Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 1 Episodes 6 8 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 1, Episodes 6–8 : Beyond the Zero | Summary



Part 1, Episode 6

It is midnight the same night. Roger Mexico and Jessica Swanlake are driving to a "rendezvous with a certain high-class vivisectionist." (Vivisection is the dissection of or operation on living animals.) The man they will rendezvous with is Ned Pointsman, a behavioral psychologist who does psychology experiments on animals. Jessica wonders why Pointsman himself "pinches" or captures his experimental dogs at night.

Both Mexico and Jessica are in difficult moods. Mexico remembers first meeting Jessica: "It was what Hollywood likes to call a 'cute meet.'" Jessica was struggling with "a busted bicycle" and Mexico drove up in a Jaguar. Jessica asked if his mother knew he was out there, and Mexico replied, "My mother is the war." He is a statistician who works in the White Visitation alongside the spiritualists. He does not feel at home there.

They drive past soldiers putting out a fire in a London building. Mexico and Jessica do not stop to help with the fire. They are veterans of the Battle of Britain, the German bombing raids over Britain in 1940 and 1941. Mexico recalls telling Jessica that after "one has pulled one's nth victim free," crises stop being so "personal."

As a result of being tired of the war, Jessica and Mexico are at "the beginnings of gentle withdrawal" from the state of war. When they can, they spend time together in a deserted house "in the stay-away zone ... south of London," an evacuated area, where "there's never much talk but touches and looks." The episode began with Jessica and Mexico nearly fighting. It ends on the note: "They are in love. Fuck the war."

Part 1, Episode 7

Late at night, toward dawn, Jessica, Mexico, and Pointsman have met at the rendezvous point. In bombed-out ruins, Pointsman is trying to capture a dog for his psychological experiments. Pointsman will give the dog a Russian name, like Ilya or Sergei, in honor of the Russian behaviorist psychologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Pointsman steps into an empty toilet from a bombed house. He stomps around with his foot stuck in the toilet.

Jessica remarks to Mexico she ought to be at home on this rainy night, "cuddling someplace with Beaver," her boyfriend. Mexico is furious with jealousy. He then turns his focus to Pointsman. They attempt to trap the dog, but it flees. Also, Pointsman is hampered by the toilet stuck on his foot. Mexico is himself hampered by having inhaled some of the ether meant to anesthetize the dog. Pointsman gives up. He wonders if he ought to start "branching out," perhaps with other test subjects. Mexico sometime thinks Pointsman "wants him. As one wants a fine specimen of dog" to experiment on.

Mexico and Jessica drive Pointsman to "the Hospital of St. Veronica of the True Image for Colonic and Respiratory Diseases." Pointsman goes there to talk "Dr. Kevin Spectro, neurologist and casual Pavlovian."

Part 1, Episode 8

It is just moments after Part 1, Episode 7, still late at night. In St. Veronica's Hospital, Kevin Spectro and Pointsman sit near the war-neurosis ward. Spectro's task that night is to sedate patients who wake in the night and cry out. He refers to them all as Fox, "his generic term for any patient."

Pointsman complains to Spectro about his boss, Brigadier Pudding. They also talk about Slothrop. They wonder how he is reacting to the bomb sites before the bombs hit. "Imagine a missile one hears approaching only after it explodes," Pointsman thinks, but somehow Slothrop can "feel them coming." He does not think the phenomenon is supernatural.

Spectro treats traumatized patients. When they abreact (a psychoanalytic term meaning to release emotions, especially those repressed or tied to a particular memory), they are liberated for a moment: "Out of each catharsis rise new children, painless, egoless for one pulse of the Between." Pointsman "lusts after them, pretty children."

Instead of a person for his experiments, Pointsman will get an octopus he names Grigori. Spectro talks him into accepting the octopus. They respond well to visual stimuli, he says. Pointsman says an octopus is useless precisely because it's visually oriented. Slothrop must be responding to the rocket's sound, not the sight of it. In frustration, Pointsman says he needs "not a dog, not an octopus, but one of your fine Foxes ... One, little, Fox!"


The scenes with Jessica and Mexico alone raise the question of to what extent private domestic life can escape the war effort. Jessica and Mexico are not unpatriotic. She is an ATS private (the women's branch of the British Army), and he is a statistician working for the military. But they are both weary "alumni of the Battle of Britain," too burned out to pitch in with the firemen who attempt to rescue inhabitants of a burning building. Mexico, being a statistician, describes their exhaustion in mathematical lingo: "One has pulled one's nth victim ... free of the nth pile of rubble." They seek a part-time escape, a "gentle withdrawal." They are not seeking withdrawal from Britain so much as defection from a newer, more abstract nation called "the war's state."

One element blocking their escape from the war is the way home life becomes part of the war effort, at least on the level of propaganda. The novel analyzes the "Home Front" as "something of a fiction and lie." The "home front" refers to civilian efforts to support the military. It is metaphorically represented as another, equally important, battlefield ("front"). Jessica and Mexico feel the lie of the home front is "designed ... to draw them apart" and to "subvert love in favor of work, abstraction, required pain, bitter death." Thus Jessica and Mexico's hideaway home is also a node of entropy, a place where their energy is unavailable to the work of the war. This note of principled rebellion gives the young lovers' "us against the world" stance an unusual depth.

But Mexico also styles himself as intimately related to the war: "The war is my mother," he tells Jessica. In a striking image, the narrator compares Mexico to a tombstone (his "grave-marker self") and the war to a kind of scouring, vampiric tide that has "leached at all the soft, the vulnerable inclusions of hope and praise." Nonetheless, he joins Jessica in the effort at a "gentle withdrawal."

Mexico and Jessica's escape or "gentle withdrawal" from the war foreshadows Slothrop's escape. Like Slothrop, they withdraw by going further into the war zone. Slothrop enters "the Zone" of the rockets' production, and Mexico and Jessica enter the bombed out "stay-away zone." Slothrop will later utter "the only spell he knows" to protect himself from the war, which is "Fuck you." Mexico and Jessica share a similar sentiment: "They are in love. Fuck the war."

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