Places: V

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1963

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: 1898-1956

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*New York City

*New VYork City. During the 1950’s, Benny Profane goes wherever events lead him. He spends time in Manhattan hanging out with a group of nihilistic bohemians who call themselves the Whole Sick Crew. One member of this group attempts suicide, another has an abortion; none seems undamaged or fully capable. They drink heavily, ride New York’s subways endlessly, and hang out at the V-Note, a jazz club on Third Avenue, and the Rusty Spoon, a bar on the outskirts of Greenwich Village. At the urging of a woman who is something of a girlfriend, Profane occasionally makes forays into the job market, for example working briefly as a volunteer hunting albino alligators in the city sewers.

Profane’s instincts win against his attempts at making a life for himself, however. With seemingly nothing better to do, he tags along when Herbert Stencil, who is obsessed with finding V., goes to Malta to investigate a tenuous lead about her presence there.


*Malta. Island republic on the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, that has historically occupied a strategic position on sea-lanes, and thus became the object of a long siege during World War II, in which it suffered constant attacks from Italian and German bombers. Amid this incredible ruin, V. appears as a woman dressed as a priest. Trapped under some rubble after a bombing, V. is disassembled by the children to whom she preaches her gospel of despair and death. The children remove her false eye, teeth, and other body parts, in a nightmarish reflection of what mechanized war is doing to human beings and their souls on Malta (or perhaps of what mechanized people and souls have created in World War II). Malta, midway between Europe and Africa, also stands as the intersection of the rational, mechanistic mentality symbolized by Europe and the irrational, corporeal mentality symbolized by Africa. Malta also symbolizes the confluence of opposites in that it is essentially a barren stone outcropping in the middle of a fertile sea.

One chapter of the novel is devoted to the story of a Maltese man who witnesses the siege and the agony of V. Additionally, the Mediterranean region figures in the experiences of Profane while he is in the Navy, before his days with the Whole Sick Crew. After World War II, it appears that the United States is reprising the historical role played by other empires that occupied the Mediterranean earlier in history. The novel leaves unresolved questions such as whether the whereabouts of a loser such as Profane and the rise and fall of empires are predetermined or matters of human volition.


*Africa. One chapter follows British colonialists engaging in a spy mission laced with slapstick and menace. Traveling across North Africa, V. assumes various disguises while apparently keeping a godlike watch on the antics of the spies, who seem less like conquerors than bumbling, murderous tourists.

*South-West Africa

*South-West Africa. Mandated territory (now independent Namibia) administered by the neighboring Union of South Africa after World War I. There, V.’s malignant presence is felt during the 1920’s, where a castle full of Europeans closes its gates to the outside while an African rebellion is put down. This small war, as one of the castle’s residents remarks with pleasure, recalls the horrors of the savagely suppressed Herero rebellion during the colony’s German period in 1904. The collective insanity of the Herero genocide and the decadent civilization represented by the castle are explicitly analogized as precursors to the Jewish Holocaust and World War II.

BibliographyHite, Molly. “Duplicity and Duplication in V.” In Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983. Challenges view of V.’s intrusive, enigmatic recurrence as a “puzzle.” Argues that metaphoric relations or repetition replace conventional linear narration.Levine, George, and David Leverenz, eds. Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976. An essential work of Pynchon criticism. Analyzes problems of identity that center on the desire to avoid randomness and the paranoid tendency to create order. Includes essays on women, apocalypse, language, and entropy in V. and an appendix with useful biographical data.New, Melvyn. “Profaned and Stenciled Texts: In Search of Pynchon’s V.” In Thomas Pynchon: Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Notes the reader’s role in creating systems of organization in artistic texts. Employs a generic distinction between the romance and the novel to examine how Pynchon’s text defies closure.Patteson, Richard. “What Stencil Knew: Structure and Certitude in Pynchon’s V.Critique 16, no. 2 (1974): 30-44. This study of point of view and narrative technique in Stencil’s pursuit of V. illustrates Pynchon’s thematic concern with the limitations of human knowledge.Slade, Joseph W. Thomas Pynchon. New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1974. The first book-length discussion of Pynchon’s fiction serves as an excellent introduction to this complex author. Traces dominant themes, motifs, allusions, and tensions in V. A helpful chronological approach unravels the novel’s time scheme.
Categories: Places