Places: Gravity’s Rainbow

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1973

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical realism

Time of work: 1944-1945

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Gravity’s RainbowCapital of Great Britain in which the novel opens during the final days of the European theater of World War II. Although Germany is facing almost certain defeat, it continues to bombard London with V-2 rockets–weapons of great psychological power because the noise they make while approaching and striking their targets gives a menacing resonance to the military’s use of the word “theater” to describe war zones.

*The Zone

*The Zone. Parts of Western Europe liberated from German occupation. As the war ends, Slothrop travels from London to the liberated zone, in which former national boundaries have not yet been fully reestablished. As the Allies negotiate over the spoils of their victory, Slothrop travels on a quest for information on the V-2 rocket. His sometimes frantic search is motivated by his paranormal intuition regarding his own personal connection to the rocket. He is in danger, he knows, because he has aroused the curiosity of powerful intelligence agents who have discovered his ability to predict exactly where the rockets would strike in London. Slothrop reasons that he needs to uncover information about the rockets that will explain his intuitive powers, which he does not understand.

For Slothrop, the zone is a study hall in which he needs to lose his innocence. Everyone is looking for something: drugs, money, power, revenge, redemption, and most of all information. The places Slothrop visits in the Zone include the Casino Hermann Göring, a posh Riviera gambling casino named after a top Nazi that has not yet had its name changed to something more appropriate for the victors. He also visits cafés and apartments in Geneva, Zurich, and Berlin that are filled with spies and drug fiends; the underground German rocket factory at Nordhausen; Potsdam, a German town dedicated, before the “theater” of the war, to making movies; Peenemünde, where V-2 rockets were tested; and various bodies of water. The vessels Slothrop encounters or hears of include a U-boat hijacked by Argentine anarchists and a black marketeer’s large speedboat on which a group of musicians, chorus girls, and a troupe of performing chimpanzees get into some cases of vodka and start a riot. Slothrop also travels on a balloon laden with pies and descends on a train underground into what remains of the V-2 assembly line.

The seeming anarchy of the zone does not entirely conceal its rigid, ruthless order. To Slothrop, the zone is a tightly controlled “rocket-state.” At all times, even as he constantly changes identity and zigzags across Europe, he is aware that he is not merely being followed but is being anticipated. He can never be sure he has escaped his role as a pawn in some larger drama.

*Los Angeles

*Los Angeles. Southern California capital of the movie industry and the center of secret weapons development. During the 1970’s, a specially produced rocket that was the particular object of Slothrop’s quest that was launched in Europe in 1945 comes down. The rocket apparently carries a nuclear payload and triggers World War III.

Gravity’s rainbow

Gravity’s rainbow. Allusion to the parabolic shape of the flight path of a rocket. A realm of mathematically described space is on locales that exist on levels at once as real as a wartime bombardment and as allegorical as geometry.

BibliographyClerc, Charles, ed. Approaches to “Gravity’s Rainbow.” Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983. The work features a series of collected critical essays that address the novel from a variety of perspectives, including history, comedy, and psychology.Hume, Kathryn. “Repetition and the Construction of Character in Gravity’s Rainbow.” Studies in Contemporary Fiction 33 (Summer, 1992): 243-255. Discusses Pynchon’s forcing his characters to deal with a recurring set of pressures as an implication that he prefers to deal with humanity at large rather than individual characters in detail.Safer, Elaine B. The Contemporary American Comic Epic. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988. Critical essays on the works of John Barth, Pynchon, William Gaddis, and Ken Kesey are included. The work addresses Pynchon’s dark humor.Scholes, Robert. Fabulation and Metafiction. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1979. Discusses the twentieth century tendency toward allegory and the grotesque and makes multiple references to the work of Pynchon.Siegel, Mark Richard. Pynchon: Creative Paranoia in “Gravity’s Rainbow.” Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1978. Discusses the work of Pynchon according to point of view, narrative structure, and metaphor.
Categories: Places