Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tropic of Capricorn is the first of Henry Miller’s volumes of autobiographical fantasy. In spite of the title, it is not a sequel to his novel Tropic of Cancer, published five years earlier. Tropic of Capricorn is less of an attempt at portraying reality than is Tropic of Cancer. Tropic of Capricorn is more of a free flow of fantastic and subjective associations. It contains more of the ornate, poetic prose that Miller called dictation or cadenza. Tropic of Capricorn is a diatribe in which the outraged artist and prophet escapes into grotesque fantasy. It is an account of his alienation within the spiritual dearth of America. Miller’s self-proclaimed aim in Tropic of Capricorn was to create a monstrous verbal skyscraper that parodied the American consciousness.

Tropic of Capricorn is subtitled On the Ovarian Trolley. The metaphor suggests a sexuality that is mechanistic, automatic, not within control of the individual. Certainly the novel, located in Miller’s Land of F——k, has a more than usual share of the compulsive pursuit of sex. The ovarian metaphor goes beyond this level. Early in the novel, readers are introduced to Hymie’s wife’s diseased ovaries. Miller recounts that the image germinated a tropical growth of free associations in him. In particular he mentions that he had never done what he wanted and that out of this frustration had grown an obsessional plant in his psyche, a coral growth that, as it grew, killed all else including life itself. It made life and killed life simultaneously—much as diseased ovaries produce diseased eggs.

The obsessional plant is an image of a destructive growth strangling individual life. This theme of individual spiritual death is expanded to the cosmic level in many references to the spiritual bankruptcy of New York City. The city is described as growing like a cancer; to counterbalance this deadly growth, Miller the artist must grow like the sun. Tropic of Capricorn proselytizes against the dehumanizing effect of the industrialized city. Miller says that the smell of a dead horse, although almost unbearable, is preferable to the smell of burning chemicals. The sight of a dead horse with a bullet hole in its temple is better than the sight of a group of men in blue aprons with a truckload of...

(The entire section is 965 words.)