Literature Study GuidesGravitys RainbowPart 4 Episodes 7 9 Summary

Gravity's Rainbow | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity's Rainbow | Part 4, Episodes 7–9 : The Counterforce | Summary



Part 4, Episode 7

The time and place of this episode are uncertain. Tchitcherine and his driver Džabajev have parted ways. A man named Nicolai Ripov, "of the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities, is in town and closing in" on Tchitcherine. "Tchitcherine understands that he is finally alone now." He recalls conversations with the drug salesman Wimpe, who discussed a drug called Oneirine theophosphate. The prefix "theo-" indicates "the Presence of God." This drug gives its users "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology." But the hallucinations are like "hauntings," and they have "narrative continuity."

The episode shifts to a section subtitled "Tchitcherine's Haunting." Tchitcherine is on Oneirine, and someone, perhaps Ripov, is interrogating him. But Tchitcherine is asking the questions. He wants to know if his Soviet handlers intended for him to die. He asks Ripov if he is "supposed to die for them." Ripov replies, "You're not much use dead."

Tchitcherine and Ripov discuss why he was "hunting [his] black brother," Enzian. Ripov says Enzian was never Tchitcherine's target. Others allowed Tchitcherine to chase Enzian, the better to keep track of Enzian themselves. Ripov reveals Tchitcherine will be sent on another assignment, to Central Asia, where the Soviets are sending "German rocket personnel." Tchitcherine feels the assignment is almost the same as death: "To return to Central Asia is, operationally, to die."

Part 4, Episode 8

The counterforce assembles at a German inn called der Grob Säugling, which Gravity's Rainbow translates as "Gross Suckling." (A Säugling in German is an infant still nursing, a suckling.) Present are Carrol Eventyr, Ensign Morituri, Thomas Gwenhidwy, and Roger Mexico. They figure out the 00000 rocket was fired in the direction of true north.

Roger recalls a conversation with Jessica. She told him she was planning to have Jeremy's baby. Roger pleaded with Jessica to return to him anyway: "Have his baby. I'll love you both." He was about to cry when along came his rival for Jessica's love, Jeremy. He invited Roger to dinner and Roger accepted. Jeremy "has forgiven Jessica her time with Roger." The soiree will be at the home of Stefan Utgarthaloki, once a manager for the Krupp arms manufacturing company in Germany.

Roger decides to bring a friend, Seaman Bodine. Bodine wears "a zoot suit of unbelievable proportions." Its "pointed lapels ... extend so far outboard of the rest of the suit" they have to be supported with coat hangers.

At the party, a quartet of musicians plays the "suppressed quartet from the Haydn Op. 76, the so-called 'Kazoo' Quartet in G-Flat Minor." One of the musicians is Gustav, from Säure's circle in Berlin. Bodine gets into an intense conversation about Haydn and how to play the kazoo quartet.

Utgarthaloki's uncanny wife is described: "She is a blonde image of your mother dead." This leads to a reference to Slothrop's mother, Nalline. Slothrop himself is now "scattered all over the Zone." It is unlikely "he can ever be 'found' again, in the conventional sense of 'positively identified and detained.'" The narrator then comments on the failings of the Counterforce. They are cowed by money.

Roger contemplates the plot against him. Then he and Bodine start playing a game. At the dinner table, they compete to see who can describe the most disgusting dish: "snot soup," "clot casserole," and so on. A guest gamely joins in, but most of the others are disgusted. Jessica and Jeremy leave, with Jessica weeping and Jeremy "shaking his head at Roger's folly."

Part 4, Episode 9

In late August or early September of 1945, Geli Tripping uses witchcraft to search for Tchitcherine. Another witch counsels her, offering her a spell. Geli knows the Schwarzkommando "are on a collision course with Tchitcherine." She also learns he is being followed by "Beria's top man, the sinister N. Ripov himself." (Lavrentiy Beria was the head of the secret police in the Soviet Union from 1938 to 1953.)

