Gravity's Rainbow
Overview
Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern
Postmodern literature
The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain characteristics of post–World War II literature and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature.Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is hard to define and there is little agreement on the exact...

 novel written by Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

 and first published on February 28, 1973.

The narrative
Narrative
A narrative is a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, "knowing" or "skilled"...

 is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and centers on the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rocket
V-2 rocket
The V-2 rocket , technical name Aggregat-4 , was a ballistic missile that was developed at the beginning of the Second World War in Germany, specifically targeted at London and later Antwerp. The liquid-propellant rocket was the world's first long-range combat-ballistic missile and first known...

s by the German military, and, in particular, the quest undertaken by several characters to uncover the secret of a mysterious device named the "Schwarzgerät" ("black device") that is to be installed in a rocket with the serial number "00000."

Gravity's Rainbow is transgressive, as it questions and inverts social standards of deviance and disgust and transgresses boundaries of Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 and reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

.
Quotations

It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted...secretly, it was being dictated instead by the needs of technology...by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war.

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

They are in Love. Fuck the War.

Death has come in the pantry door: stands watching them, iron and patient, with a look that says try to tickle me.

Tap my head and mic my brain / stick that needle in my vein

pronouncing asshole with a certain sphinctering of the lips so it comes out ehisshehwle.

read old agonies inside poor Dumpster, who'd tried suicide last semester: the differential equations that would not weave for him into any elegance.

Encyclopedia
Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern
Postmodern literature
The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain characteristics of post–World War II literature and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature.Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is hard to define and there is little agreement on the exact...

 novel written by Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

 and first published on February 28, 1973.

The narrative
Narrative
A narrative is a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, "knowing" or "skilled"...

 is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and centers on the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rocket
V-2 rocket
The V-2 rocket , technical name Aggregat-4 , was a ballistic missile that was developed at the beginning of the Second World War in Germany, specifically targeted at London and later Antwerp. The liquid-propellant rocket was the world's first long-range combat-ballistic missile and first known...

s by the German military, and, in particular, the quest undertaken by several characters to uncover the secret of a mysterious device named the "Schwarzgerät" ("black device") that is to be installed in a rocket with the serial number "00000."

Gravity's Rainbow is transgressive, as it questions and inverts social standards of deviance and disgust and transgresses boundaries of Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 and reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

. Frequently digressive
Digression
Digression is a section of a composition or speech that is an intentional change of subject. In Classical rhetoric since Corax of Syracuse, especially in Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, the digression was a regular part of any oration or composition...

, the novel subverts many of the traditional elements of plot and character development, and traverses detailed, specialist knowledge drawn from a wide range of disciplines.

The novel has been praised for its innovation and complexity, but criticized by others. In 1974, the three-member Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

 jury on fiction supported Gravity's Rainbow for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

. The other eleven members of the board overturned this decision and no award was given for fiction that year. The novel was nominated for the 1973 Nebula Award
Nebula Award
The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year...

 for Best Novel and won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

 in 1974. Since its publication, Gravity's Rainbow has spawned an enormous amount of literary criticism and commentary, including two readers' guides and several online concordances, and it is frequently cited as Pynchon's magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

.

TIME
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

included the novel in its "All-Time 100 Greatest Novels," a list of the best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 and is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest American novels ever written
Great American Novel
The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representative of the zeitgeist in the United States at the time of its writing. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state,...

.

Structure and chronology

The novel's title is a reference to the parabolic trajectory
Parabolic trajectory
In astrodynamics or celestial mechanics a parabolic trajectory is a Kepler orbit with the eccentricity equal to 1. When moving away from the source it is called an escape orbit, otherwise a capture orbit...

 of a V-2 rocket (the 'rainbow-shaped' path described by the missile as it moves under the influence of gravity, subsequent to its engine's deactivation); it is also thought to refer to the 'shape' of the plot, which many critics such as Weisenburger have found to be cyclical or circular, like the true shape of a rainbow. This follows in the literary tradition of Joyce's
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

 Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake is a novel by Irish author James Joyce, significant for its experimental style and resulting reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language. Written in Paris over a period of seventeen years, and published in 1939, two years before the author's...

and Melville's
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

 The Confidence-Man
The Confidence-Man
The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade was the last major novel by Herman Melville, the American writer and author of Moby-Dick. Published on April 1, 1857 , The Confidence-Man was Melville's tenth major work in eleven years...

