Form and Content
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance begins as a narrative account of a motorcycle trip that author Robert Pirsig took with his son Chris. It quickly becomes much more than a travel narrative, however, although it is replete with descriptions of the roads traveled and natural wonders observed along the way. The geography of the trip is carefully documented as well, so that it is not difficult to plot the trip along a standard road map.
The book is divided into four parts, with each part subdivided into chapters of various lengths. Sometimes the chapter divisions indicate units of time or geographical space covered, but more often, and probably more important, the divisions punctuate the philosophical discussion in which Pirsig engages. Early in the book Pirsig announces that the book will be a kind of “Chautauqua.” He explains that Chautauquas were “an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.” With these nonthreatening words, he launches into some serious philosophical investigations that eventually attempt to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western ways of thinking.
Since the trip takes place on a motorcycle, Pirsig uses the machine to focus some of his philosophical discussion. The friends who accompany Pirsig and his son as far as Montana, John and Sylvia Sutherland, approach technology from one...
(The entire section is 442 words.)