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Gravity's Rainbow | Quotes


A screaming comes across the sky.

Narrator, Part 1, Episode 1

The narrator is describing the flight of a V-2 rocket. The narrator uses the present tense, and therefore seems to describe a timeless, frozen moment of suspense just before the rocket strikes. However, since the V-2 traveled faster than the speed of sound, the "screaming" would have come across the sky only after the rocket struck its target. This is the perspective from the moment in history when Pynchon wrote Gravity's Rainbow, in the late 20th century. The novel is about the world after the V-2 rocket has struck—that is, the world shaped by the technology descended from the V-2 rocket. Space travel, ballistic missiles, and the threat of nuclear annihilation all shaped the 20th century.


Everyone's equal. Same chances of getting hit. Equal in the eyes of the rocket.

Roger Mexico, Part 1, Episode 9

In a discussion about the V-2 rockets and the statistical analysis Roger is doing, Jessica says, "It isn't fair." She would like Roger's equations to show which parts of London are safer, but statistics cannot do that. Roger counters by saying it is fair because everyone in London has the "same chances of getting hit." Mexico's work follows that of real-life British statistician R.D. Clarke, who determined the V-2 rockets fell on London in a Poisson distribution. The Poisson distribution suggests the probability that a set number of events will occur in a defined interval of time or space with a constant rate and independent of the time of the last event. Clarke's work mattered for the reason the fictional Mexico's work would: the question was how accurately the Nazis could aim the V-2. Thus it was important to research whether clusters of V-2 strikes in particular areas of London were targeted or random.


Don't forget the real business of the War is buying and selling.

Narrator, Part 1, Episode 14

The narrator is discussing Katje's desire to do good, to feed the Allies enough information to make up for the deaths she caused while working for the Nazis in the Netherlands. At first the narrator chides Katje for acting "as if there's a real conversion factor between information and lives." Then the narrator says there really is such a conversion factor, written down in a manual at the War Department. Thus the "real business of the War" is selling human lives in return for advances in technology and science, or in return for information enabling corporations to increase profits and entrench their power positions. The usual way of looking at war is to see all the economic, scientific, technological, and espionage advances as subordinate to the military aim: to win the war. In this reversed perspective, the battles are less important than the mobilization of science and industry. The way the narrator capitalizes "the War" also suggests the war is a kind of super-state, cutting across lines between the Allied and Axis powers.


This is the War's evensong, the War's canonical hour, and the night is real.

Narrator, Part 1, Episode 16

On a whim, Mexico and Jessica stop in to a church service on Sunday evening. The service is "evensong," a nighttime service in the Anglican Church, consisting mostly of choral music. In the choir that night a Jamaican man sings. Since Jamaica was once a colony of Britain's, the evening service could almost be British war propaganda: the nation and her former colonies banding together in time of war. However, the narrator capitalizes "the War" to suggest the war is an entity beyond nations. If this is the War's evensong, then this is the War's momentary pause in hostilities. But since "the night is real," the terrors, violence, and subterfuge of the war are real. The pause in the church is only a pause, and even a momentary feeling of national unity cannot withstand the war.



Narrator, Part 1, Episode 19

The narrator says graffitied slogans such as this appear "on the walls of the Red [communist] districts" of Berlin in the early 1930s. This is part of Leni's story.

The slogan says the opposite of what is said in the Symposium, a philosophical dialogue written by 5th-century Greek philosopher Plato. In this dialogue, someone named Phaedrus says, "And a state or army which was made up only of lovers and their loves would be invincible. For love will convert the veriest coward into an inspired hero."

It is not certain what the graffiti means. Perhaps it was written by communists, and it means there are homosexual lovers on the fascist side, and the fascists will be defeated. Perhaps it warns communists not to think they are invincible. The difficult slogan recalls another historical moment, Paris in 1968. During the student uprisings in the Latin Quarter (the neighborhood around the Sorbonne, a university), poetic and puzzling graffiti appeared on the walls. Among the most famous of these is "Beneath the paving stones, the beach." Pynchon makes the connection explicit by referring to "the Red districts" just as the student protests in Paris took place in the Latin Quarter. The connection between 1930s Berlin and 1960s Paris underlines the way Gravity's Rainbow shows the world order set up during World War II still affected the latter half of the 20th century.