.


Gravity's Rainbow is composed of four parts, each of these composed of a number of episodes whose divisions are marked by a graphical depiction of a series of square
Square (geometry)
In geometry, a square is a regular quadrilateral. This means that it has four equal sides and four equal angles...

s. It has been suggested that these represent sprocket
Sprocket
A sprocket or sprocket-wheel is a profiled wheel with teeth, cogs, or even sprockets that mesh with a chain, track or other perforated or indented material. The name 'sprocket' applies generally to any wheel upon which are radial projections that engage a chain passing over it...

 holes as in a reel of film, although they may also bear some relation to the engineer's graph paper
Graph paper
Graph paper, graphing paper, grid paper or millimeter paper is writing paper that is printed with fine lines making up a regular grid. The lines are often used as guides for plotting mathematical functions or experimental data and drawing diagrams. It is commonly found in mathematics and...

 on which the first draft of the novel was written. One of the book's editors has been quoted as saying that the squares relate to censored correspondence sent between soldiers and their loved ones during the war. When family and friends received edited letters, the removed sections would be cut out in squared or rectangular sections. The squares that start each of the four parts would therefore be indicative of what is not written, or what is removed by an external editor or censor. The square frames that divide each chapter were the work of the publisher's production department, and were not suggested by Pynchon. The number of episodes in each part carries with it a numerological significance which is in keeping with the use of numerology
Numerology
Numerology is any study of the purported mystical relationship between a count or measurement and life. It has many systems and traditions and beliefs...

 and Tarot
Tarot
The tarot |trionfi]] and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of cards , used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play a group of card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot...

 symbolism throughout the novel.

Part 1: Beyond the Zero

"Part 1: Beyond the Zero" consists of 21 episodes. The name "Beyond the Zero" refers to lack of total extinction of a conditioned stimulus; that is, as seen in Part One, Laszlo Jamf decreases to zero the stimulus he conditioned on Tyrone Slothrop as an infant, but "there can still be a silent extinction beyond the zero." The events of this part occur primarily during the Christmas
Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

 Advent
Advent
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi...

 season of 1944 from December 18–26. The epigraph
Epigraph (literature)
In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component. The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional...

 is a quotation from a pamphlet written by Wernher von Braun
Wernher von Braun
Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun was a German rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany during World War II and in the United States after that.A former member of the Nazi party,...

 and first published in 1962: "Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death."

Part 2: Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering

"Part 2: Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering" (French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 for "A Furlough
Furlough
In the United States a furlough is a temporary unpaid leave of some employees due to special needs of a company, which may be due to economic conditions at the specific employer or in the economy as a whole...

 at the Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

 Casino") contains 8 episodes. The events of this section span the five months from Christmas 1944 through to Whitsunday
Whitsunday
Whitsunday may be:Days:* The Sunday of the feast of Whitsun or Pentecost in the Christian liturgical year, observed 7 weeks after Easter* One of the Scottish quarter days, always falling on 15 MayPlaces:* The Electoral district of Whitsunday...

 the following year; May 20, 1945. The epigraph is attributed to Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper
Merian Caldwell Cooper was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, and film director and producer. His most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong.-Early life:...

, speaking to Fay Wray
Fay Wray
Fay Wray was a Canadian-American actress most noted for playing the female lead in King Kong...

 prior to her starring role in King Kong
King Kong (1933 film)
King Kong is a Pre-Code 1933 fantasy monster adventure film co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and written by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman after a story by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. The film tells of a gigantic island-dwelling apeman creature called Kong who dies in...

, as recounted by Wray in the September 21, 1969 issue of the New York Times: "You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood."

Part 3: In the Zone

"Part 3: In the Zone" comprises 32 episodes. The action of Part 3 is set during the summer of 1945 with analepses (literary flashbacks) to the time period of Part 2 with most events taking place between May 18 and August 6; the day of the first atomic bomb
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 attack and also the Feast of the Transfiguration
Feast of the Transfiguration
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus is celebrated by various Christian denominations. The origins of the feast are less than certain and may have derived from the dedication of three basilicas on Mount Tabor...

