preview

Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow

Satisfactory Essays
Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow

....."Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs..." These words begin the wondrous passage that introduces us to the world of Thomas Pynchon's latest masterpiece, Mason & Dixon. In an obvious parody of "A screaming comes across the sky," the opening of Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon sets the mood and pace for the rest of the novel. In contrast to the mindless pleasures, hopeless desperation, and ubiquitous death that dominate virtually every page of his apocalyptic earlier work, this novel begins with a joyful snowball fight between children on the streets of eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Indeed, the rest of the novel generally maintains this playful and happy tone. Unlike the sexually disturbed and socially displaced isolates that make up Pynchon's cast of prior heroes (or more aptly "anti-heroes"), the book focuses on the relationship of two normal men, Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason, who form an incredible bond of friendship. Needless to say, this has lead critics to wonder precisely what has happened to Pynchon in the last twenty years. Has marriage softened the author? Is this a "kinder, gentler" Pynchon for the nineties? To some extent, the fact that critics are still scrambling to explain the extreme differences between his previous work and Mason & Dixon may explain the relative paucity of literary criticism available on the new book to date.

.....I would like to take a small first step towards a better understanding of Mason & Dixon by considering Pynchon's conception of history, a theme which is crucial to both it and Gravity's Rainbow. In spite of all the differences, Mason & Dixon remains a scathing indictment of conventional history as true to Pynchon as any of his other works. Furthermore, beyond setting the mood and providing self-parody, the opening is the first of many passages which both link the book to Gravity's Rainbow, and suggest that beneath the happy surface of the novel lie omens of a bleak future. In this context, Mason & Dixon can be read as a meditation on the era in which the technology, philosophy, politics, and economics that plague the twentieth century were just being conceived. For Pynchon, modern history has a destructive trajectory like that of a rocket, a path that begins around the time Mason and Dixon are working on their line, and ends in the nightmarish world of Gravity's Rainbow.

.....Despite the fact that most of Pynchon's views remain a matter of constant debate in literary circles, scholars of Gravity's Rainbow seem to agree that Pynchon views history with a harshly skeptical postmodern eye.
Get Access