72 pages 2 hours read

Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1973

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Themes

Paranoia: Suspicions of Persecution, Surveillance, and Conspiracy

Paranoia, broadly speaking, is defined as a baseless suspicion of others, their motives, or their actions. However, the novel presents a thematic paranoia that is both more complex and more extreme, resembling a psychotic symptomatology: suspicions (and perhaps delusions) of persecution, surveillance, or self-importance, often involving elaborate conspiracy theories or organized systems of oppression. The novel is never explicit or precise about such a diagnosis in any character, nor does Pynchon seem concerned with any literal, clinical pathology—but this special inflection of paranoia, elaborate and compulsive, pervades the narrative.

In this vein, Slothrop is a very paranoid person, living in a very paranoid society. Characters attribute their suffering to conspiracy theories and believe that they are being followed, monitored, or otherwise targeted by the mysterious group known only as Them. They are never described in detail; each character has a different interpretation of Them, based solely on their own unique paranoias and beliefs. To Slothrop, They are a mixture of intelligence agencies, chemical companies, and antagonistic individuals all conspiring to target him. As a result of his paranoia, he blames Them for everything that goes wrong. Stolen clothes, unexpected abductions, minor injuries, regular inconveniences, and cases of mistaken identity are all the result of the grand conspiracy with Slothrop at the center.

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