Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. French capital city to which the narrator has moved with the hope of becoming a writer. Tropic of Cancer is a largely autobiographical account of Henry Miller’s life and experiences in the south-central Parisian quarter of Montparnasse, from his arrival early in 1930 through 1932. Although Miller appears as himself, or at least a version of himself, his wife June is portrayed as Mona and his good friend Alfred Perlès as Carl. Colorful journalist Wambly Bald becomes the obsessive womanizer Van Norden. As the novel’s narrator, Miller is not consistent in his treatment of Paris; he portrays it from different viewpoints as his mood changes and as his acceptance of circumstances grows. Initially, he presents Paris as a symbol of everything he finds wrong with life-denying modern civilization: a “huge organism diseased in every part.” Some neighborhoods he describes as literal garbage heaps. Later, in the spring sun, the city looks different, and the narrator grows more content.

As a down-and-out writer, the narrator often has no place to stay; at such times, the streets of Paris become his refuge. Popular sidewalk cafés such as the Dôme, the Rotonde, and the Coupole provide him with vantage points from which he observes the city’s fascinating street life, hoping for the appearance of an acquaintance who may treat him to a drink or a meal.


Apartments. Parisian homes of the friends of the narrator, who is...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Miller's "autobiographical romances" or "auto-novels" must be seen as separate chapters in a multivolume "Book" of his life. The key to his...

(The entire section is 240 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Henry Miller's work is marked by his commitment to the principles of individual liberty and freedom of expression. Because his emphasis is on...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Like Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855), Tropic of Cancer does not really have any precedents in American literature. The travel...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Because Tropic of Cancer is a part of a multibook sequence, Miller purposely withholds some very important elements of his art from...

(The entire section is 217 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The rights to film Tropic of Cancer were bought by producer Joseph E. Levine in 1962 and the book was made into a film by Joseph...

(The entire section is 123 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Hutchison, E. R. “Tropic of Cancer” on Trial: A Case History of Censorship. New York: Grove Press, 1968. This is the detailed history and analysis of the now infamous obscenity trial.

Martin, Jay. Always Merry and Bright: The Life of Henry Miller. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1978. Of all the biographical reminiscences of Miller’s life, this is still the most comprehensive.

Nelson, Jane. Form and Image in the Fiction of Henry Miller. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970. In her chapter on Tropic of Cancer, Nelson uses a correlation between Mythology and psychology to analyze the novel.

Widmer, Kingsley. Henry Miller. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Widmer’s short biographical/ critical monograph provides a good overview of both Miller’s life and work.

Williams, Linda R. “Critical Warfare and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.” In Feminist Criticism: Theory and Practice, edited by Susan Sellers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. This article traces the debate over various feminist readings of the exploitative sexuality of Tropic of Cancer.