(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Secret Integration” is the longest and most interesting of Pynchon’s early stories. Set in Mingeboro, a small town in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, it concerns a group of teenage boys who have hatched a plot to disrupt the adult community and eventually to assume control of the town themselves. At the time of the story they are preparing their second annual trial run, pretending to attack the school and considering what other steps they might take.

The four boys most deeply involved are Grover Snodd, a kind of genius, an inventor whose inventions rarely work but who has convinced his parents and the school board to let him leave the local school to study at the nearby college; Tim Santora, a typical teenager; Étienne Cherdlu, a compulsive joker (his name is a pun on the old printers’ fill-in line, etaoin shrdlu); and Carl Barrington, son of a black family that has just moved into a new housing development. The mothers of Grover and Tim make anonymous obscene phone calls to the Barringtons’ home, trying to force them to leave town.

The story depends on misdirection. The four boys seem to be cast in the mold of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod and Sam or Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer—mischievous but good-hearted, involved in boys’ games that cannot harm anyone. (Tarkington was a twentieth century novelist who wrote about boys’ games in a small Indiana town; Twain was a nineteenth century American novelist, some of whose works dealt with boys’ adventures.) It seems to be merely a joke that one of their other...

(The entire section is 640 words.)

The Secret Integration Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Secret Integration” takes place among a group of children living in Mingeborough, a small but growing Berkshire community. Led by Grover Snodd, “a boy genius with flaws,” the group includes Tim Santora; Hogan Slothrop, at nine already a reformed alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA); Etienne Cherdlu, a notorious practical joker; and Carl Barrington, a child from a black family that has recently moved to town. In addition to dabbling with Grover’s experiments and listening to the radio that he has built, the children spend time exploring the abandoned Gilded Age mansions around the town and working on “Operation Spartacus,” the annual dry run for a projected anarchistic uprising.

The children of Berkshire find their projects disturbed, though, by two events. One, which takes place a year before the second, occurs when Hogan is called by AA to sit with Mr. McAfee, a black musician passing through town. Although Mr. McAfee recognizes that Hogan has been sent as a joke by white men who do not want to help a black man, the boy and his friends do their best. They sit through the night with the musician, listening to his anecdotes and trying to reach his girlfriend on the telephone. Eventually, though, the police come and take McAfee away. The children never learn what has happened to him, but they retaliate by staging a raid on the local train at night, using green lights and masks and costumes to scare the passengers .


(The entire section is 418 words.)