. The epigraph is taken from The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)
The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was directed primarily by Victor Fleming. Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, but there were uncredited contributions by others. The lyrics for the songs...

, spoken by Dorothy
Dorothy Gale
Dorothy Gale is the protagonist of many of the Oz novels by American author L. Frank Baum, and the best friend of Oz's ruler Princess Ozma. Dorothy first appears in Baum's classic children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and reappears in most of its sequels...

 as she arrives in Oz
Land of Oz
Oz is a fantasy region containing four lands under the rule of one monarch.It was first introduced in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, one of many fantasy countries that he created for his books. It achieved a popularity that none of his other works attained, and after four years, he...

 and shows her disorientation with the new environment: "Toto
Toto (dog)
Toto is the name of a fictional dog in L. Frank Baum's Oz series of children's books, and works derived from them. The name is pronounced with a long "O", a homonym of "toe toe". The dog was originally a cairn terrier drawn by W.W. Denslow for the first edition of the Wizard of Oz...

, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

 any more..."

Part 4: The Counterforce

"Part 4: The Counterforce" is made up of 12 episodes. The plot of this part begins shortly after August 6, 1945 and covers the period up to September 14 of that same year; the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, with extended analepsis to Easter
Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

/April Fool's weekend of 1945 and culminating in a prolepsis to 1970. The simple epigraphical quotation, "What?" is attributed to Richard M. Nixon, and was added after the galleys
Galley proof
In printing and publishing, proofs are the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, editors, and proofreaders, often with extra wide margins. Galley proofs may be uncut and unbound, or in some cases electronic...

 of the novel had been printed to insinuate the President's involvement in the unfolding Watergate scandal
Watergate scandal
The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970s in the United States resulting from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement...

. The original quotation for this section (as seen in the advance reading copies of the book) was an excerpt from the lyrics to the Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell, CC is a Canadian musician, singer songwriter, and painter. Mitchell began singing in small nightclubs in her native Saskatchewan and Western Canada and then busking in the streets and dives of Toronto...

 song "Cactus Tree," so the change in quote jumped a large cultural divide.

Plot summary

The plot of the novel is complex, containing over 400 characters and involving many different threads of narrative which intersect and weave around one another. The recurring themes throughout the plot are the V-2 rocket
V-2 rocket
The V-2 rocket , technical name Aggregat-4 , was a ballistic missile that was developed at the beginning of the Second World War in Germany, specifically targeted at London and later Antwerp. The liquid-propellant rocket was the world's first long-range combat-ballistic missile and first known...

, interplay between free will and Calvinistic predestination
Predestination (Calvinism)
The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is a doctrine of Calvinism which deals with the question of the control God exercises over the world...

, breaking the cycle of nature, behavioral psychology, sexuality
Human sexuality
Human sexuality is the awareness of gender differences, and the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexuality can also be described as the way someone is sexually attracted to another person whether it is to opposite sexes , to the same sex , to either sexes , or not being...

, paranoia and conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

 such as the Phoebus cartel
Phoebus cartel
The Phoebus cartel was a cartel of, among others, Osram, Philips and General Electric from December 23, 1924 until 1939 that existed to control the manufacture and sale of light bulbs....

 and the Illuminati
Illuminati
The Illuminati is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically the name refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on May 1, 1776...

. Gravity's Rainbow also draws heavily on themes that Pynchon had probably encountered at his work as a technical writer for Boeing
Boeing
The Boeing Company is an American multinational aerospace and defense corporation, founded in 1916 by William E. Boeing in Seattle, Washington. Boeing has expanded over the years, merging with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Boeing Corporate headquarters has been in Chicago, Illinois since 2001...

, where he edited a support newsletter for the Bomarc Missile Program
Bomarc Missile Program
The CIM-10 Bomarc was the only surface-to-air missile ever deployed by the United States Air Force. All other U.S. land-based SAMs were and are under the control of the United States Army....

 support unit. The Boeing archives are known to house a vast library of historical V-2 rocket documents, which were probably accessible to Pynchon. The novel is narrated by many distinct voices, a technique further developed in Pynchon's much later novel Against the Day
Against the Day
Against the Day is a novel by Thomas Pynchon. The narrative takes place between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the time immediately following World War I and features more than a hundred characters spread across the United States, Europe, Mexico, Central Asia, and "one or two places not strictly...

