Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 3 Episodes 22 25 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 3, Episodes 22–25 : In the Zone | Summary



Part 3, Episode 22

Back at Swinemünde, Slothrop wakes up on Frau Gnahb's barge. Der Springer has a mission for Slothrop, "a minor piracy." He wants Slothrop to board the Anubis with him and retrieve the missing hash. Slothrop is still angry with Der Springer about leaving Närrisch behind. He agrees to the task anyway, in return for discharge papers from the U.S. Army.

Frau Gnahb rams the Anubis. Slothrop, Otto, and Springer board the boat with grappling hooks, like pirates. Slothrop heads down into the hold to look for the contraband in the engine room, and "just as he touches the deck, all the lights go out." In the darkness someone attacks him, savagely kicking him in the face. The unseen assailant tells him he must continue to climb down to the engine room. When he reaches it, "his hand closes on stiff taffeta." He cannot see but he thinks it must be Bianca. The lights come back on, and Slothrop dreads to see her. He takes the bundle of hash and leaves. Bianca is still "dancing dead-white and scarlet at the edges of his sight."

On Frau Gnahb's boat they celebrate with champagne, but "Slothrop's hands are shaking." They land at Stralsund, Germany, a port on the Baltic Sea. From there Slothrop goes his own way, on land.

Part 3, Episode 23

The episode begins with a poem or song. Its first verse recalls the legend of Tannhäuser, the 13th-century German poet. The episode shifts focus to England. At the White Visitation, Brigadier Pudding died "of a massive E. coli infection." Katje remained at the White Visitation for a while. She found some reels of film and watched them. Some were of her, newly arrived at Pirate's house, filmed by Osbie Feel. Other reels showed the octopus Grigori "watching the Katje footage." This is how Grigori was trained to attack Katje in Part 2, Episode 1.

"Spliced on at the end of all this" footage is something like "a screen test of Osbie Feel." Osbie talks about the scenario for a film he plans to make. Katje believes this part of the film is meant for her: "It is a message, in code." She seeks out Osbie and learns Pirate is "out scouting up some transportation." The drug-taking Osbie is surrounded by "maps, schedules, An Introduction to Modern Herero, corporate histories, spools of recording wire." Katje recognizes Osbie and Pirate are "some counterforce" in the making, and she joins in.

Part 3, Episode 24

Katje and Pirate are in what seems to be an afterlife. It overflows with candy: "popcorn in melted marshmallows and butter, and thousands of kinds of fudge, from liquorice to divinity." But the still-living Katje and Pirate are also there. It is a place for double agents, Pirate realizes: "These are, after all, people who kill each other." Soon Pirate also realizes "this is one of his own [fantasies] in progress." Pirate begins to cry, realizing he might "die ... without having helped a soul: without love, despised, never trusted."

A long conversation begins, about the sexual acts of "Anonymous" with various people. It is unclear whose stories these are. Pirate and Katje think of such acts as "loving the People." But Katje points out, "The people will never love [us] ... we will always be bad." She and Pirate dance then, "though Pirate never could before." The others dance too, a crowd of "dancing Preterition."

Part 3, Episode 25

Slothrop continues his trek across the Zone, now in the "narrow gassen" of a town in northern Germany. (Gassen is German for lanes or narrow streets.) Slothrop is still wearing Tchitcherine's uniform, which he donned in Part 3, Episode 20 during the raid on the rocket site. He removes the insignia from the uniform to attract less attention. Other people displaced by the war are on the roads: "The Nationalities are on the move. It is a great frontierless streaming out here." There is a communal sharing of food, but Slothrop finds the crowds of DPs (displaced persons) intense—"too strong, like faces of a racetrack crowd."

At a farmhouse, Slothrop falls asleep and dreams about Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, "his friend from long ago." Tantivy is in the afterworld, unreachable by Slothrop, "the stretch of an impotent cry past Slothrop's reach." Slothrop travels through the countryside, becoming "intensely alert to trees." The narrator points out, "Slothrop's family actually made its money killing trees ... grinding them to pulp." Slothrop apologizes to the trees. A tree tells him he can sabotage a logging operation someday to make amends.

Slothrop comes across a boy named Ludwig, who says he is looking for his lemming named Ursula. Lemmings are rodents that migrate in swarms, and therefore Slothrop can't believe the boy has a solitary lemming for a pet. "One lemming, kid?" Lemmings are also popularly thought to leap together off cliffs into the sea, in a kind of mass suicide. The ghost of "Slothrop's first American ancestor William" starts whispering to Slothrop. He says Jesus's miracle of walking on the Sea of Galilee should be seen "from the lemming point of view." It was only meaningful because of "the millions who had plunged and drowned."

