Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 2 Episodes 1 3 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 2, Episodes 1–3 : Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Episode 1

The epigraph to Part 2 is from Merian C. Cooper, director of the 1933 film King Kong. Cooper tells the film's leading lady, Fay Wray, her leading man will be "the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." The title of Part 2 means "A Furlough at the Hermann Goering Casino."

It is still the Christmas season, 1944. Part 2, Episode 1 begins in Monaco, a sovereign city-state on the French Riviera on the southeastern coast of France. It is an area famed as a vacation spot for the wealthy. The episode begins in a seaside hotel above the Casino Hermann Goering. This French resort was renamed to please the occupying Nazi forces (Goering was a leader of the Nazi party). The Allied liberators have arrived, but the casino manager has not had time to change the casino's name back.

Slothrop is staying in his own room, facing the sea. Down the hall, Teddy Bloat and Tantivy Mucker-Maffick share a room. Tantivy and Bloat tease Slothrop about his skill in seducing women. The two of them sing a song, "The Englishman's Very Shy." From the balcony of Slothrop's room, Tantivy calls down to some French women on the beach, dancers at the casino. They invite the men to picnic with them on the beach. To Tantivy's horror Slothrop wears a Hawaiian shirt.

Bloat notices an attractive blonde woman on the beach and directs Slothrop's attention to her. "I say Slothrop," he asks, "is she a friend of yours too?" Just then "the biggest ... octopus Slothrop has ever seen outside of the movies" rises out of the sea and heads toward the mysterious blonde woman. The octopus "wraps one long sucker-studded tentacle around her neck" and one "around her waist and begins to drag her, struggling, back under the sea." Slothrop tries to beat the octopus into submission with a champagne bottle. Bloat produces a crab with which to lure the octopus away from the woman. "Don't kill it, Slothrop," says Bloat. Slothrop uses the crab as Bloat suggests.

The overcome woman lies on the beach. She is Dutch, and her ID bracelet tells Slothrop her name: Katje Borgesius. As she recovers, Slothrop puts together an interpretation of the rescue. "It's a Puritan reflex of seeking other orders behind the visible, also known as paranoia," the narrator says of Slothrop's interpretation. Slothrop suspects nothing that happened was accidental. "Oh, that was no 'found' crab, Ace—no random octopus or girl, uh-uh."

Now Slothrop looks at his traveling companions with new eyes. Tantivy is "a messenger from Slothrop's innocent, pre-octopus past." Bloat, by contrast, seems to be part of the plot, and probably Katje as well.

Part 2, Episode 2

It is evening of the same day. The episode begins "out at sea," aboard a ship. The octopus Grigori has performed its part in the plot against Slothrop. Now Grigori and a doctor wait aboard the ship.

In a large dining room in the casino Slothrop finds himself seated next to Katje. To get a chance to speak to her, Slothrop leads the others in a song, "The Ballad of Tantivy Mucker-Maffick." During the chorus Katje whispers, "Meet me in my room. 306, after midnight."

After dinner, Slothrop arranges to talk with Tantivy alone, to compare notes on the events at the beach that day. "Something funny is going on, right?" Slothrop asks Tantivy. Tantivy reluctantly agrees, even though there is "an element of Slothropian paranoia to contend with." Tantivy's parting words are, "And if you need help [in the days to come], well, I'll help you."

In Katje's room Slothrop croons a song, "Too Soon to Know." Katje undresses and the two of them make love. As he falls asleep he begins to snore. Katje hits him with a pillow, and soon they are having a pillow fight.

The next morning, still dozing, Slothrop hears someone stealing his American uniform. He runs after the thief but fails to catch him or her. On returning to his own room, Slothrop finds everything has been stolen: "Leave papers, ID, everything, taken." Bloat helps Slothrop out, loaning him a British uniform. Bloat pretends Tantivy is "off with his girl."

Slothrop walks outside again, into the rain, where "he thinks he might begin to cry." His "friends old and new," his clothes, and "every last bit of paper and clothing connecting him to what he's been" are all gone. Near midnight he returns to the hotel and to Katje's "deep room."

Part 2, Episode 3

In this episode, Slothrop gets a new handler, Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck. Stephen guides Slothrop in study sessions on the V-2 rocket. At the same time, Slothrop settles into domestic life in the hotel room with Katje, even though he has his suspicions of her: "Seductress-and-patsy [fool], all right, that's not so bad a game."

Slothrop comes upon Katje in the casino one afternoon and finds her remote and uncanny. She reminds him they were once at the two ends of the rocket's parabola, its curved flight pattern. She was in Peenemünde, where the rockets took off, and he was in London, where they fell. She says, "Between the two points, in the five minutes, it [the rocket] lives an entire life."

Slothrop's two handlers, the rocket science tutor and the seductress, seem arranged to work in tandem. The rocket study sessions leave Slothrop with an erection, so then he meets with Katje. He does not realize it, but Stephen is reporting on the timing of Slothrop's arousal, "consulting a stopwatch and taking notes."

Slothrop invites Stephen to play a drinking game called Prince. When he and Stephen are good and drunk, he draws Stephen away for a private conversation. As they walk on the beach, Slothrop is aware of divine beings on the horizon: "These visitors standing ... these robed figures." They are "the watchmen of world's edge."

Stephen confesses he is sexually impotent, and that "They" make use of this fact. The impotent Stephen is the perfect watcher for Slothrop and Katje: he "can observe without passion."