. The style and tone of the voices vary widely: Some narrate the plot in a highly informal tone, some are more self-referential, and some at times may possibly even break the fourth wall
Fourth wall
The fourth wall is the imaginary "wall" at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play...

. Some voices narrate in drastically different formats, ranging from movie-script format to stream of consciousness prose.

The narrative contains numerous descriptions of illicit sexual encounters and drug use by the main characters and supporting cast, sandwiched between dense dialogues or reveries on historic, artistic, scientific, or philosophical subjects, interspersed with whimsical nonsense-poems and allusions to obscure facets of 1940s pop culture. Many of the recurring themes will be familiar to experienced Pynchon readers, including the singing of silly songs, recurring appearances of kazoos, and extensive discussion of paranoia
Paranoia
Paranoia [] is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself...

. According to Richard Locke, megalomaniac paranoia is the "operative emotion" behind the novel, and an increasingly central motivator for the many main characters. In many cases, this paranoia proves to be vindicated, as the many plots of the novel become increasingly interconnected, revolving around the identity and purpose of the elusive 00000 Rocket and Schwarzgerät. The novel becomes increasingly preoccupied with themes of Tarot, Paranoia, and Sacrifice. All three themes culminate in the novel's ending, and the epilogue of the many characters. The novel also features the character Pig Bodine
Pig Bodine
Seaman "Pig" Bodine is a fictional character appearing in many novels written by Thomas Pynchon. Bodine appears in V. , and recurs in Gravity's Rainbow . Characters named Bodine also appear in Mason & Dixon and Against the Day . He also occurs in the short-story "Low-lands"...

, of Pynchon's novel V.
V.
V. is the debut novel of Thomas Pynchon, published in 1963. It describes the exploits of a discharged U.S. Navy sailor named Benny Profane, his reconnection in New York with a group of pseudo-bohemian artists and hangers-on known as the Whole Sick Crew, and the quest of an aging traveller named...

. Pig Bodine would later become a recurring avatar of Pynchon's complex and interconnected fictional universe, making an appearance in nearly all of Pynchon's novels thereafter.

The novel also shares many themes with Pynchon's much later Against the Day
Against the Day
Against the Day is a novel by Thomas Pynchon. The narrative takes place between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the time immediately following World War I and features more than a hundred characters spread across the United States, Europe, Mexico, Central Asia, and "one or two places not strictly...

; Against The Day becomes increasingly dark as the plot approaches World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and Gravity's Rainbow takes these sentiments to their extreme in its highly pessimistic culmination of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

The opening pages of the novel follow Pirate Prentice, first in his dreams, and later around his house in wartime London. Pirate then goes to work at ACHTUNG, a top-secret military branch, with Roger Mexico and Pointsman, who both worked there at the time. It is here the reader is introduced to the possibly promiscuous US Army lieutenant named Tyrone Slothrop (at certain points in the book, Pynchon leads the reader to doubt the very existence of the women Slothrop claims to sleep with), whose erratic story becomes the main plot throughout most of the novel. In "Beyond The Zero", some of the other characters and organizations in the book note that each of Slothrop's sexual encounters in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 precedes a V-2 rocket hit in the same place by several days. Both Slothrop's encounters and the rocket sites match the Poisson Distribution
Poisson distribution
In probability theory and statistics, the Poisson distribution is a discrete probability distribution that expresses the probability of a given number of events occurring in a fixed interval of time and/or space if these events occur with a known average rate and independently of the time since...

s calculated by Roger Mexico, leading into reflections on topics as broad as Determinism, the reverse flow of time, and the sexuality of the rocket itself. Slothrop meets a woman named Katje, and they fall in love, maintaining a relationship until Slothrop's sudden removal to Germany in part three. Many characters not significant until later are introduced in "Beyond the Zero", including Franz and Leni Pökler, Roger Mexico and Jessica, and Thomas Gwenhidwy, some of whom don't appear until the closing pages of the novel. Many characters are introduced into the plot and then don't appear again at all. Indeed, most of the four hundred named characters only make singular appearances, serving merely to demonstrate the sheer scope of Pynchon's universe. Slothrop is also submitted to various psychological tests, many involving the drug Sodium Amytal. Pavlovian conditioning is a recurring topic, mostly explored through the character of Pavlovian researcher Pointsman. One of the more bizarre Pavlovian episodes involves the conditioning of octopus Grigori to respond to the girl Katje. Early in part two, the octopus attacks Katje on the beach, and Slothrop is "conveniently" at hand to rescue her. Their romance begins here, extending into Part Three and the events that follow.

