Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow is one of the landmarks of American fiction. Set in the final months and aftermath of World War II, it focuses on a search for German "V-2" rockets, which were the world's first guided missiles, as well as the wartime atmosphere in London and the postwar atmosphere in Germany and France. Particularly important to this narrative are American Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop and his quest to find one particular, mysterious rocket called 00000, as well as Slothrop's search for his identity and the conspiracy surrounding his childhood and military career. The novel includes such a great number of characters, subplots, historical flashbacks, and governmental-corporate conspiracies, however, that it resists an accurate summary and relentlessly poses questions about the nature of history, Western culture, and reality itself. These questions apply not just to World War II history but to the Vietnam War, the American civil rights movement, and other events that occurred while Pynchon was writing the novel in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Because of its immense and complex scope, Gravity's Rainbow is recognized to be an extremely difficult novel to read and understand. In fact, some readers and critics have claimed that it is utterly incomprehensible and unreadable. Important characters and storylines often diverge, disappear entirely, or turn out to be merely fictional, and many readers have found it necessary to use companion literature or reread the eight-hundred-page novel multiple times. As one is reading the novel, however, it is important to remember that its difficulty and obscurity are critical aspects of its meaning: Pynchon is invested in a thorough critique of post-World-War-II society. To Pynchon, the complexity and obscurity of Gravity's Rainbow highlights the confusion, dismay, purposelessness, and overwhelming technological escalation of the contemporary world.