Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 2 Episodes 4 6 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 2, Episodes 4–6 : Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Episode 4

At the White Visitation, members of PISCES panic about how Slothrop is spoiling their plans: "Slothrop's knocked out Dodson-Truck and the girl in one day!" They fear Brigadier Pudding will end their funding. But Pointsman is serene. Lately he wears tailored lab coats, with "suppressed waist, flaring vents, finer material, rather rakishly notched lapels." He says, "There's no danger." About Brigadier Pudding he says, "We have made arrangements with him."

In a lab at the ARF facility, Webley Silvernail has a hallucination about talking mice. He realizes the lab is also a kind of maze. When the hallucination ends, Silvernail thinks, "It's back to the cages and the rationalized forms of death."

That night Brigadier Pudding makes his way to D Wing, "where the madmen of the '30s persist." He has been coming here nightly for two weeks now. He enters a certain cell in a long corridor. A woman waits for him. He kneels and addresses her as "Domina Nocturna" and calls himself "your servant Ernest Pudding, reporting as ordered." He kisses her ring and then undresses.

The woman has been dressed and made up to Pointsman's specifications. She tells him, "Time for pain now, Brigadier." She beats him with a cane. Pudding finds the pain to be "the clearest poetry."

Then Pudding kneels beneath the woman's lifted cape and the woman urinates and defecates into his mouth. He thinks of the battlefield at Passchendaele, with its "mud, and the putrefaction of corpses." (Passchendaele, a Belgian village, was near the site of a horrific, months-long battle in World War I in 1917.) He then masturbates at her command, and then he is sent away.

Part 2, Episode 5

Spring is on its way, "the great cusp—green equinox and turning." The first of the novel's "Proverbs for Paranoids" is stated: "You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures."

Slothrop continues to study the rocket, though Stephen Dodson-Truck and Katje are gone. He talks to an Englishman, Captain Hilary Bounce, about the links he finds between corporations on both sides of the war.

Slothrop finds several unusual things in the rocket specs: an "insulation device" that doesn't seem to belong there; a secret "Document SG-1"; and a material for the insulation, something called "Imipolex G." Slothrop plans to sneak into Bounce's hotel room, where there is a teletype machine. He will use the machine secretly to ask London questions about Imipolex G. He enlists a friend to help. She will take Bounce to a party on the Cap d'Antibes, leaving his room free for Slothrop. The telexed answer comes to Slothrop, and he too departs for the party. As he leaves the hotel in a cab, he is followed by "a wiry civilian, disguised as the Secret Service's notion of an Apache." (In this context, "Apache" means a French gangster or ruffian.)

Part 2, Episode 6

Slothrop arrives at the party, which is thrown by the heir to a fireworks fortune. "Some merrymaker ... put a hundred grams of hashish in the Hollandaise [sauce]," and the guests found out and deliberately gorged themselves on it. Now the party is chaotic.

Slothrop sees a man in a white zoot suit. (Zoot suits were popular with minority, working-class men in the United States in the 1940s. The suit featured a long, broad-shouldered jacket and trousers that ballooned at the thighs.) The zoot-suited man—named Blodgett Waxwing—demands Slothrop hold some money for him, to give to a woman named Tamara. Slothrop asks for a zoot suit in return, and Waxwing agrees. The task is part of a complicated deal involving Tamara, Waxwing, and two other men. The goods traded include opium and a Sherman tank. Tamara then arrives, driving the tank through the garden and into the house. She fires the tank's gun. The projectile is "a dud," damaging the house but not killing anyone.

Slothrop opens the tank and extracts Tamara. Waxwing compliments him for saving the day. Slothrop responds he once "saved a dame from an octopus." Waxwing seems to know of the incident, saying, "This really happened tonight. But that octopus didn't." He gives Slothrop the card of someone he says can help him. "You'll be needing a friend," he advises. The card gives the address of a man in Nice, France. Waxwing also gives Slothrop the promised zoot suit. It turns out to have been seized in the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, a street fight between white U.S. servicemen and Mexican-American "zoot-suiters" in Los Angeles. Servicemen were beating up Mexican-Americans for being "unpatriotic," as signaled by their elaborate civilian clothes. Slothrop's suit belonged to a zoot-suiter who then enlisted in the army.

Analysis

Brigadier Pudding is supposedly in charge of the White Visitation, but now Pointsman is running Pudding, manipulating him and distracting him. Thus Pointsman is not worried about funding for PISCES because he has "made arrangements" with him. Katje is the dominatrix, and her involvement shows the scenario is a behaviorist experiment on Pointsman's part. Just as Grigori the octopus was conditioned to respond to Katje, something in Pudding's past has implanted a conditioned reflex, a response to certain fetishized rituals and clothing. What planted these reflexes in Brigadier Pudding? In part it seems to be a response to his encounter with death on the battlefields of WWI. Terrified and overcome by the spectacle of death at Passchendaele, Pudding now willingly submits to death in the person of "Domina Nocturna," queen of the night. With these responses, Pudding is as manipulable as a lab animal.

There are two kinds of death in Part 2, Episode 4: the "rationalized" and the ecstatic. The ecstatic form is the worship of death personified as Domina. Brigadier Pudding recalls "Franco's Legion" (soldiers) worshipped her, or rather, celebrated her as their bride. Thus Pynchon underlines the worship of death as being fascist. As her name implies, the scene with Domina is as much about power and authority as it is about sex. Domina represents the type of authority German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) called "charismatic." Weber wrote the charismatic person is "set apart ... endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities." These exceptional qualities can be negative. Weber's idea of charismatic leadership has been used to analyze Hitler's form of rule.

The rationalized form of death is shown in the lab mice scene. When Webley Silvernail's fantasy of singing, dancing, rebellious lab mice ends, Silvernail thinks, "It's back to the cages and the rationalized forms of death." In this instance, rationalized means something like "done according to plan." Thus the lab mice are an echo of the war's rationalized forms of death: the orderly arrangement of troops and materiel; the technologically sophisticated missiles that bring death to civilians; and the concentration camps, in which executions are systematic.

The mice's momentary bid for freedom parallels Slothrop's. He has broken free of PISCES's control, signified by his change of clothes. He shucks the British Army uniform for a "green French suit of wicked cut with a subtle purple check in it," a floral tie, and "brown and white wingtip shoes." At the party he acquires a white zoot suit, and in the coming episodes he will break out completely, leaving the Riviera.

Slothrop has made investigating the rocket his own mission. In addition to studying the rocket with the last of his official handlers, Hilary Bounce, he secretly investigates the rocket's materials on his own. His investigation leads him to contemplate vast, international corporations. He talks to Hilary about Shell, the aptly named oil corporation. A shell is hollow and it can hide something in a rigged game of chance. Slothrop points out Shell buildings in Holland were used to target London, where rockets threatened, among other buildings, Shell's holdings in Britain. Thus Pynchon emphasizes corporations have supranational interests: "Who'd know better than an outfit like Shell, with no real country, no side in any war?" Shell can benefit no matter which side is winning. The setting is the 1940s but this insight is very 1970s. Hilary Bounce is English but he wears a military-like medal from a German corporation: "a gold benzene ring ... the IG Farben Award for Meritorious Contributions to Synthetics Research." Bounce's medal designates him a citizen (or soldier) of a supranational order.

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