To reduce a novel as complex as Gravity’s Rainbow to its skeletal bones is difficult, for it dilutes Thomas Pynchon’s circuitous plot contrivances, his undeniable wit, his interweaving of story within story, and his obvious love for manipulating language. Gravity’s Rainbow is a big book, not only in length but in style, vision, and ideology. It incorporates a multitude of literary styles, devices, and types. The work is an archetypal hero cycle, a Grail quest, a picaresque, a satire, an apocalyptic vision, a social criticism, a historical encyclopedia, a work of magic realism, and an engaging narrative. It is replete with literary and cinematic allusion, word play, puns, name symbolism, mythology, dark comedy, cataloging, and adoration of The Word. Additionally, there are references to the occult, psychics, sexual deviants, Masons, war, politics, money, cartels, drugs, psychology, and philosophy. Consequently, the novel embodies much of the twentieth century and the artist’s response to it.
Critical reception is polarized. It seems one either loves the book or hates it; few claim to understand it completely. For example, although many on the Pulitzer Prize committee felt Gravity’s Rainbow was the best offering of the year, it was rejected as being “obscure and obscene.” The scope of Pynchon’s knowledge appears boundless and, in part, beyond the grasp of the typical reader. It is unlikely that a reader can comprehend the novel in its entirety, but the work is a fictional smorgasbord, offering something for each appetite.
The frame story involves the escapades of Tyrone Slothrop, who may be regarded as the protagonist. It is his connection to the German rocket, the A-4, however, that ties together the disjointed parts of the story and the multitude of characters within its pages. The rocket can be regarded as a phallic symbol of creativity as well as a symbol of destruction; it meshes the corresponding themes of sex and death, and each of the characters is in some way enslaved to the production or acquisition of the rocket. By the end of the work, the reader knows more about the rocket than about any of the characters.
In a novel featuring thirteen main characters,...
(The entire section is 915 words.)