47 pages 1 hour read

Thomas Pynchon

V.

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1963

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Themes

Men’s Perception of Women

Women play a crucial role in V. but they rarely express themselves on their own terms. In the novel’s settings, late-19th-century Cairo and mid-20th-century New York, women lack the social and political power of men, an imbalance that every storyline examines.

Benny Profane can only understand women through the lens of his neuroses. Fina, Rachel, and Paola all declare their affection for Profane, but he cannot bring himself to love anyone who could ever love him. His patriarchal environment deepens his alienation from women, who he barely sees as human beings, and instead perceives as manifestations of his internal contradictions. Profane craves women’s attention, but his only concept of this is drunken bar pickups—he rejects emotional intimacy, weighed down by self-hatred and projecting that loathing onto those society has untrustworthy triggers of male anxiety.

Stencil’s search for V. both elevates and dehumanizes women. While his sustained attention and conviction that V.’s identity holds some deeper important truth seems to position him above his era’s sexism, the fact that he sees V. in any number of women, places, code words, and so on, makes it clear that for him, V. is not a person. Stencil’s V. holds the same level of significance whether she turns out to be Victoria Wren, Veronica Manganese, Vera Meroving, or Venezuela—what appears to be more meaningful is the visual gag of V.

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