The episode shifts focus to the White Visitation. The medium Carrol Eventyr is learning that a mysterious They controls him. They edit the transcripts of his séances before he reads them, for example.

The episode shifts focus again, to Peter Sachsa's death in Berlin. At a riot, a policeman struck Peter on the head with his club. At the moment of death Peter seems to have an incommunicable epiphany: "Oh—howHow beautiful!"

The morning after the drunken escapade, Stephen is gone and Katje is furious:"You've sabotaged the whole thing, with your clever little collegiate drinking game." They have a comical fight that turns into lovemaking. Then Katje drills him on rocket specs.

The next day they speak about the uncanny experience in the casino, when he saw her with a faraway look in her eyes. She gives a kind of prophecy, saying maybe one day he'll "find out": "Maybe in one of their bombed-out cities ... it will come to you." Slothrop has a sense of another reality, an "identical-looking Other World." He also realizes Katje plans to leave. They spend one more night together, and when he wakes she is gone.

Analysis

When a woman whispers to Slothrop on the beach, calling him "Little Tyrone," she echoes Laszlo Jamf's name for him. In Jamf's experimental literature, Slothrop was anonymized as "Infant Tyrone." On the beach, too, Slothrop is being experimented with or manipulated. Stimuli are set out for him to react to, namely a woman and a menacing beast. Part 2 begins with an epigraph about the movie King Kong, in which the actress Fay Wray plays a woman menaced by a gorilla. In Part 1, Jessica does her Fay Wray impression, pretending to be a woman in distress. Katje is also acting, and Slothrop is wise to it. That knowledge doesn't stop him from getting together with Katje, however.

Slothrop displays a good deal of cunning in these episodes. He manages to get a private word with Katje. Then he arranges to compare notes about the octopus attack with Tantivy. Finally Slothrop arranges a bout of drinking, the better to get the truth out of Sir Stephen. However, Slothrop's freedom is put in doubt later, in Part 2, Episode 8, when it is hinted Pointsman and PISCES allowed Slothrop to upend their plans: "Let Slothrop escape [from the Riviera] ... and then rely on Secret Service to keep him under surveillance." Just as when Slothrop sings the Tantivy song to have a word with Katje, his cunning may ultimately be in the employ of Their schemes.

Presumably, PISCES could have requisitioned any number of buildings for their one-pupil rocket school in which to train Slothrop. Pynchon chooses a casino, "where the House always does, of course, keep turning a profit." Like a gambler at a casino, Slothrop is being manipulated for someone else's profit. Expanding on the casino motif, the narrator uses dark rhetorical questions: "When They chose numbers [as on a roulette wheel] ... what did They mean by it? What Wheel did They set in motion?" And "what game do They deal?" By not answering the questions, Pynchon keeps readers in the same position as Slothrop—sensing another world, but unable to completely know it.

The idea of a second world also plays out in one of this section's many songs: "Oh, THE WORLD OVER THERE, it's / So hard to explain!" Slothrop has just been on the verge of articulating a thought about "two orders of being, looking identical ... but, but." The tone of Gravity's Rainbow often switches from ominous to comical, as here. This shift is repeated when the alluring Katje, "an employee of the House," gets in a pillow-and-seltzer fight with Slothrop. Even as they goof around, Slothrop wonders at how planned it all seems: "What other interesting props have They thought to plant ...? Where's those banana cream pies, eh?" (The pies will turn up later, in the fight with Major Marvy.)

The tonal shift is also evident in the drunken conversation with Sir Stephen. The champagne hijinks veer into sadness as Stephen unfolds his unhappy life. In addition, their drunken rambling is watched over by "monumental beings" on the sea's horizon, "the watchmen of world's edge." The narrator wonders at the discrepancy: "What is there grandiose enough to witness? Only Slothrop here." By having a supernatural register in the novel, Pynchon creates other uncertainties. Are there conspiracies older than the war's, since there are clearly beings even more powerful than Slothrop's shadowy "They"? At times it is suggested the supernatural and natural orders are conspiring together. In Part 1, Episode 19, when the Nazis try to contact deceased statesman Walter Rathenau, the narrator suggests "a collaboration here, between both sides of the Wall, matter and spirit."

Slothrop is here to learn more about the rocket, but readers learn it too has a supernatural or symbolic side. When Slothrop comes up to Katje alone in the casino, she gives him an impression of sorrow and unknowable depth. Her depths seem connected to things she has glimpsed, beyond the "the visible or trackable" data of the rocket's "flight profile." The two of them were joined by the rocket's flight, Katje in the Netherlands, where V-2 rockets were fired, and Slothrop in London, where they fell. Slothrop too, or the narrator, has a glimpse of the "so much more" that lies beyond the rocket data. In another paranoid structure, "everything, always, collectively, [has] been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky." There is no answer here, but the heightened, intensified importance of the parabola overshadows how little is said about it.

Katje intimates the rocket is a kind of being: "Between the two points ... it lives an entire life." Perhaps she is speaking metaphorically. However, both Blicero's rocket squad and Enzian will realize this metaphor, by plotting to put someone inside a rocket and then launch it. Such a person would not become a pilot or astronaut—"the control is inside," as Sachsa says at the séance. Gottfried, Blicero's rocket payload, is not a pilot, but a bomb or a sacrifice.

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