Gravity's Rainbow Gravity’s Rainbow - Essay

Thomas Pynchon

Gravity’s Rainbow

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Pynchon takes as his subject the rapid development of rocket technology toward the end of World War II. To learn about the German V-2 (on which Pynchon confers mythic status by always calling it the Rocket), Allied Intelligence devises an experiment with an American army lieutenant named Tyrone Slothrop--an experiment conducted without his knowledge. Slothrop, however, becomes aware of the way he is being used and goes AWOL just as the war ends. Much of the book concerns his wanderings in stateless, postwar Germany, referred to simply as “The Zone,” where he encounters an extraordinary farrago of strange characters, the human detritus of war.

The authorities select Slothrop for their experiment because of his strange sexual affinity with the Rocket: He experiences erections wherever V-2’s strike around London. But he experiences these erections before the rockets strike, and this curious proclivity illustrates one of the novel’s basic concerns--the inadequacy of the essentially Newtonian scientific model whereby most of us attempt to conceptualize physical reality.

Pynchon develops this theme in the conflict between Ned Pointsman, a Pavlovian scientist who seeks to account for physical phenomena--including Slothrop’s erections--in terms of cause and effect, and a statistician named Roger Mexico, who embraces a science of statistical prediction congruent with the twentieth century physics of Planck, Einstein, and Heisenberg.


(The entire section is 463 words.)