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Tropic of Cancer | Quotes


I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.

Henry Miller, Chapter 1

Henry Miller lives intentionally poor. He remains jobless in order to write and live his life as exuberantly as he can. This quote conveys Henry's priorities in life to the reader, as well as the position he has ended up in after many personal losses. At times the reader may doubt Henry's poverty-ridden existence makes him happy, but the moments he finds peace coincide with the moments he realizes he has nothing and is not responsible for anyone, not even himself. Poverty means freedom.


There is only one thing that interests me ... the recording of all that which is omitted in books.

Henry Miller, Chapter 1

Henry believes writers have kept the most meaningful aspects of life out of their books. To Henry writers who refuse to embrace everything—beautiful or ugly—make for dishonest and spiritually dead artists. In Henry's quest for absolute honesty, the most explicit tales of his life on the street record what no one else will say or admit to.


The only thing that stands between me and a future is a meal, another meal.

Henry Miller, Chapter 4

Henry literally lives hand to mouth, getting meals from friends on a rotating, weekly schedule, with a different friend taking on the duty each day. In order to live, he must eat. By simplifying his life in accordance with only basic physical needs, Henry frees his mind for loftier creative pursuits. His physical hunger mirrors his hunger to live fully, with vigor and vibrancy.


Ever since I had left Mona I had worn the ring on my pinkie.

Henry Miller, Chapter 5

Henry buys Mona a wedding ring, but she never ends up wearing it because she never shows up to visit him. She promises to come to Paris but never arrives, and Henry wears the ring as a symbol of hope for her return, even though he knows seeing her again is highly unlikely. Although he's penniless and often starving, he says the ring is "so much of a part of [him] that it had never occurred to [him] to sell it."


You're cancer and delirium.

Tania, Chapter 5

Tania tells Henry he represents all of the decay and depravity in the world, and though she has an affair with him, she can't tolerate his views on life. She ends up refusing to let him live with her, to appear faithful to Sylvester, but the reader gets the impression she just can't stand Henry's diseased way of thinking.


The people who live here are dead; they make chairs which other people sit on in their dreams.

Henry Miller, Chapter 5

Henry Miller describes the poor, who go through the motions of living and perform all the tasks no one else wants to do, all of the dirty, disgusting things that make life possible, clean, and spotless for the rich. As a result of having no freedom or life of their own, he considers them "dead."


An artist is always alone—if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.

Henry Miller, Chapter 5

Henry Miller points out the difference between the artist's need for solitude in which to think and write, and being lonely. He implies artists are always lonely inside, no matter how many friends they surround themselves with. Artists have a depth of despair and suffering, a feeling of separation from the rest of the world, which inspires them to try to reach through the empty space to touch people with their art, something impossible to do without experiencing loneliness as a catalyst.


America is the very incarnation of doom. She will drag the whole world down to the bottomless pit.

Henry Miller, Chapter 7

Henry Miller has a terrible opinion of America and its "cheap idealism," a fake optimism and hope for a better future, which he believes America imposes on its own citizens and the rest of the world, to their detriment. Being poor and inspired in Paris is better emotionally for Henry than living in despair and being stepped on and ignored by the rich in America.


If to live is the paramount thing, then I will live, even if I must become a cannibal.

Henry Miller, Chapter 7

Henry decides to embrace his appetites in every sense—artistic, sexual, and otherwise. He speaks metaphorically about how this may lead him to be a cannibal: To live in complete freedom, while also managing to survive day to day, taking what he needs when he needs it, even if it means consuming other people in the process.


I want her to take me out of myself. But to do that, she's got to be better than I am.

Van Norden, Chapter 8

Van Norden is a sex addict, but claims that deep down he wants to have a real relationship with a woman. He can't, though, because he not only hates himself, he refuses to see women as beings with minds, not just body parts for his sexual use. He doesn't understand it is on his own shoulders to make himself worthy of a relationship.


As long as that spark of passion is missing there is no human significance in the performance.

Henry Miller, Chapter 8

Henry Miller describes the sex act he watches happen in this scene, between his friend, Van Norden, and a prostitute. Van Norden's sexuality provides contrast to Henry's. To Henry sex has power, and it ignites creativity. Without passion, humans become cold and mechanical, something inhuman, which is pointless. Henry likens Van Norden and the prostitute to cogs in a machine.


I couldn't allow myself to think about her very long; if I had I would have jumped off the bridge.

Henry Miller, Chapter 9

Henry Miller has only really loved one woman, his wife, Mona, whom he has betrayed so many times that she has decided to leave him. He knows in his heart he is the reason for the breakup, and is heartbroken there is nothing he can do now to get her back. In typical fashion he plunges back into life, where he continues to have sex with a seemingly endless number of women. By the end of the novel, having gotten over Mona, he only wonders vaguely what has become of her.


No matter where you go ... there is cancer and syphilis. ... It has eaten into our souls.

Henry Miller, Chapter 9

Disease, both spiritual and physical, is destroying the world, according to Henry, and strangely, he enjoys watching the destruction. He believes the world will come to an end, and he thinks he will be alive on the other side of the apocalypse, perhaps through the act of writing.


I join my slime, my excrement, my madness, my ecstasy to the great circuit which flows through ... the flesh.

Henry Miller, Chapter 13

In a visionary burst of energy, Henry swears to live life in the present moment and to the fullest extent. He accepts all of life, including his own filth, his own craziness, and his own joy. Throughout the novel, Henry seeks to live in complete freedom, and this often involves an unapologetic urge to experience the world through the flesh, particularly through eating and drinking, copulating, and rambling along the streets of Paris.


If any man ever dared to translate all that is in his heart ... the world would go to smash.

Henry Miller, Chapter 13

Henry sums up the depth of his despair and the intensity of his need, saying that if everyone were honest about all of their feelings, it would be too much to bear. The world would fall apart from the impact. However, he wants to try to write as much as he can, as honestly as he can, pouring out his often-shocking thoughts and feelings to go beyond the pretensions and limitations of literature in order to create something more authentic.

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