Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. During the 1950’s, Benny Profane goes wherever events lead him. He spends time in Manhattan hanging out with a group of nihilistic bohemians who call themselves the Whole Sick Crew. One member of this group attempts suicide, another has an abortion; none seems undamaged or fully capable. They drink heavily, ride New York’s subways endlessly, and hang out at the V-Note, a jazz club on Third Avenue, and the Rusty Spoon, a bar on the outskirts of Greenwich Village. At the urging of a woman who is something of a girlfriend, Profane occasionally makes forays into the job market, for example working briefly as a volunteer hunting albino alligators in the city sewers.

Profane’s instincts win against his attempts at making a life for himself, however. With seemingly nothing better to do, he tags along when Herbert Stencil, who is obsessed with finding V., goes to Malta to investigate a tenuous lead about her presence there.


*Malta. Island republic on the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, that has historically occupied a strategic position on sea-lanes, and thus became the object of a long siege during World War II, in which it suffered constant attacks from Italian and German bombers. Amid this incredible ruin, V. appears as a woman dressed as a priest. Trapped under some rubble after a bombing, V. is disassembled by the children to whom she preaches her gospel of...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Symbols abound in V., starting with the title of the book, which is not V but V., an abbreviation which stands for something...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Pynchon's novels are so packed with details and references that there is no lack of things to talk about. It may be that younger students,...

(The entire section is 404 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although the main action of V. is set in the middle 1950s, interpolated material extends the time frame of the novel back to the end of the...

(The entire section is 92 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

With its intense attention to detail, breadth of erudition, and themes of conspiracy, paranoia, and the lone intellect questing for answers,...

(The entire section is 82 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Pynchon's short story "Under the Rose" is an early version of one of the first sections of V., describing intrigue and pursuit of spies in...

(The entire section is 41 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hite, Molly. “Duplicity and Duplication in V.” In Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983. Challenges view of V.’s intrusive, enigmatic recurrence as a “puzzle.” Argues that metaphoric relations or repetition replace conventional linear narration.

Levine, George, and David Leverenz, eds. Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976. An essential work of Pynchon criticism. Analyzes problems of identity that center on the desire to avoid randomness and the paranoid tendency to create order. Includes essays on women, apocalypse, language, and entropy in V. and an appendix with useful biographical data.

New, Melvyn. “Profaned and Stenciled Texts: In Search of Pynchon’s V.” In Thomas Pynchon: Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Notes the reader’s role in creating systems of organization in artistic texts. Employs a generic distinction between the romance and the novel to examine how Pynchon’s text defies closure.

Patteson, Richard. “What Stencil Knew: Structure and Certitude in Pynchon’s V.Critique 16, no. 2 (1974): 30-44. This study of point of view and narrative technique in Stencil’s pursuit of V. illustrates Pynchon’s thematic concern with the limitations of human knowledge.

Slade, Joseph W. Thomas Pynchon. New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1974. The first book-length discussion of Pynchon’s fiction serves as an excellent introduction to this complex author. Traces dominant themes, motifs, allusions, and tensions in V. A helpful chronological approach unravels the novel’s time scheme.