In part two, "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering", Slothrop is studied covertly and sent away by superiors in mysterious circumstances to the Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

 casino in recently liberated France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, in which almost the entirety of Part Two takes place. There he learns of a rocket, with the irregular serial number 00000 (Slothrop comments that the numbering system doesn't allow for four zeroes in one serial, let alone five), and a component called the S-Gerät (short for Schwarzgerät, which translates to black device) which is made out of the hitherto unknown plastic Imipolex G. Several companions suddenly disappear or re-appear after extended amounts of time, including the two guards watching Slothrop and Katje. It is hinted at that Slothrop's prescience of rocket hits is due to being conditioned
Classical conditioning
Classical conditioning is a form of conditioning that was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov...

 as an infant by the creator of Imipolex G, Laszlo Jamf. Later, the reality of this story is called into question in a similar fashion as the existence of Slothrop's original sexual exploits were. After getting this information, Slothrop escapes from the casino into the coalescing post-war wasteland of Europe, "The Zone", searching for the 00000 and S-Gerät. In the closing of Part Two, Katje is revealed to be safe in England, enjoying a day at the beach with Roger Mexico and Jessica, as well as Pointsman, who is in charge of Slothrop's furtive supervision. While unable to contact Slothrop (or prohibited from contacting him), Katje continues to follow his actions through Pointsman.

Slothrop's quest continues for some time "In The Zone" as he is chased by other characters. Many of these characters are referred to as "shadows," and are only partially glimpsed by the protagonist. Much of the plot takes place on "The Anubis", a ferry on which many different characters travel at various times. Slothrop meets and has an extended relationship with Margherita Erdman, a pornographic
Pornography
Pornography or porn is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.Pornography may use any of a variety of media, ranging from books, magazines, postcards, photos, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, film, video,...

 film actress and masochist. Originally meeting her in an abandoned studio in The Zone, it is she who leads him on to the Anubis. Here, Slothrop later also has extended encounters with her sixteen-year-old daughter Bianca, though it is unclear whether or not he has stopped his casual relationship with Margherita by this time. Margherita is later shown to know a great deal more about the 00000, S-Gerät, and Imipolex G than she lets on, even having spent many days in a mysterious and ambiguously described factory and being clothed in an outfit made from the "erotic" plastic. Towards the end of this section, several characters not seen since early in the novel make a return, including Pirate Prentice, in his first appearance since the novel's very start, as well as Roger Mexico. "In The Zone" also contains the longest episode of the book, a lengthy tale of Franz Pökler, a rocket engineer unwittingly set to assist on the S-Gerät's production. The story details Pökler's annual meetings with his daughter Ilse, and his growing paranoia that Ilse is really a series of impostors sent each year to mollify him. Through this story, we find out sparse details about the S-Gerät, including that it has an approximate weight of forty-five kilograms. The story ultimately reveals that the 00000 was fired in the spring of 1945, close to the end of the war. Slothrop spends much of the time as his invented alter-ego Rocketman, who wears a white Zoot Suit
Zoot suit
A zoot suit is a suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing was popularized by African Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Italian Americans during the late 1930s and the 1940s...

 and the cone of a rocket-nose. Rocketman completes various tasks for his own and others' purposes, including retrieving a large stash of hashish
Hashish
Hashish is a cannabis preparation composed of compressed stalked resin glands, called trichomes, collected from the unfertilized buds of the cannabis plant. It contains the same active ingredients but in higher concentrations than unsifted buds or leaves...

 from the centre of the Potsdam Conference
Potsdam Conference
The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 16 July to 2 August 1945. Participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States...

. This continues until he leaves the region for northern Germany, continuing his quest for the 00000, as well as answers to his past. It becomes steadily apparent that Slothrop is somehow connected to Dr. Laszlo Jamf, and a series of experiments performed on him as a child.

