Ahh. So I read this book last year, and was so scared it took me a year to write the review for it. Because there is a question that surrounds this book; is a book really so good if it’s so complicated and so unreachable by the masses that they needed to publish an accompanying book of the same length just to explain what the hell is going on. Essentially, the question is; should a good book be one that can stand on it’s own?
Surely we can look at plenty of other books that are widely difficult to understand (coughUlyssesscough) that are also considered great literature; and yet they are not thought to be easily accessible by the general public. Without a study guide, a discussion group, or a degree in English, generally people give up within two chapters of Gravity’s Rainbow.
So what makes it great literature? Well, I don’t think there is a right answer to that, but if you do, please post it below. I would love to hear what you have to say about it 🙂
Anyways, out of the literally millions of themes to choose from in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, I thought his use of “youthful sexuality” was particularly interesting. Because while we’ve been hardened towards crime on TV through a plethora of CSI/Serial Killer shows, rape, and especially that of small children, has still remained a taboo subject because we think of it as so utterly disgusting, heinous, and unforgivable. And yet children are sexualized throughout media, from shows like Toddlers and Tiaras to even blogs like children with swag, which puts little tiny toddlers into designer clothes and parades them around the internet (I have to admit though, I actually really love that blog because I think the children look adorable, but for every one of people like me, there’s probably some creep jerking off to those pictures, unfortunately). But anyways, doesn’t it seem odd that while we are perfectly okay with sexualizing children, we still expect everyone to treat them as children, and not as sexual objects?
In particular, the character of Bianca was almost as sickening as the feces ingestion scene to me; in Bianca we have the sick and yet tantalizing paradox of adulthood and childhood; innocence and knowledge. From the way she dresses to the way she acts; Bianca rides the fine line between horrific and wanted; angelic and terrible. On the boat, Bianca wears a red chiffon gown, similar to what a flapper would wear, with heavy costume jewelry that, needless to say, is not particularly appropriate for someone so young. It’s contrasted, however, with Bianca singing a song by Shirley Temple, and copying every one of Shirley’s moves, from putting her fingers to her dimples to pirouetting. Despite her childish routine, Slothrop notes that everyone in the audience expected something more sophisticated and “wicked” on account of her outfit.
This scene is also contrasted with one following soon after, in which Bianca gets spanked by her mother. The scene is a mixture of innocence and eroticism; the punishment of a child shown in the light of sexual suggestiveness. When the scene concludes with the overwhelming amount of sexual tension causing everyone to have an orgy, in which it “felt like everyone came together.”
And I’m not talking about come as the verb “to move towards something,” if you know what I mean…
And now, even years after reading this book, this scene still stands out to me as something that is simultaneously disgusting and titillating. In it, we see the blend of adulthood and childhood; with sexual desire masking as an emotional desire to reconnect with our younger selves. This relationship is obviously physicalized by the moment in which Slothrop has sex with Bianca; and promises her that he will return, but in his mind he already knows that that is impossible. Like our own childhoods, whilst we may try our hardest to recapture those lost moments and to go back to a time that is more simple, and possibly remembered as more pleasurable, we must come to the understanding that to go back to childhood is to essentially, destroy it. Once you have lost innocence, you cannot regain it.