Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 3 Episodes 30 32 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 3, Episodes 30–32 : In the Zone | Summary



Part 3, Episode 30

This episode focuses on Lyle Bland of Boston, Massachusetts. He has "so much money he don't know what to do with it all." He is also one of the main conspirators at the origin of Slothrop's story. Along with Slothrop's father, Broderick, Bland conspired to sell Slothrop to Jamf for research. The narrator proposes there are "machineries committed to injustice," but also "provisions active for balancing things out once in a while." The narrator suggests Bland will get what he deserves, partly from his association with "the Masons." (This reference is to the Freemasons, a fraternal order and secret society.)

There is a conspiratorial edge to the account of Bland's career. He held "the patent for that 100-miles-per-gallon carburetor." The implication is Bland suppressed the invention to increase his profits. He also conspired to get "the male work force ... paying enough attention" to their own genitals, again to increase profits (and have an efficient workforce).

Bland is a kind of node, connected to many of the figures in Slothrop's story in Europe. He has connections to "the Alien Property Custodian," which disposed of confiscated German interests in the United States. Through this organization he became connected to Jamf, which eventually led to Bland and Broderick Slothrop selling Tyrone Slothrop to Jamf for research. Other connections are detailed.

Through a complicated scenario involving pinball machines and a Masonic temple in Mouthorgan, Missouri, "Lyle Bland, who couldn't care less, is made a Mason." The narrator runs through conspiracy theories about the Masons. For example, "There is a theory going around that the U.S.A. was and still is a gigantic Masonic plot." The proof is "the strange single eye crowning the pyramid ... on every dollar bill." But "by the time Bland joined up, the Masons had ... degenerated into just another businessmen's club."

However, Bland has a sensitivity for "the magic in these Masonic rituals." He returns from Masonic meetings in an agitated state. After one meeting he "rose up out of his body, about a foot." Startled, he falls back into himself. Eventually he learns to "roll over in mid-air and look back" at himself, the "inert white container" of his body.

Bland starts spending almost all his time on his mystical experiences. Strange people come to his house to "instruct" him "in techniques of voyage." The narrator considers the value of those arctic voyagers who failed to return. Perhaps those who came back "to fame, to praise" are the ones who failed. Eventually Bland assembles his family and bids them farewell. "Tonight, I am going out for good," he tells them. Then he lies down on the davenport and does not wake again.

Part 3, Episode 31

The episode is set in Cuxhaven, a town from which the Nazis launched V-2 rockets. Two English doctors are searching for Slothrop on Pointsman's orders. One of them wonders "if Pointsman isn't losing his grip." A corporal tells them how to find Slothrop. He wears a "big bloody pig suit," he says. "You'll know him when you see him."

In Cuxhaven, "soldiers 'n' sailors" and chorus girls are carousing. Seaman Bodine is there too, involved in the drug trade with a colleague named Albert Krypton. Krypton then runs into Slothrop, who tells Krypton he is Rocketman, the one who liberated Bodine's hash from Potsdam. Some soldiers come to arrest Slothrop, but with the help of Krypton he gives them the slip. Still chased by the soldiers, Slothrop escapes with Bodine and Krypton. He wants them to take him to Putzi's, a brothel outside Cuxhaven. "Got to see that Springer," he explains.

Putzi's is "a sprawling, half-fortified manor house" full of "fetishists, spies, and folks just looking for company." Springer isn't there. A girl named Solange takes Slothrop to the baths, where he shucks his pig suit.

In the baths, Bodine meets up with Major Marvy. "Got your 'snow' [cocaine]," Bodine tells Marvy. Marvy is in high spirits and starts enjoying himself with a prostitute. Then the MPs (military police) raid Putzi's. The naked Marvy cannot find his uniform. He grabs the pig costume and puts it on. "Here's our elusive swine, gentlemen," announces a British MP as he arrests Marvy.

Marvy is "strapped ... at knees and chest to a stretcher" and taken to Cuxhaven in an ambulance. On the beach, in the back of the ambulance, the two doctors perform an "operation" meant for Slothrop: they castrate Major Marvy. They save the testicles, "souvenirs for Pointsman."

Back at Putzi's, Slothrop is asleep with "Solange," who is actually Leni Pökler. Slothrop dreams of Bianca while Leni dreams of Ilse. In a way they are the same child, the narrator says, both spawned on Margherita's movie Alpdrücken. Slothrop's attempt to get discharge papers from von Göll at Cuxhaven has been a bust. "Herr von Göll is a very busy man," an associate explains to Bodine, and he has not sent any "papers, no military discharges, passports—nothing."

Part 3, Episode 32

Tchitcherine is on a hill above Lüneberg Heath, where Blicero's (Weissmann's) rocket battery was. Through binoculars he watches von Göll film Martín Fierro for Argentine anarchists. The scene being filmed is a singing contest between Fierro and a black man. Tchitcherine finds the scene eerily similar to one from his life. While he was in Central Asia, he watched a boy and girl in a singing contest. Tchitcherine also thinks about the 00000 rocket: "Weissmann installed the S-Gerät and fired the 00000 somewhere close by."

But Tchitcherine is cautious. He doesn't know why "Major Marvy dropped out of sight." He speculates, "There is a counterforce in the Zone." Much else seems ominous to him. He wonders who "the Soviet intelligence man" was who tipped off the Hereros. (It was Slothrop.) He wonders who "got rid of Marvy." He thinks it might be "a Rocket-cartel."

