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Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow


Thomas Ruggles Pynchon was born in 1937 in Glen's Cove, New York. He is the author of V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Slow Learner, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon. Nothing else is known of this author (not exactly true, but close enough to the truth to make that last blanket statement passable). He has attempted to veil himself in total obscurity and anonymity. For the most part, he has succeeded in this, save for a rare interview or two. In 1974 he received the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow. He would have been awarded The Pulitzer Prize as well, but his blatant disregard for narrative sequence led to a rift between the judges and the editorial board. Ultimately, the book was not selected. In fact, no book was chosen that year in the Fiction Category, the first (and only) time a work of fiction did not receive the award. The controversy that followed was considerable. Keeping this in mind, any attempt at an expurgated plot synopsis is laughable at best, therefore will be somewhat refrained from. However, given the brevity of this paper, it is possible to address the setting(s), the chief protagonist, and some interpretations concerning the title of this book.


The setting is World War II, and England is being devastated by Hitler's revenge weapon, the V-2 rocket. In response to this, two organizations, ACHTUNG--Allied Clearing House, Technical Units, Northern Germany; and PISCES--Psychological Intelligence Schemes For Expediting Surrender, embark on a quest which will carry them across the world in order to find a solution for this dilemma. That's about as simple as it gets; a cursory analysis of this story is comparable to trying to sum up the machinations of Astrophysics in Haiku form. For example, Roger Mexico, a character in the book, is a member of PISCES. He has the innate ability to take over people's daydreams so they can get on with their daily routine. In the book's first few chapters, he is delegated to the task of succoring a giant adenoid, which has been interfering with the thought processes of a high ranking British Official. And the story of Tyrone Slothrop is even stranger than Mexico's.


American Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop is the chief protagonist in this book (being the main character in a book containing over 400 of them is a tough call). Dr. Lazlo Jamf, a prominent Pavlovian researcher conditioned him at birth to experience erections as a response to a conditioned set of stimuli (a loud noise, etc.). Something went awry however. Slothrop is now in England, an adult, and being extremely promiscuous with its female denizens. He records each of his conquests by placing a star on a map of London. The real problem lies in the fact that the star showing each liaison is the exact location of a V-2 strike, usually a couple of days later (and no, Slothrop is not working for German Intelligence). Throw in Pavlovian Theory, Pouisson distributions, Ranier Marie Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Thermodynamics, Organic Chemistry, Chaos Theory (which was not even around at the time of the book's publication), Eliot's Wasteland, Kabbalistic rituals, the Signs of the Zodiac, and a myriad of erudite minutiae, and you have but scratched the surface of the book's concepts.


The title, Gravity's Rainbow, also leads to several interpretations concerning the book's content. A rainbow is a parabola, and could well represent the trajectory of the V-2 as it descends upon its target. Gravity is the force inside the path that pulls everything towards the center of the blast. It could also allude to the several interpretations of the colors of the electro-magnetic spectrum, as evinced in the rainbow, and the force (gravity) that pools all of these colors together. The colors could represent the varying aspects and cultures contained within the Human Race. The choices presented both in the title and in the story itself create a vast labyrinth, much in the way Borges conceives the workings of an elaborate universe.


This book is not for everyone. It is the most convoluted, non-linear, contradictory work of fiction I have ever encountered. It is also one of the most hysterical, challenging, harrowing, brilliant and beautiful. Pynchon clearly affirms Eliot's assertion that fiction and poetry must be difficult in order to capture the difficult modern world. Reading this work becomes a metaphor for examining life which exists on a disruptive continuum. From this book alone, Thomas Pynchon must be considered as one of the most important voices in 20th-Century literature.

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