Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 3 Episodes 8 12 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 3, Episodes 8–12 : In the Zone | Summary



Part 3, Episode 8

It is the next night. A group of Argentinian anarchists float in a U-boat in the canal. Slothrop met one of them, Squalidozzi, in Part 2, Episode 7. Slothrop delivered a message to Zürich for Squalidozzi, but back in Geneva they failed to meet again. Since then, Squalidozzi has met Gerhard von Göll, a film director and black marketer also known as "Der Springer." Von Göll offered to make a movie for the Argentine anarchists; he suggested Martín Fierro, to the Argentines' delight. The Gaucho Martín Fierro (1872) is an Argentinian epic poem by José Hernández. Its fictional protagonist, Martín Fierro, is something of a national hero, and "on the U-boat he is considered an anarchist saint." The episode gives a summary of the story of Hernández's epic poem, in which Fierro "flee[s] across the frontier, to live in the wilderness, to live with the Indians."

Von Göll and Squalidozzi discussed whether to film the sequel, Hernández's poem The Return of Martín Fierro. In the sequel Fierro "sells out: assimilates back into Christian society." Von Göll filmed some "phony Schwarzkommando footage ... last winter in England for Operation Black Wing." Now he has heard there is a real Schwarzkommando in Germany.

The Argentines' U-boat appears on the radar of the U.S.S. John E. Badass, Seaman Bodine's ship. The U-boat fires a torpedo at the Badass. However, Bodine has dosed the coffee urn on the Badass with Oneirine, one of Jamf's drugs. Oneirine affects the time consciousness of those who take it. Somehow this means "the two fatal courses [of the Badass and the torpedo] do intersect in space but not time."

Part 3, Episode 9

Tchitcherine is in Germany, accompanied by his driver, "a teenage Kazakh dope fiend." Tchitcherine is thinking about a transcript of a "Sodium Amytal session" of Slothrop's: "Black runs all through the transcript." Slothrop talks about the Schwarzkommando and other German words formed with the prefix "schwarz," for black: Schwarzgerät or black device, and "Blackwoman, Blackrocket, Blackdream." Tchitcherine is puzzled Slothrop does not report to anyone; he never delivers his findings about the rocket to any organization. Tchitcherine wonders if Slothrop is looking for "the Black-rocket ... the 00000." He also thinks Slothrop is bound to run into Enzian. The driver interrupts Tchitcherine's thoughts to comment on the quality of Slothrop's hash, and "they both start cackling insanely."

Part 3, Episode 10

Slothrop is on sodium amytal; he wakes to find himself "still in Rocketman garb" and in possession of most of the Potsdam hash. Someone has taken a chunk of it. He falls asleep and dreams about birds in the Berkshires, and about his father, Broderick Slothrop. Then Slothrop wakes again and discovers he is at an old movie set. There he meets Margherita Erdmann, a minor starlet of silent film. Gerhard von Göll directed her in "dozens of vaguely pornographic horror movies."

Margherita tells Slothrop they are on the former set of von Göll's movie Alpdrücken (Nightmares). She says the most striking thing about all her performances for von Göll was her passivity: "I watched all our films ... I never seemed to move."

Margherita recalls her costar, Max Schlepzig. She thinks Max is the father of her daughter, Bianca. Slothrop tells her he is traveling on a forged passport under the name Max Schlepzig. He says somebody probably gave him this name as a "random alias." Margherita thinks the passport is genuine and proves Max is dead. She also thinks nothing is "random" about their meeting: "They want you right here, right now."

In Alpdrücken Margherita played "the lesbian ... who's whipped to death at the end." She now implores Slothrop to (partly) reenact the scene. Slothrop, aroused by Margherita's costume of stocking and garters, complies. They make love, she remembering Max, he remembering Katje. In passion, Margherita calls out her daughter's name: Bianca.

Part 3, Episode 11

Franz Pökler remembers watching the movie Alpdrücken long ago. He was aroused by Margherita Erdmann's masochistic performance. He went home that night and made love to his wife, Leni. They conceived their daughter Ilse that night, he believes.

Pökler has come to a kind of German children's resort, a place named Zwölfkinder (12 Children) to meet his daughter Ilse. He recalls his early days with the rocket, when he worked with a club of rocket amateurs funded by the SS. Leni was critical. "They're using you to kill people," she told him.

Pökler recalls colleagues from those early days of rocket work. Kurt Mondaugen had been a radio technician in South West Africa, where he met Weissmann and some Hereros. Pökler also recalls Enzian, "the protégé of Major Weissmann." In 1937 Pökler and "some 90 others" went to work at the rocket site Peenemünde, Germany, on the Baltic Sea.

He recalls Ilse's previous two visits to him. Each time she arrived one day at Peenemünde, stayed a while, and then left without warning. He felt love for her but wondered whether she was an impostor.

The episode shifts focus to "Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz," 19th-century German founder of organic chemistry. Kekulé had a dream about the Ouroboros, a mythical snake swallowing its own tail. The dream gave Kekulé a clue to the ringlike structure of the benzene molecule. Pökler wonders who sent Kekulé the dream. Was there a system, a bureaucracy sorting such dreams?

