It is virtually impossible to treat the scope of this novel in a short summary. The book should be read slowly, considered, digested, and then read again. As with any work of this magnitude, critical reception has been polarized: One either loves the book or hates it, but few claim to understand it completely. The parameters of Pynchon’s knowledge are seemingly boundless and often beyond the grasp of the average reader, but that should not deter the effort. Whether one understands the book completely or not, it is a labyrinth of literary surprises, offering something for everyone who reads it.
Gravity’s Rainbow juxtaposes the apocalyptic and the comic. Because the reader knows the time frame and the historical outcome of World War II, he or she should also be aware that the work is fiction. Because of Pynchon’s attention to historical detail and his use of real names throughout the work, the reader cannot help but question the truth of the extant version of history. Although it is apocalyptic in tone, the work predicts not the destruction of the world but the destruction and subsequent rebuilding of culture by revealing how human and machine essentially have become one and how the machine has gained preeminence. Although it addresses such issues as war, genocide, mental illness, and sexual depravity, Gravity’s Rainbow is not entirely pessimistic, for Pynchon admits glimmers of a brighter tomorrow.
An underlying theme present in this work and others by Pynchon is entropy, the theory that the world is winding down and depleting its own energy. Entropy, based on Isaac Newton’s second law of thermodynamics, is best represented by Slothrop, who is too lazy to maintain his self-appointed quest and too prone to distraction to notice the obvious clues that are strewn in his path. For Slothrop, seeking information is entirely too much trouble.
Whether one accepts Pynchon’s premise or understands his encyclopedic scope is irrelevant. Gravity’s Rainbow should be devoured like the literary smorgasbord it is.