It might ... be a collaboration here, between both sides of the Wall, matter and spirit.

Narrator, Part 1, Episode 19

The narrator wonders why the Nazis want to talk to Walter Rathenau, the dead Jewish statesman. The narrator gives rational reasons, such as Rathenau's being a "philosopher with a vision of the postwar State." This the "official version" of the reason for the Nazis' interest in the spirit of Rathenau. But the narrator gives a paranoid reason, without endorsing it. "If one were paranoid enough," the Nazis might be visiting the séance for a "collaboration" between matter and spirit. This underlines the way technology and supernatural phenomena are linked in Gravity's Rainbow. It also suggests structures of power and bureaucracy extend into the afterlife.


The people out here were meant to go down first. We're expendable.

Thomas Gwenhidwy, Part 1, Episode 20

The doctor Thomas Gwenhidwy works in the poor East London area, so he witnesses firsthand the damage the V-2 rockets cause. He is aware the damage is greater in East London than elsewhere. In conversation with Pointsman, he lays out a theory: powerful people caused Southeast London to be inhabited by poor people. Gwenhidwy thinks the powerful saw London was most vulnerable to attack from the south and the east. Thus the poor people of East London were "expendable."

Pointsman calls Gwenhidwy's theory "very paranoid," to which Gwenhidwy responds, "It's true." This exchange crystallizes two of the novel's themes. Pynchon is interested in what he calls "the preterite," the people who are excluded from the goods of the world. Gravity's Rainbow plays with the idea that only a paranoid worldview could do justice to the preterite.


Perhaps, after all, we were meant to meet.

Katje Borgesius, Part 2, Episode 1

Katje says this to Slothrop just after he rescues her from the attack by the octopus. It is the kind of thing a lover or seducer says. Katje implies fate or destiny had a hand in bringing her and Slothrop together. However, Slothrop and the readers know something else is going on. Another woman who witnessed the scene has just warned Slothrop to "be careful." She had asked whether Slothrop knew "all the time about the octopus ... because it was so like a dance." Thus there is dramatic irony in Katje's statement that she and Slothrop were "meant to meet." Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or the reader knows something the characters in the story do not. Katje does not know Slothrop suspects the octopus attack was staged. Readers soon learn the octopus was Grigori, the one Pointsman trained. As Slothrop says, "Oh, that was no 'found' crab, Ace—no random octopus or girl, uh-uh."


Their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit.

Narrator, Part 2, Episode 8

The narrator is describing something Gavin Trefoil says at the White Visitation. Trefoil is a psychic who can voluntarily change the color of his skin. He is used for the Operation Black Wing film, the footage of fake black Nazi soldiers. The film is meant to be used in some way as psychological warfare, to demoralize the Nazis.

Trefoil scandalizes white people at the White Visitation by telling them "their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit." He goes on to say their "feelings about shit [are tied] to feelings about putrefaction and death." Trefoil is pointing out racial prejudice involves attributing many vile aspects to the despised or dominated racial minority. But he is also pointing out something about Gravity's Rainbow itself, which explores this same connection of racism and fear of death.


Enzian's been stuffing down Nazi surplus Pervitins these days like popcorn at the movies.

Narrator, Part 3, Episode 21

Pervitins were a brand of amphetamines German soldiers were given during World War II. They enabled soldiers to fight and march for long periods with little rest. German army scientists had experimented with Pervitin to find out whether it would be useful for the army. Thus the actual historical facts in the book are almost as strange as Pynchon's discussions of military experiments with octopuses and psychics.

In the context of the novel, the narrator's remark casts doubt on Enzian's ideas. Enzian has been thinking the ruined oil works is functioning exactly as it is supposed to. He is fascinated by the idea the wreckage was meant to happen, and the Hereros were meant to interpret the text of the wreckage. However, the remark about Pervitins pulls the rug out from under the reader. Just as the reader might be getting persuaded by Enzian's paranoid ideas, the narrator reminds readers Enzian's thinking is distorted by amphetamine use. Throughout Gravity's Rainbow the paranoid ideas are never stable.


Without elect, without preterite, without even nationality to fuck it up.

