Tropic of Cancer | Study Guide

Henry Miller

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Tropic of Cancer | Chapter 12 | Summary



Fillmore and Henry Miller have become good friends, and when Fillmore's girlfriend Jackie moves out, he invites Henry to come live with him. He helps support Henry by giving him 10 francs a day. However, Fillmore, in a friendly effort to help Henry, expects him to produce at least a few pages of writing in return for staying there, though Fillmore isn't serious about it. Fillmore also mentions he probably would have let Jackie stay if she had only had sex with him once in a while. Henry thinks it would be easier if Fillmore wanted sex instead of writing from Henry. Fillmore, "poking around, searching for pages," that are "supposed to trickle out ... like a tap" makes Henry uneasy.

Fillmore typically tries to seduce women by pretending to be an artist, in the "surrealistic quality," a painting style Henry doesn't like. Their apartment overlooks an army barracks, which Henry calls "a madhouse." Mark Swift comes to do Henry's portrait with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Kruger criticizes the painting because it is "out of proportion." Henry also gets work from Carl, rewriting travel articles.

Everything is going well until Fillmore brings home Macha, a Russian princess down on her luck. She likes to drink, though, a quality Fillmore wants in a woman. However, when they go to a dance hall, Macha runs into a lover who jilted her in the past. She actually threw herself in the Seine and tried to commit suicide over him. Seeing him upsets her, and she abandons Fillmore at the club. He finds her later in the Coupole, another bar, and berates her for leaving without telling him. She tells Fillmore she's crazy, and he's crazy, too, because he wants her to sleep with him, even though she doesn't want to. In a frenzied state, Macha announces suddenly that Fillmore must take her to Bricktop's, a restaurant where she might be able to get a job; but he'll have to spend a lot of money there. In return she'll go home with him. Fillmore refuses and tells her if she were the last woman on Earth he would not take her on. However, a few days later, Macha is living with Fillmore and Henry.

Macha tells Fillmore she only loves women, and wants him to take her to sex shows around the city. Henry thinks Macha only pretends to be a lesbian. At a brothel Fillmore ends up with a prostitute he and Henry take on, and Macha watches them have sex. All of this sexual activity gives Fillmore the confidence to try to get Macha into bed. However, Macha has "the clap," gonorrhea, and doesn't tell Fillmore until he is just about to have sex with her. They sleep in the same bed, but do not have sex. Macha takes several remedies Fillmore and Henry get from a Hungarian doctor they know. She regales Henry and Fillmore with tales of fighting to get back her inheritance, as well as the ex-lover who gave her the disease, a lawyer she gave it to, and a lesbian who wanted to move in with her. She says she prefers sex with men more than with women now, but men make her bleed, so sometimes she has to take a break and go with women.


Friendships in Paris include a lot of manipulation. Fillmore lies to women about being a painter, to seduce them. He gets taken in by Macha, who uses Fillmore for a place to live and someone to spend money on her. Henry's comment that everyone gets to know each other in Paris via "genito-urinary friendships" seems to be true in this chapter, as well. As deeply entrenched as Fillmore and Macha are, in knowing each other's private health details, they lie to each other to get what they want, and they both know it, as if they take for granted manipulations operate as an acceptable feature in friendship. They never end up having sex because Fillmore doesn't want to get the clap again. Sex and disease end up directing the relationship.

Henry's portrait appears to be an artist's battleground between Swift and Kruger, who hate each other's work. Swift makes Henry grow a beard and pose so he can include the Eiffel Tower in the painting. Swift paints whatever is in his own mind, so what lands on the canvas may not come out in perfect proportion to reality. Henry's approach to art is similar, a flow of ideas sparked by what he sees, with no censorship of what is considered by society to be ugly or strange or shocking. He writes exactly the way he thinks. If Henry were interested in being painted in a hyperrealistic way, Kruger would be the one to ask, but Henry likes the idea that Swift doesn't care about "the laws of Nature." Swift doesn't let anyone tell him how to paint, this kind of artistic independence is also important to Henry.

Contradicting himself completely, Henry mocks Fillmore's surrealistic painting style in this chapter, and doesn't like the painted images that don't mirror reality. Henry also confesses, to the reader, that his ideas do not "trickle out" as if from a faucet as quickly as he would like them to. The narrative in this chapter moves slowly and includes abundant details, all told in traditional storytelling style. Earlier in the novel Henry worries his writing is literary, and he shows what he means by literary in this section of the narrative. Generally, this chapter functions as a nod to Realism, a literary movement dedicated to depicting life as it really is. Tropic of Cancer, entirely modernist, overall, is also heavily influenced by surrealism, but Miller has some fun retrogressing to the style popular before surrealism and modernism took over the literary scene. Also, Henry's change in writing style reflects the influence his current environment has on him. His friendship with Fillmore, writing assignments, and stable financial situation allow his writing craft to flow slow and steady and in control.

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