Slothrop later returns to the Anubis to find Bianca dead, a possible trigger for his impending decline. He continues his pilgrimage through northern Germany, at various stages donning the identities of a Russian colonel and mythical Pig Hero in turn, in search of more information on his childhood and the 00000. Unfortunately, he is repeatedly sidetracked until his persona fragments totally in part four, despite the efforts of some to save him. Throughout "The Counterforce", there are several brief, hallucinatory stories, of superheroes, silly Kamikaze
Kamikaze
The were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible....

 pilots, and immortal sentient lightbulbs. These are presumed to be the product of Slothrop's finally collapsed mind. The final identification of him of any certainty is his picture on the cover of an album by obscure English band "The Fool" (another allusion to Tarot
Tarot
The tarot |trionfi]] and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of cards , used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play a group of card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot...

, which becomes increasingly significant), where he is credited as playing the Harmonica
Harmonica
The harmonica, also called harp, French harp, blues harp, and mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used primarily in blues and American folk music, jazz, country, and rock and roll. It is played by blowing air into it or drawing air out by placing lips over individual holes or multiple holes...

 and Kazoo
Kazoo
The kazoo is a wind instrument which adds a "buzzing" timbral quality to a player's voice when the player vocalizes into it. The kazoo is a type of mirliton, which is a membranophone, a device which modifies the sound of a person's voice by way of a vibrating membrane."Kazoo" was the name given by...

. At the same time, other characters' narratives begin to collapse as well, with some characters taking a bizarre trip through Hell
Hell
In many religious traditions, a hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations...

, and others flying into nothingness on Zeppelins. A variety of interpretations of this fact exist, including theories that all of the involved characters have a shared consciousness, or even that the other characters are part of Slothrop's mind, and thus disintegrate along with it. Slothrop's narrative ends a surprisingly long time before the novel's end, which focuses more on the 00000, and the people associated with its construction and launch (namely Blicero, Enzian, and Gottfried, amongst others). At this point, the novel also concludes many characters' stories, including those of Mexico, Pointsman, and Pirate, leaving only the 00000.

As the novel closes, many topics are discussed by the various protagonists around the world, ranging from Tarot cards to Death itself. Towards the end of "The Counterforce", it transpires that the S-Gerät is actually a capsule crafted by Blicero to contain a human. The story of the 00000's launch is largely told in flashbacks by the narrator, while in the present Enzian is constructing and preparing its successor, the 00001 (which isn't fired within the scope of the novel), though it is unknown who is intended to be sacrificed in this model. In the flashbacks, the maniacal Captain Blicero prepares to assemble and fire the 00000, and asks Gottfried to sacrifice himself inside the rocket. He launches the rocket in a pseudo sexual act of sacrifice with his bound adolescent sex slave Gottfried captive within its S-Gerät. At the end of a final episode, told partially in second person, the rocket descends upon Britain. The text halts, in the middle of a song composed by Slothrop's ancestor, with a complete obliteration of narrative as the 00000 lands (or is about to land) on a cinema. Thus the novel opens and closes in wartime Britain, and opens and closes with the landing of a V-2 rocket.

Many facts in the novel are based on technical documents relating to the V-2 rockets. Equations featured in the text are correct. References to the works of Pavlov
Ivan Pavlov
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a famous Russian physiologist. Although he made significant contributions to psychology, he was not in fact a psychologist himself but was a mathematician and actually had strong distaste for the field....

, Ouspensky, and Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

 are based on Pynchon's research. The firing command sequence in German that is recited at the end of the novel is also correct and is probably copied verbatim from the technical report produced by Operation Backfire
Operation Backfire (WWII)
Operation Backfire was a military scientific operation during and after World War II, which was performed mainly by British staff. It was part of the Allies' scramble to loot as much German technology as they could....

.

In reality, a V-2 rocket hit the Rex Cinema in Antwerp, where some 1200 people were watching the movie The Plainsman
The Plainsman
The Plainsman is a 1936 American Western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. The film presents a highly fictionalized account of the adventures and relationships between Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, and General George Custer, with a...

,
on December 16, 1944, killing 567 people, the most killed by a single rocket during the entire war.

