Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 4 Episodes 4 6 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 4, Episodes 4–6 : The Counterforce | Summary

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Summary

Part 4, Episode 4

Katje meets some Hereros. They sing a song about paranoia, accompanied by tap dancing. They carry "a girl all in silver lame, a loud brassy dame." Katje realizes "the brazen blonde bombshell is none other than herself." As Blicero's former captive and lover, Katje has become part of the Hereros' rocket legends and rituals.

Katje is introduced to Enzian and they discuss Blicero. He knows of her from Blicero's letters to him, in which Blicero called her a "Golden Bitch." Enzian talks about the long-ago days in which he loved Blicero. "A former self is a fool," he says, but one must be merciful to such a fool. He tells Katje, "Your story is the saddest of all. ... You've only been set free."

They agree to join forces. Enzian tells her she only has to locate Slothrop. After that she can quit. Katje insists she is all in. She wants to know what she "did to him, for Them" and how They "can be stopped." Enzian reveals the Hereros "have someone who was with Blicero in May. Just before the end." This "someone" is Thanatz; the Hereros plan to interrogate him. Katje says she will "come and listen."

Part 4, Episode 5

Thanatz tells his story to the Hereros, starting with the Anubis. Just like Slothrop, he was washed overboard in a storm. He was picked up by "a Polish undertaker in a rowboat." The undertaker, a fan of Benjamin Franklin, is trying to get struck by lightning. He thinks it will help him "handle bereaved families."

The Polish undertaker sets Thanatz ashore, where he runs into a village of nostalgic "175s" or homosexual ex-prisoners from Camp Dora. (The German law outlawing homosexuality was designated Paragraph 175. The Nazis did not write this law, but they enforced it with concentration camps.) These "175s" are "homesick" for the world of Dora. They have recreated it, complete with a hierarchy of "really mean ass imaginary Nazi playmates." They call the leader of their imaginary Nazi guards Blicero; he is a legend to them: "He is the Zone's worst specter." The 175s believe Blicero is alive. This troubles Thanatz, whose experience with Blicero and the 00000 made him turn away from Blicero for good. Thanatz was there "on the Heath when 00000 was fired."

Thanatz goes to a gasworks to deliver a message. He is apprehended by a gang of Polish guerillas. They realize he's not the man they wanted, and they release him "into a DP encampment." (DP is World War II slang for "displaced person" or refugee.) He spends weeks riding the rails with other DPs.

The episode moves up to the present, in which Thanatz tells the Hereros all about "that last rocket-firing on the Heath." The novel does not reveal the details of the firing in this episode, but Thanatz tells the Hereros what the rocket was, "how it was used, where the 00000 was fired from, and which way it was pointed." Because he tells them so much they need to know, they consider him "the angel they've hoped for." The Hereros' rocket is ready, "all assembled at last." The rocket unites the Herero factions, "Empty, Neutral and Green all together now."

Part 4, Episode 6

Slothrop is in the futuristic "Raketen-Stadt" (Rocket City, in German). Slothrop is a "typical American teenager" and his father is trying, "episode after episode," to kill him. The style is the breathless, slangy language of 1940s comics and serials: "Weepers! ... good try, Pop, but you're not quite as keen as The Kid today!"

Slothrop teams up with three others in "the Floundering Four," a group of flawed superheroes. Myrtle causes miracles; Marcel is a mechanical chess player; Maximilian has "a natural sense of rhythm, which means all rhythms, up to and including the cosmic." Slothrop's superpower is not described. The superheroes try to find "the Radiant Hour," an hour that "is being held captive." Maximilian starts reading a book called The Wisdom of the Great Kamikaze Pilots. Soon the episode shifts to the first of 12 titled subsections.

The Low-Frequency Listener

Slothrop tries to listen in on a German U-boat frequency, "a wave length of 28,000 meters." He wants to communicate with the Argentine anarchists.

Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy

"Well hi Joe," writes Nalline Slothrop to Joseph Kennedy, ambassador to Great Britain. She tries to get him to contact "a few of those jolly old London connections just once more." She is presumably looking for news of her son, Slothrop.

On the Phrase "Ass Backwards"

Säure and Bodine discuss the English phrase "ass backwards." Säure says, "You ought to be saying 'ass forwards,' if backwards is what you mean." The discussion drifts to music.

My Doper's Cadenza

Bodine sings a song called "My Doper's Cadenza." A cadenza is a virtuoso solo piece inserted in a movement. In Säure's tenement building in Berlin, drug use and drug dealing are rampant. An attempt is made to dig an "anti-police moat" around the building. The moat is dug from below, leaving a "thin crust of street" on top.

Shit 'n' Shinola

Säure and Bodine discuss the English phrase "Shit from Shinola ... As in, 'Aw, he don't know Shit from Shinola!'" (Shinola was a brand of shoe polish.) One possibility "is that Shit and Shinola are in wildly different categories." The narrator then focuses on the similarities: "Shit ... is the color white folks are afraid of ... [it] is the presence of death." Shinola is the same color. The episode connects the toilet of the Roseland Ballroom, where Slothrop lost his harmonica, to "Red [Malcolm X]," shoe polish, Harvard, Ambassador Kennedy's son, and Slothrop.

