Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary

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Heinrich Gladney’s hairline is beginning to recede, and his father wonders if he is somehow to blame. Perhaps Gladney’s wife ingested something hazardous when she was pregnant, or maybe Gladney unknowingly raised him too close to some kind of nuclear or chemical dump site. (The word around town is that the sunsets here are much more intense than they were thirty or forty years ago.) This is a world in which man’s guilt is now compounded by technology, “the daily seeping falsehearted death.”

Fourteen-year-old Heinrich is a moody and evasive boy who is sometimes terrifyingly obedient. Gladney suspects that his son only accedes to his parents’ wishes as part of a silent reproach against them. Babette fears that Heinrich will one day end up as a mall shooter who will have to be taken out by a SWAT team.

While driving Heinrich to school, Gladney and his son engage in a lengthy philosophical argument about the weather. Heinrich remarks that the weather report said it was going to rain today; Gladney states that it is already raining, something he believes to be obvious based on the drops they both can see clearly on the windshield. 

The boy is belligerent in his insistence that the senses cannot be trusted, a fact that has been proven in laboratories. Even the laws of motion are nothing but a hoax, and the only realities are found in the mind—and even that can be tricked.

Gladney poses a hypothetical question to Heinrich: if someone were holding a gun to his head and forced him to say it either is or is not raining right now, what would Heinrich say?

The teenager evades and dodges in what he thinks is perfect reasoning: nothing matters and nothing is real. Finally he claims that since neither he nor his father is wet, it must not be raining.

Gladney commends him on his “victory for uncertainness, randomness and chaos.” As the boy walks through the downpour and up to the school doors, Gladney suddenly yearns to be able to hold his son crushingly to his chest and protect him.

The next day is sunny, and the college campus is full of students enjoying the beautiful weather. Gladney only teaches one class now, Advanced Nazism. It meets three hours a week, is open only to qualified seniors, and is “designed to provide historical perspective, theoretical rigor and mature insight into the continuing mass appeal of fascist tyranny, with special emphasis on parades, rallies and uniforms.” He has created an eighty-minute film edited from propaganda footage and historical moments, including crowds, cheers, speeches, songs, and chants.

After the film, one student asks about the plot to kill Hitler. From there the discussion turns more generally to plots, and Gladney claims unequivocally that “all plots tend to move deathward.” Political plots, terrorist plots, lovers’ plots, and even children’s game plots all move people nearer to death. After he says it, Gladney wonders what he meant and whether it is true.

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