The secret military organizations practicing occult
Occult
The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus , referring to "knowledge of the hidden". In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g...

 warfare have an historical backdrop in the Ahnenerbe
Ahnenerbe
The Ahnenerbe was a Nazi German think tank that promoted itself as a "study society for Intellectual Ancient History." Founded on July 1, 1935, by Heinrich Himmler, Herman Wirth, and Richard Walther Darré, the Ahnenerbe's goal was to research the anthropological and cultural history of the Aryan...

 and other Nazi mysticism
Nazi mysticism
Speculation about Nazism and occultism has become part of popular culture since 1959. Aside from several popular documentaries, there are numerous books on the topic, most notably The Morning of the Magicians and The Spear of Destiny ....

, whereas the allied counterparts were limited to certain individuals such as Louis de Wohl
Louis de Wohl
Louis de Wohl, earlier Ludwig von Wohl was a German-British Catholic author, and an astrologer notable for his work with MI5 during World War II. Sixteen of his popular pre-war novels were the basis of movies...

s work for MI5
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

.

Additionally, the novel uses many actual events and locations as backdrops to establish chronological order and setting within the complex structure of the book. Examples include the appearance of a photograph of Wernher Von Braun
Wernher von Braun
Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun was a German rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany during World War II and in the United States after that.A former member of the Nazi party,...

 in which his arm is in a cast. Historical document
Historical document
Historical documents are documents that contain important information about a person, place, or event.Most famous historical documents are either laws, accounts of battles , or the exploits of the powerful...

s indicate the time and place of an accident which broke Von Braun's arm, thereby providing crucial structural details around which the reader can reconstruct Slothrop's journey. Another example is the inclusion of a BBC Radio
BBC Radio
BBC Radio is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927. For a history of BBC radio prior to 1927 see British Broadcasting Company...

 broadcast of a Benny Goodman performance, the contents of which, according to historical record, were broadcast only once during the period of the novel and by which the events immediately surrounding its mention are fixed. Further historical events, such as Allied bombing raids on Peenemünde
Peenemünde
The Peenemünde Army Research Center was founded in 1937 as one of five military proving grounds under the Army Weapons Office ....

 and the city of Nordhausen
Nordhausen
Nordhausen is a town at the southern edge of the Harz Mountains, in the state of Thuringia, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Nordhausen...

 (close to the V-2 producing concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora
Mittelbau-Dora
Mittelbau-Dora was a Nazi Germany labour camp that provided workers for the Mittelwerk V-2 rocket factory in the Kohnstein, situated near Nordhausen, Germany....

) also appear in the novel and help to establish the relation of the work's events to each other.

Style

Poet L. E. Sissman, in his Gravity's Rainbow review for The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

, said of Pynchon: "He is almost a mathematician of prose, who calculates the least and the greatest stress each word and line, each pun and ambiguity, can bear, and applies his knowledge accordingly and virtually without lapses, though he takes many scary, bracing linguistic risks. Thus his remarkably supple diction can first treat of a painful and delicate love scene and then roar, without pause, into the sounds and echoes of a drudged and drunken orgy."

Cultural effect

The novel is regarded by scholars like Guido Almansi as the greatest postmodern
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

 work of 20th century literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

.

Though the book won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

 for 1974, Pynchon chose neither to accept nor acknowledge this award. Thomas Guinzberg of the Viking Press suggested that the comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey accept the award on his behalf. Pynchon agreed, which led to one of the most unusual acceptance speeches of all time, complete with a streaker
Streaking
Streaking is the act of running nude through a public place.-History:On 5 July 1799, a Friday evening at 7 o'clock, a naked man was arrested at the Mansion House, London, and sent to the Poultry Compter...

 crossing the stage in the middle of Corey's musings.

Gravity's Rainbow was translated into German by Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek
Elfriede Jelinek
Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian playwright and novelist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004 for her "musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power."-...

, and some critics think that it had a big influence on Jelinek's own writing.

Music

The lyrics of Devo
Devo
Devo is an American band formed in 1973 consisting of members from Kent and Akron, Ohio. The classic line-up of the band includes two sets of brothers, the Mothersbaughs and the Casales . The band had a #14 Billboard chart hit in 1980 with the single "Whip It", and has maintained a cult...