The episode switches focus to the story of William Slothrop. He was "one of the very first Europeans" to go as far west as the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. He raised pigs. He found them "good company" and was pained by their slaughter. He thought one pig might escape death and "validate all the ones" who died, "all [William's] Gadarene swine who'd rushed into extinction like lemmings." (In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus cast demons out of a man from Gadara. The exorcised demons fled into a herd of swine. The possessed pigs from Gadara—the "Gadarene swine"—then rushed off a cliff and drowned in the sea.)

William develops heretical religious ideas, and he writes "a long tract about it ... called On Preterition." In some Protestant doctrines, Christians are divided into "the elect," those chosen by God, and "the preterite," those not chosen, passed over by God. William champions the preterite, and he argues Judas is the savior of the preterite. The narrator then wonders if William's ideas were "the fork in the road America never took."

Slothrop or the narrator wonders, "Is he [Slothrop] drifting, or being led?" Meaning, is he a free man or are shadowy manipulators determining all his moves? Slothrop and Ludwig then follow a girl (or they are led) down into the basement of a church. There in the basement is Major Marvy.


Part 3, Episode 22 again references the Tannhäuser theme. Tannhäuser was a poet, and it is not initially obvious why Slothrop should be likened to him. Slothrop is seldom, if ever, seen writing. However, Tannhäuser was also a minnesinger, a medieval German musician-poet who sang of courtly love. (The minnesinger is the German equivalent of the French troubadour.) Slothrop is a lover who plays the harmonica. This may seem a stretch initially, but in fact Slothrop is repeatedly compared to Tannhäuser.

The song in Part 3, Episode 22 asks, "Where is the Pope whose staff will bloom for me?" The song also mentions "Lisaura," the lover Tannhäuser abandoned. Slothrop repeatedly abandons his lovers; most recently he left Bianca behind, in another episode that references Tannhäuser. But unlike Tannhäuser, he will not return to the court of Venus, that is, return to love after his pilgrimage. He will also not be forgiven.

"Who would have thought so many would be here?" asks the narrator at the beginning of Part 3, Episode 24. Where "here" refers to is not clear, although it seems to be an afterlife. But the narrator's question recalls a line in 20th-century Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land: "I had not thought death had undone so many." Since Katje and Pirate are not dead, Pynchon may be making this comparison to underline how serious the stakes are. Katje and Pirate's double-dealing has put their souls in peril.

Dead or alive, the inhabitants of this strange realm are all double agents, as Pirate figures out. Pirate's realization coincides with a realization of the reader's: Pirate must have been a double agent as well. He might not have been a Nazi, however. It is possible he acted both for and against Slothrop. In Part 2, Katje is motivated to help the White Visitation because of her collaboration with the Nazis in Holland. Now, in Part 3, Episode 24, Pirate is motivated to act for good—not because he did something evil, necessarily, but because he seems to have wasted his life. When he cries for Scorpia Mossmoon and other people, he also cries about the futility of his life: "To die ... without having helped a soul: without love, despised, never trusted." This provides the motivation for Pirate to assemble a "counterforce."

Part 3, Episode 25 further develops Gravity's Rainbow's theme of preterition, the state or condition of being passed over by God in favor of the elect or chosen persons. Enzian reversed the perspective on the ruin in Part 3, Episode 21, by saying a bombed factory was functioning as intended. Likewise, William Slothrop reverses perspective on the elect and the preterite, promoting "holiness" for the preterite, "without whom there'd be no elect," and "mercy in the name of Judas."

Part 3, Episode 25 also demonstrates one of the two main tendencies in the later episodes of Gravity's Rainbow. The Zone is shutting down, becoming occupied by separate powers, states, or tribes. "Each alternative Zone speeds away from all the others," as Enzian sees in Part 3, Episode 21. Above all, the Zone is in danger of being occupied by cartels. But at the same time, the Zone is still a place of hope throughout much of Parts 3 and 4. The Zone is "without elect, without preterite, without even nationality." Just like the Hereros and the Argentinian anarchists, Americans could find their liberation in the Zone, the narrator suggests. If there is a way back to William Slothrop's alternative vision, says the narrator, it is through the Zone "while all the fences are down ... [while] the whole space of the Zone [is] cleared, depolarized."

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