Geli is "the World-choosing sort" of witch, rather than one who seeks to rise through the bureaucratic ranks of witches. As such, she is attuned to the natural world, "the World just before men." Humans (apart from witches) are aware of the world only later, when nature is "dead, in still strata, transputrefied to oil or coal." Humans are "God's spoilers. ... Counter-revolutionaries. It is [their] mission to promote death." This death is part of "the impulse to empire" and it is "holding down the green uprising." Geli sides with the green uprising. She senses "Titans stir[ring] far below" and the god Pan.

The episode shifts focus to Blicero and Gottfried, only a few weeks before the end of the war in Germany. Gottfried kneels at Blicero's feet. Blicero rants to Gottfried about empire, America, death, and "the edge of the World." He tells Gottfried that America was "the site for its [Europe's] Kingdom of Death, that special Death the West had invented." Blicero says he wants "to break out—to leave this cycle of infection and death."


It is possible Ripov never speaks to Tchitcherine, as Tchitcherine is on the drug Oneirine. The conversation with Ripov is sensible enough to be one of the dull hallucinations caused by Oneirine. It also has the "narrative continuity" attributed to Oneirine hallucinations. If Ripov is not there, then the conversation is imagined by Tchitcherine. If this is the case, the conversation says more about Tchitcherine's state of mind than about what will happen to him when he returns to the Soviet Union.

They converse about "a Theory of History." The theory under discussion is a Marxist one. Karl Marx was a 19th-century German philosopher who wrote about politics and economics. Tchitcherine sees the Marxist theory of history as a "dialectical ballet of force, counterforce, collision, and new order." Marx adopted the idea of dialectics from 19th-century German philosopher G.F.W. Hegel. For Hegel, history and ideas progressed through stages he called thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. This is Tchitcherine's "force" and "counterforce," which have a "collision" and result in a "new order."

Tchitcherine has perhaps turned to the "cold comfort" of a Marxist view of history because his other projects have come to nothing. He never found Enzian, and now he learns—or, at least, entertains the notion—that seeking Enzian was someone else's idea all along. Ahead he sees only the "operational death" of exile to the desert, with other rocket personnel. However, although Tchitcherine has a dialectical view of history, it is not certain the novel has a dialectical structure. There has been a force, They, and there is now a counterforce, but they do not seem to collide. Roger's attempts amount to tilting at windmills: he urinates on a desk, and he makes disgusting jokes. Whatever Roger, Katje, and Osbie's counterforce is, it does not seem capable of the "dialectical ballet" Tchitcherine imagines. Even Roger considers the counterforce a "failed Counterforce," a thing of the past.

However, despite the silliness of Roger's jokes, Part 4, Episode 8 also has a mythic, heroic dimension. The dinner host is Stefan Utgarthaloki. His last name contains the name Loki, a trickster god of Norse mythology. His peculiar wife, known only as Frau Utgarthaloki, has aspects of Hel, Norse goddess of death. Hel's body is traditionally described as half alive and half a corpse. Pynchon describes Frau Utgarthaloki as a "blonde image of your mother dead." Roger and Bodine could be said to triumph over the trickster god and his deathly companion, making a mockery of his party. But this is thin broth, if this is the counterforce's triumph. The force—"They"—can lob bombs and occupy people's minds. "The Man has a branch office in each of our brains," the narrator adds.

Geli takes a long view that puts Tchitcherine, Mexico, Slothrop, and indeed all humans on one side, one tremendous They. From her witchy perspective there is a revolutionary force, "the green uprising." On its side are nature, Titans, and the ancient Greek god Pan. All humans are part of the counterrevolutionary force that suppresses the green uprising. Her perspective is strange, but she zeroes in on some of the same villains as in Slothrop's conspiracies. Petrochemical cartels feature in Slothrop's They. Geli likewise sees "men" as interacting only with dead nature, "transputrefied to oil or coal."

Blicero wants to cut the cycle short and somehow escape death by evidently sacrificing Gottfried. However, he is not doing anything new. Many adults in Gravity's Rainbow sacrifice or exploit children. Pynchon underlines Blicero's similarity to other men. Mixed in with Blicero's sweet talk to Gottfried is this memory: "You used to whisper me to sleep with stories of us one day living on the Moon." These were Ilse's stories; Ilse (or one of the Ilse simulacra) used to talk to Franz Pökler about living on the moon. Blicero's attempt to "leave this cycle of infection and death" seems more likely to continue it.
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