Narrator, Part 3, Episode 25

The narrator is relaying Slothrop's thoughts about "the Zone," the novel's name for areas of Europe involved in the V-2 rocket's production. Slothrop has been wondering whether the United States can somehow turn back to a former possibility, a road it did not take. He thinks this possibility is to be found in the Zone. The chaos and destruction of war have created conditions where something new is possible. Because so much has been cleared away, something new might be created without divisions into such categories as elect and preterite. At the same time Slothrop believes They have planned history down to the last millisecond, but something has escaped Their control. The chaos They wrought has perhaps created the conditions for Their undoing.


A Rocket-cartel. A structure cutting across every agency human and paper that ever touched it.

Narrator, Part 3, Episode 27

Tchitcherine is having a kind of vision, similar to one Slothrop had earlier. A large finger seems to be looming out of the sky. The "Finger is calling Tchitcherine's attention" to the idea of a "Rocket-cartel." A cartel can be an agreement among nations at war. It can also be a clandestine agreement between producers or manufacturers for the purpose of fixing prices. Or it can mean political groups that have combined for common action. Perhaps all these definitions are in play in Tchitcherine's vision. He thinks both Russia and Germany might be involved, together, in this Rocket-cartel. His evidence is that Russia bought weapons from the German arms manufacturer Krupp.

Tchitcherine's ideas about the Rocket-cartel contrast with Slothrop's ideas about the Zone. Tchitcherine attends to phenomena that are the opposite of what Slothrop notices. Slothrop sees destruction, chaos, and the ground cleared for new possibilities. Tchitcherine sees vast, complex systems of order, still functioning after the war and in the Zone.


Do you suppose something exploded somewhere? ... Another Krakatoa?

The colonel, Part 4, Episode 3

In a dreamlike sequence, an American colonel is getting a haircut, somewhere in the mountains in Germany. He comments on the remarkable sunsets lately. Therefore he wonders if "another Krakatoa" exploded. (The Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1883. Fine ash drifted around the earth and sunsets were spectacular for the following year.)

There is dramatic irony in the colonel's remarks. It is late August 1945. Therefore readers know "something" has exploded, and they know it is worse than the colonel realizes. On August 6, 1945, U.S. planes dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. On August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. In a different way than Krakatoa's volcanic ash, the atomic bombs affected the whole world. There was now a danger of world annihilation through these new, more powerful weapons. But the colonel only supposes "something has exploded somewhere." He lacks the angel's-eye view the novel supplies.


Scattered all over the Zone.

Narrator, Part 4, Episode 8

The narrator is commenting on the condition of Tyrone Slothrop. He no longer holds together as a person. A few people, including Seaman Bodine, can see him as a person and "hold him together as a concept." But for the most part, Slothrop is dispersed. At the end of Slothrop's character arc there is only a shattering into fragments. It is as though Slothrop's character arc were the parabola of a V-2 rocket's flight. The novel refers to that parabola as "gravity's rainbow" because it is shaped by forces of rocket thrust and gravity. Traditionally at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold. At the end of Slothrop's ballistic, weaponized rainbow is a detonation.


The Light [will] ... / Find the last poor Pret'rite one.

William Slothrop, Part 4, Episode 12

These are words of a hymn by William Slothrop, a Puritan ancestor of Tyrone Slothrop's. The Puritans were religious reformers in 16th- and 17th-century England. Many, like the fictional William Slothrop, immigrated to England's new colonies in America. William Slothrop, however, soon goes his own path of reform. He develops heretical ideas of inverting the meanings of "elect" (or saved) and "preterite." He believes the people not chosen by God, the preterite, are the true key to salvation. He also believes the true savior is Judas rather than Jesus.

The hymn says, "There is a Hand to turn the time, / Though thy glass today be run." The "glass" is an hourglass. The sand has run out, meaning there is no more time. Since "thy" is not capitalized, it is likely the "you" addressed in the hymn is not God. It is perhaps addressed to the dead or dying. Though their time has run out, there is still a hand, God's hand, steering time. The hymn says this hand will go on turning or steering time until "the Light ... / Find[s] the last poor Pret'rite one." Thus the mighty will be cast down and the low, the preterite, raised up. Since this hymn is on the last page, the novel's "glass" has also run, its time has run out. But there is still hope for the downtrodden preterite.

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