Ilse's third annual visit to Pökler was in late August of 1939, "nearly the end of peacetime." Pökler was given two weeks' furlough and they spent them at the Zwölfkinder resort for children. One night Ilse—or the imposter playing Ilse—tried to seduce him. She asked him, "Papi, may I sleep next to you tonight?" Pökler wondered if They thought he had a daughter fetish.

The visits have continued: "A daughter a year, each one about a year older." In August 1944, again Pökler is at Zwölfkinder to meet Ilse (or "Ilse"). In the spring of 1944 Pökler was transferred to Nordhausen for further work on the rocket. He has known for some time Ilse lives at Dora, one of the "re-education camps" that supplies slave laborers to the rocket works at Nordhausen, Mittelwerke.

After the visit, Pökler keeps trying to enter the Dora camp. The SS guards won't let him in. Finally, in April of 1945, as Germany is falling to the Allies, a "young SS guard, one of the last to leave," delivers a message from Weissmann to Pökler. It says, "She has been released," meaning Ilse was saved from the camp. Pökler knows "this was payment for the retrofit work he'd done on the 00000."

Just before the Americans arrive, Pökler walks out of Mittelwerke and into Dora. He is overwhelmed by "the odors of shit, death, sweat, sickness, mildew, piss" and the sight of "the naked corpses being carried out ... to be stacked in front of the crematoriums." He vomits and weeps, though the narrator notes this does not cause the prison walls to melt. He finds a "random woman," barely alive. He spends half an hour holding her hand. He puts his wedding ring on her finger before he leaves, so she can barter it for "a few meals, or a blanket, or a night indoors, or a ride home."

Part 3, Episode 12

Slothrop and Margherita dine and sleep in a house in the Russian sector of Berlin. (After World War II, Berlin was occupied by Allied powers in separate Russian, British, French, and American sectors.) Slothrop wakes up in the night and goes to find Säure Bummer, to give him the hashish he retrieved from Potsdam.

The next day, Slothrop wakes up near noon. Säure and a composer named Gustav argue about who is better: German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) or 19th-century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Then "the heat [police] come busting in" and Slothrop flees, returning to Margherita. She is in an anxious state, having suffered hallucinations during Slothrop's absence. They settle into a domestic routine, with Margherita requesting increasing sadism and Slothrop complying.

Slothrop dreams about a three-part poem. In Part I of the poem, "a woman is attending a dog show which is also, in some way, a stud service." The excited woman couples with several dogs of various breeds, as well as "a tall horse ... cats and minks, hyenas and rabbits." In Part II, the woman is pregnant, and when she is near delivery she asks her husband to row her out into the river. Then "Part III finds her at the bottom of the river." A "flood now of different creatures, octopuses, reindeer, kangaroos" comes out of her body. Slothrop goes fishing in the Spree River in Berlin, thinking about the dream.


The discussion between von Göll and the Argentine anarchists illustrates the way Gravity's Rainbow shifts between reality and simulation. Gravity's Rainbow is a fiction that makes reference to real, historical events, such as World War II. But it also grafts onto that history a number of improbable fictions: ACHTUNG, for example, or the Argentine anarchists who hijack a U-boat. Thus Gravity's Rainbow flips back and forth between simulation and reality. Just so, von Göll flips back and forth between the phony Schwarzkommando of British soldiers in greasepaint and the "real" Schwarzkommando of Hereros. (Although the "real" Schwarzkommando is also Pynchon's fictional invention.)

Both the Hereros and the Argentine anarchists return from the colonized New World to the colonizing Old Europe, hoping to find their freedom or destiny there. In this way they both reverse trends of actual history. Germany and other colonizing European nations went to Africa on ventures of domination hailed as destiny. After the war, some Nazis escaped to South America. (For example, Adolf Eichmann was arrested in Argentina in 1960.) Gravity's Rainbow reverses this journey; Argentinians escape to Germany. Pynchon uses this fictional Germany to explore the idea of an anarchist, stateless realm.

The question then becomes how long this stateless, free, anarchist moment can last. Squalidozzi and von Göll discuss filming The Return of Martín Fierro. This is the sequel to the epic The Gaucho Martín Fierro. Just as the narrator says, in the sequel Fierro "sells out: assimilates back into Christian society." He has a wife and children in the sequel, and at the end he leaves the plains and returns to his family. Later, in Part 3, Episode 32, Tchitcherine comes upon von Göll filming a scene from one of his Fierro films on the heath. Thus von Göll demonstrates he still believes "even the freest of Gauchos end up selling out, you know. That's how things are."

The narrator compares Pökler's love for his daughter Ilse to "persistence of vision." Persistence of vision is the phenomenon enabling a film's series of still images to be perceived as moving images. Rather than seeing 24 separate frames per second, the mind holds on to the vanished frames and blends them with the coming frames, producing the illusion of continuous movement. The narrator's explicit comparison is to Ilse's staggered, separate visits. She has been "flashing ... frames of her, leaving it to him [Pökler] to build the illusion."

However, the illusions produced by persistence of vision can also be compared to a novel. Gravity's Rainbow is composed of separate episodes, not unlike the separate still images of a film. Like Pökler, the reader builds the illusion of a single, vast plot from the separate images. Slothrop, too, can be seen as separate images: Infant Tyrone, Slothrop, Ian Scuffling, Rocketman, Pig-Hero. The reader builds the illusion of a single personality.
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