's song "Whip It
Whip It
"Whip It" is the title of a 1980 single by the American New Wave band Devo. It appears on the album Freedom of Choice. There were two 7" single releases of "Whip It", one backed with a remix of the track "Snowball" and one backed with "Turn Around"...

" were inspired by Gravity's Rainbow parodies of limericks and poems; Gerald Casale
Gerald Casale
Gerald Vincent Casale , often known as Jerry Casale, is a vocalist, bass guitar/synthesizer player, and a founding member of the new wave band Devo...

 specified:
The lyrics were written by me as an imitation of Thomas Pynchon's parodies in his book Gravity's Rainbow. He had parodied limericks and poems of kind of all-American, obsessive, cult of personality ideas like Horatio Alger and 'You're #1, there's nobody else like you' kind of poems that were very funny and very clever. I thought, 'I'd like to do one like Thomas Pynchon,' so I wrote down 'Whip It' one night.


The novel inspired the 1984 song "Gravity's Angel" by Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson
Laura Phillips "Laurie" Anderson is an American experimental performance artist, composer and musician who plays violin and keyboards and sings in a variety of experimental music and art rock styles. Initially trained as a sculptor, Anderson did her first performance-art piece in the late 1960s...

. In her 2004 autobiographical performance The End of the Moon, Anderson said she once contacted Pynchon asking permission to adapt Gravity's Rainbow as an opera. Pynchon replied that he would allow her to do so with one condition: the opera had to be written for a single instrument: the banjo
Banjo
In the 1830s Sweeney became the first white man to play the banjo on stage. His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth-string. There is no proof, however, that Sweeney invented either innovation. This new...

. Anderson said she took that as a polite "no."

German avant-rock group Cassiber
Cassiber
Cassiber were a German avant-rock group founded in 1982 by German composer and saxophonist Alfred Harth, German composer, music-theatre director and keyboardist Heiner Goebbels, English drummer Chris Cutler from Henry Cow and German guitarist Christoph Anders...

 incorporated texts from the novel in their 1990 album A Face We All Know. The use of the texts was cleared with Pynchon's agent.

Gravity's Rainbow
Gravity's Rainbow (song)
"Gravity's Rainbow" is a song by British act Klaxons which appears on their album Myths of the Near Future. It is named after Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name. The song was first released on Angular Records as a Double A-side with "The Bouncer" in March 2006 and was limited to 500 copies on...

 is a song by the British band Klaxons, from the album Myths of the Near Future
Myths of the Near Future (album)
Klaxons' French label Because released "As Above, So Below" as a limited edition clear vinyl 12" in November 2007. The 12" features two versions of the track, a French language version and a remix by Justice....

(2007).

Art

New York artist Zak Smith
Zak Smith
Zak Smith, also known as Zak Sabbath, is an American artist and alternative porn star. He was born in Syracuse, New York in 1976, and grew up in Washington, D.C. After receiving a BFA from Cooper Union in 1998, he studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and went on to receive an...

 created a series of 760 drawings entitled, "One Picture for Every Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow" (also known by the title "Pictures of What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow"). Occupying eleven rows and over eleven meters of wall space, the drawings attempt to illustrate, as literally as possible, every page of the book. The piece includes palm trees, shoes, stuffed toys, a lemon meringue pie, Richard Nixon, Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

, an iron toad wired to an electric battery, a dominatrix
Dominatrix
Dominatrix or mistress is a woman or women who takes the dominant role in bondage, discipline and sadomasochism, or BDSM. A common form of address for a submissive to a dominatrix is "mistress", "ma'am", "domina" or "maîtresse"...

, and other images from the novel. The series had a successful reception at New York's 2004 Whitney Biennial event, and was described "as a tour de force of sketching and concept" (Abbe 2004). In November 2006, Tin House Books published the book Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow (ISBN 097731278X).

Availability

Gravity's Rainbow is available in paperback under ISBN 0-14-018859-2 (New York: Penguin, 1995), ISBN 0-14-028338-2 (New York: Penguin, 2000), and ISBN 0-14-303994-6 (New York: Penguin, 2006). Steven C. Weisenburger's produced A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel (ISBN 0-8203-1026-3). A revised and expanded second edition was published in November 2006 (ISBN 0-8203-2807-3).

External links

The following links were last verified September 8, 2008.
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
x
OK