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Course Hero. "Tropic of Cancer Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Tropic-of-Cancer/.

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Course Hero, "Tropic of Cancer Study Guide," September 20, 2017, accessed December 14, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Tropic-of-Cancer/.

Tropic of Cancer | Plot Summary

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Summary

Henry Miller, a fictionalized version of the author of Tropic of Cancer, is a young writer living in Paris. The novel follows his wanderings, where he is poor and hungry but feels free and full of life. The loose plotline involves Henry's development as a writer and whether he will stay in Paris.

Henry lives with Boris, a nihilistic thinker and writer. They write an anthology of literature together. Henry's friends Van Norden and Carl go to brothels and bistros with him, while Borowski, Cronstadt, Moldorf, and a host of others feed him on a once-a-week schedule, each of them making sure that Henry never starves. Sylvester, a dramatist, feeds him until he decides to take Tania, his wife, away to Russia, likely to get her away from Henry, with whom she is having an affair. Van Norden and Sylvester both want to be writers, but only Boris and Carl are crazy enough, according to Henry, to write well. Henry's friend, Moldorf, is godlike in his ability to philosophize, but Henry can't stand his devotion to Sylvester.

Henry has been left in Paris by his wife, Mona. The last time Henry saw Mona, they had just left a bedbug-infested hotel in Paris for another hotel. While visiting a restaurant, Henry had sex with a woman in the bathroom, and then getting so drunk that he eventually vomited all over their new hotel room. While Henry wishes Mona would come back, he continues to live a fast and furious life of adventure with his friends, full of heavy drinking and carousing. However, Henry isn't sure what went wrong with Mona, who sends money and promises to visit, but never does. He mourns the loss of his marriage, when he stops to think about it, but tries to fill his life with other adventures to drown out his guilt and hunger for her.

Henry's days revolve around food and sex. He has sex with men's wives, their maids, and prostitutes. He roams the city day and night when he doesn't have a job. He does occasional short-term jobs, cooking and cleaning for people like Nanantatee, an Indian pearl merchant. Henry finally gets hired as a proofreader at a newspaper but loses that job. He continues getting odd jobs, including at a brothel where's he'd paid in champagne and sex.

Whenever Henry is in trouble or is out of money, friends step in. His friends Collins and Fillmore take him on when he is ill and once they get him well, Henry goes to live with Fillmore, who forces him to write every day. Henry relates the adventures all three of them have with prostitutes. He also describes, in stream-of-consciousness style, his philosophy that humanity and Western civilization is on the decline, and that human beings have constructed a machinery that imprisons them in a passionless existence. Even if the world is falling apart, Henry welcomes that destruction, to make room for a new world where joy and ecstasy are the norm and people connect with each other in a meaningful way, through art, literature, and sex.

Henry has a love-hate relationship with Paris. He alternately describes it as a pit of degeneracy and scum, then as beautiful, bathed in sunlight, with a population of exuberant, charming people. He has experienced homelessness, hunger, disease, and despair there, but he has also been able to write, which would not be possible on the human treadmill that New York has become. It is only when Henry gets an unpaid job teaching at a school in Dijon, during a snowy, foggy winter, that he realizes just how ingrained Paris is in his soul. Even though he gets daily meals and has housing in Dijon, he is friendless and hungry. He loses sight of himself, and his efforts to bring out joy in the otherwise rough life he has chosen are useless in Dijon. Henry regains his sense of self when he goes back to Paris.

Henry's role as the friend who always needs help changes once he returns. This time he helps his friend Fillmore escape a marriage forced on him because of his girlfriend's pregnancy. Henry has the opportunity to go back to America, but he has found peace in Paris, and all the city offers, good and bad.

Tropic of Cancer Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Mona leaves Henry in Paris alone.

Rising Action

2 Henry and Boris write an anthology.

3 Henry and Carl rescue Marlowe.

4 Henry meets and escapes Serge.

5 Henry works for Nanantatee.

6 Henry feels despondent about Mona.

7 Henry meets Kruger, Collins, and Fillmore.

8 Henry returns to Paris and lives with Fillmore.

Climax

9 Henry seeks joy as the world collapses.

Falling Action

10 Henry gives one woman money, then cheats a prostitute.

11 Henry takes a teaching job in Dijon, but returns to Paris.

Resolution

12 Henry saves Fillmore, steals his money, and finds peace.

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