He recalls an encounter in Berlin with a Soviet who told him, "You're regarded as 'useful.'" Tchitcherine realizes this is "a death sentence." The man also speculated Tchitcherine was not "supposed to survive the War." "When you did," he said, "they had to look at you more closely."

Tchitcherine returns his attention to the film shoot. "A dozen nationalities, dressed as Argentine estancieros [ranchers]," are eating at the film shoot's kitchen. Among them are the Argentine anarchists. The buildings for the movie set "are real, not a false front in sight." When shooting is finished, "nothing will be struck," that is, the stage sets will remain standing. Perhaps the set will become a community. The narrator wonders how the military government will react to "a community like this in the middle of their garrison state." The are other odd places in the Zone, including a village "taken over by army dogs." The dogs have a "man-installed reflex: Kill The Stranger." They don't know the reflex was trained into them. Some philosophical dogs wonder why they each remember one benevolent man (their trainer).

The focus switches to speculations about how to make use of the dog village and its philosophizing dogs. "The study has been contracted to, of all people, Mr. Pointsman." Pointsman's fortunes are down: "Since the castrating of Major Marvy, Pointsman has been officially in disgrace."

Clive Mossmoon and a colleague, Sir Marcus Scammony, wonder, "What shall we do with Pointsman?" They also talk about Slothrop. Scammony says, "We sent him out to destroy the blacks, and it's obvious now he won't do the job." However, Scammony thinks Slothrop is harmless and might have even left Germany by now. He claims the Americans have similar plans for "their own, ah, target groups [minority populations]." Mossmoon and Scammony are lovers. The episode ends with a consideration of homosexuality in the army. In World War I, "English men came to love one another decently, without shame or make-believe," while they risked "their sudden deaths." Since then relations between men have become routinized and bureaucratic, and the "real and only" sex happens "on paper," meaning, in the machinations of the powerful.


The story of Bland's comeuppance sees him punished with a lonely death. But it is not entirely satisfying. Slothrop does not learn of it; only the readers know Bland becomes obsessed with Freemasonry and dies in his mystic experiments. However, Part 3, Episode 30 provides an important insight into the workings of Gravity's Rainbow. The novel has so many séances, sodium amytal interrogations, glimpses of angels, and other strange or supernatural clues. Part 3, Episode 30's analysis of Bland provides one of these clues. With his vast wealth, Bland "could've bought programmers by the truckload" to make sure only harmless information about him circulated. Because the standard sources of information could be bought by them, Slothrop and those like him, "with the greatest interest in discovering the truth," have to turn to other sources. Therefore Slothrop and other truth-seekers must rely on "dreams, psychic flashes, omens, cryptographies, drug-epistemologies, all dancing on a ground of terror, contradiction, absurdity."

In Part 3, Episode 31, Slothrop once again is not there to witness the defeat of an enemy. Major Marvy is castrated in Slothrop's place, but Slothrop will never know. (The incident also leads to the decline of Pointsman's star at PISCES.) In a conventionally structured novel, plotlines would converge. Slothrop's witnessing Marvy's defeat would be once such convergence. However, a conversation between Slothrop, Bodine, and Solange seems to comment on this structure. When Bodine encourages Slothrop to go with Solange, Slothrop resists, suspecting "this is some kind of a plot." Bodine's revealing reply is, "Everything is some kind of a plot, man." However, as Solange points out, everything is a separate plot: "The arrows are pointing all different ways," she says. This conversation is "Slothrop's first news ... that the Zone can sustain many other plots besides those polarized upon himself." When Bland and Marvy come to their bad ends out of Slothrop's sight; these are plots not "polarized upon" Slothrop. However, this is not a lesson in humility. The point is not that Slothrop should learn to see himself as less important. The narrator offers hope "this network of all plots may yet carry him to freedom." Like the Zone, the novel Gravity's Rainbow "can sustain many other plots." Pynchon likewise holds out the hope these plots can lead to freedom.

From Tchitcherine's perspective, "a counterforce" seems to be working against him. Someone eliminated Marvy, and "a Soviet intelligence officer" tipped off the Hereros about the coming raid. To the reader, these events seemed like accidents. Marvy accidentally fell into Pointsman's clutches, and Slothrop stumbled into the pose of a Soviet intelligence officer. However wrong Tchitcherine might be about these particulars, his idea of a "Rocket-cartel" could be correct. Much of the rest of the book concerns whether the Zone can sustain pockets of freedom while forces like the "Rocketstate" are solidifying. Examples of such pockets of freedom are the set of von Göll's Fierro movies and the dog village.

It is not clear how seriously readers should take the talk of Mossmoon and Scammony. "We sent him out to destroy the blacks," Scammony says. It isn't clear who Scammony means by "we," but there is a clue when he says, "Labour wants the American found as much as we do." The Labour Party is a British political party. In 1945 Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party were defeated as Labour was voted into power. Perhaps Mossmoon and Scammony are disgruntled conservatives. In any case, their theory does not explain everything about the plot against Slothrop. Perhaps the UK government did attempt to use him for its own racist ends. But that does not explain why Slothrop was experimented on in the first place, or why IG Farben has had him under surveillance. The Scammony-Mossmoon conversation is a thread, but not the complete solution, to the mysteries of Slothrop.

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