An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet

Slothrop is dressed in a gown like Fay Wray's, the female lead in the movie King Kong. In a public bathroom, an orangutan hands Slothrop "a round black iron anarchist bomb" with a lit fuse. A man dressed like film actress Margaret O'Brien grabs the bomb from Slothrop and throws it in a toilet. The bomb explodes in the toilet with the sound "KRUPPALOOMA": it "was a sodium bomb. Sodium explodes when it touches water." A gang beats up and abuses the man dressed like O'Brien for having thrown the bomb.

A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, The Komical Kamikazes

Takeshi is "tall and fat," and Ichizo is "short and skinny." The mismatched pair are both meant to fly to their deaths. Takeshi flies a plane and Ichizo flies in "an Ohka device, which is a long bomb, actually, with a cockpit for Ichizo." They are stuck on a remote air base, too far from any targets.

Streets

The episode seems to be told from the perspective of a future archaeologist, examining the ruins of World War II in Germany. The archaeologist discusses the "men called 'army chaplains.'" The chaplains "talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption." Then the focus shifts to Slothrop on a street in some ruined German city. He catches a glimpse of "a scrap of newspaper headline" and a news photo. The photo appears to show a white penis, "dangling in the sky straight downward out of a white pubic bush." The scrap of headline reads "MB DRO ROSHI"; that is, "BOMB DROPPED ON HIROSHIMA."

Listening to the Toilet

The narrator says police who come to raid a residence for drugs will start by "shut[ting] off the water first." That way "you really can't get rid of much of anything any more, dope, shit, documents." The subsection title, "Listening to the Toilet," comes from the idea of listening for the water shutoff.

Witty Repartee

The bored Takeshi and Ichizo threaten one another with machine guns, in play. Their weapon of choice is "the Hotchkiss" machine gun, which "comes in many nationalities."

Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man

Slothrop's father talks to him about "this, ah, 'screwing in' you kids are doing." The kids are "keying waves," which means putting electric waves into their brains. His father says it's dangerous. "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" Slothrop replies that is what "every electrofreak dreams about."

Some Characteristics of Imipolex G

The characteristics of Imipolex G include its being "the first plastic that is actually erectile." It would respond to electronic stimulation. It might also respond to "the projection, onto the Surface, of an electronic 'image,' analogous to a motion picture."

Analysis

In Part 4, Episodes 4 and 5, elements of the story have become mythical to other characters. Katje is the "Golden Bitch" and part of the Hereros' worship of the 00000 rocket. Blicero has become a myth to the ex-prisoners of Camp Dora. In both cases, the mythicized character has a reflection or double. A "girl all in silver lame" represents Katje to the Hereros. Various ex-prisoners play at being Blicero, reimagined as a cruel prison guard. In each case, the people using Katje or Blicero for their rituals or performances do not have any firsthand experience. Blicero was never at Dora and Katje is only just now meeting the Hereros. Katje's and Blicero's transformation into legends might seem to give them more substance, more "temporal bandwidth," as the narrator said earlier. But this also means the information about them is less reliable. The information is mythical rather than factual. Somewhat like Slothrop, Katje and Blicero are being scattered across the Zone. However, they don't attain Slothrop's level of extreme dispersion.

There is no legend of Gottfried. Alone among the Peenemünde trio who played Hansel and Gretel and the witch, Gottfried has no double. (At least, not in these episodes.) This omission intensifies the mystery about Gottfried. For the Hereros, the mystery is cleared up as soon as Thanatz talks about "that last rocket-firing on the Heath." Readers learn about Gottfried in the novel's final episode.

Part 4, Episode 6 is like a miniature version of the novel Gravity's Rainbow. Like the novel, it is fragmented into episodes. Before Part 4, Episode 6 fragments, it is partly a story about four superheroes, one of whom is Slothrop. The story of their adventures shifts when it suddenly becomes apparent "for the first time," the narrator notes, "the 4 and the Father-conspiracy do not entirely fill their world." There are also "many other struggles, [and] there are also spectators" in "this dingy yellow amphitheater." In Part 3, Episode 31 Slothrop realizes, also for the first time, "that the Zone can sustain many other plots besides those polarized upon himself." Here the revelation is repeated, and then the news is followed by 12 miniature episodes or sub-episodes, many only distantly or thematically connected to Slothrop.

There is a hinge between the main part of the episode and the 12 miniature episodes. The superhero Maximilian starts reading a book about kamikazes. Before long there are two miniature episodes about kamikaze pilots. Maximilian does not just have a sense of musical rhythm, but of "all rhythms, up to and including the cosmic." Perhaps he has a sense of the rhythms of Gravity's Rainbow, and these episodes demonstrate that. However, the explanation cannot be pushed too far or made too neat. These miniature episodes do not seem to be Maximilian's thoughts or dreams.

Also worth noting is the way traces of Slothrop appear in so many of the miniature episodes. Slothrop is featured in some episodes, like "The Low-Frequency Listener," and in "An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet." However, elements of Slothrop are also scattered in the other episodes. Takeshi and Ichizo know an "old Kenosho the loony radarman," a callback to the "Kenosha Kid" of Slothrop's drug experiment. In "Streets," the scrap of newspaper headline gives stunning news that only gets its emotional due elsewhere in the novel, in Slothrop's vision of the rainbow. In this episode, the novel's rhythms are fully as "scattered" as Slothrop himself becomes by the end of the novel.

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