilty and angry for being to offhand about everything, lazy and unconcerned.
When I read the story I got the impression that the characters were not present in their life; they are there physically, nevertheless they does not always seem to be mentally or emotionally present. I think that Cass wanted to be there more emotionally; she tried to feel alive through hurting herself. But contrary to her he was never really alive. Likewise he indicates that he does not feel really alive as he says that he deserved his death and hers.
I drank until closing time. Cass was the most beautiful of 5 sisters, the most beautiful in town. I managed to drive to my place and I kept thinking, I should have insisted she stay with me instead of accepting that "no." Everything about her had indicated that she had cared. I simply had been too offhand about it, lazy, too unconcerned. I deserved my death and hers.
Moreover it is valuable to notice these words: “I should have insisted she stay with me instead of accepting that "no." Everything about her had indicated that she had cared. I simply had been too offhand about it, lazy, too unconcerned.” In connection with this, it implies that he is blaming himself feeling repentance for the fact that he had not given himself away more. As he says, he had been too offhand about it, lazy, and too unconcerned. However, it appears that he has an incapability to give himself away. On the other hand he has an “indifferent-attitude”. I think that he has this trait for the reason that he is afraid of ending up getting hurt. In other words: he believes that nothing can affect him if he does not care. And it is reasonable, at least I feel this way sometimes. I think we all do that. It is a sort of defense mechanism, which is apparent within him.
The themes in “The Most Beautiful Women In Town” are: Depression, objectification, beauty, women and life. One can also find traces of the mundane in the story.
In addition, I think that communication also is a theme. I would base this assumption of the fact that Cass and the first-person seems to have certain problems with communicating, despite the fact that the first-person describes that the talk between them always comes easy. Because, in spite of this, we never hear them say that they love each other, apart from the occurrence when the first-person says to Cass "I can't stop laughing... Cass, bitch, I love you...stop destroying yourself; you're the most alive woman I've ever met." Overall, it does not look as if they tell each other just how much they mean to each other. I do believe that he deep in his heart appreciate her. But on the other hand, when I read the story, I get a feeling that he does not appreciate her.
Objectification is a theme in the sense that the woman in the story, Cass, is objectified. It has to do with men seeing women as objects. In the story is Cass objectified by the main character, which is a man. Cass is a good example of a beautiful women, whom feels objectified by others and due to this she becomes quite depressed and starts haggling her beauty. I think that Bukowski wants to say that although someone is very beautiful it is not always a advantage for being happy; it can possibly be the opposite because so many does not look behind your beauty, and also many, especially women, gets jealous of your beauty, besides, people can start seeing you as an object. In addition, I think that Bukowski exemplify to us, how we in many ways, objectify each other and forget to see contemplate the personality.
In my opinion Bukowski’s message is that we should live our life’s by being there in the moment, present in our lives, and not as objects concerned about their looks` and maybe also their career. I also believe that Bukowski’s message is that we have to seize our chance to love when we got it, because some day it may not be there. So in that case: seize the moment!
“The night kept coming and there was nothing I could do.” This is the last sentence, which ends the story. This sentence is an image, that Bukowski use as a literary device. Furthermore, it is an image of the consequences of his actions. Secondly it is an image of his sort of “indifferent-attitude”. It sort of call attention too the fact that he could have acted differently and been there for her further emotionally and mentally.
A Slice of life
The short story is apparently a slice of life image. The signs we perceive from this are that the persons struggle to cope with reality, and that they have difficult relationship, both issues displayed in a down to earth style.