Gravity's Rainbow: A Reading

Updated on August 26, 2016
profile image

Nick E. Purse received his Bachelor's Degree from Columbia University and an MFA in fiction writing from The New School.


The 2006 Penguin edition of Gravity’s Rainbow is 774 pages of mind-bending language. Why? What’s the point in engaging with a work of art that DEMANDS more than you’re able to give? It’s almost as if while reading the novel, you’re a rabbit and a carrot on a stick is perpetually dangling inches in front of your face. This novel is so difficult to review—to discuss even—because the plot is infinitely fractured. But we have to start somewhere. We need a point of entry, and in this particular case, our point of entry may just prove to be our guiding beacon through the dark.

The title. Gravity’s Rainbow—poetic, right? But what the hell does it mean? For about 600 pages of the novel, I had no clue, but then, with the help of Steven Weisenburger’s professional annotation (A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion), the title’s meaning struck me like a lightning bolt.

It’s important to note that throughout Pynchon’s oeuvre, a common theme is science. Just to be clear, I’ve only read two novels by Pynchon—his first novel V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. But in those two novels, science is paramount, in particular physics and the mathematics behind projectile flight. In V., an important back plot centers around the Yoyodyne Corporation which is a weapons firm that’s developing high tech weaponry, i.e. rockets and bombs.

Plot Summary

Gravity’s Rainbow spans the course of WWII. The setting for the beginning of the novel is London during ‘The Blitz,’ the period in which England was relentlessly bombed by the Germans. British intelligence, with the help of an American officer named Tyrone Slothrop, is trying to determine if there’s a pattern to the German rocket strikes. Strangely, Slothrop develops an erection minutes before every bomb drops. On the surface, this occurrence seems absurdly humorous. But think about it. An erection linked to death.

Very simply put, British intelligence is curious as to why Slothrop’s erections are coinciding with with every rocket strike, so they abduct him and brainwash him. Following this point in the novel, it’s really anybody’s guess as to what’s actually happening. Many sections of the novel are narrated by characters under the influence of psychedelic drugs. The connective tissue that holds this novel together is a nebulous refrain—‘The Rocket.’ Everybody is looking for some mysterious rocket (Rocket 00000) that’s finally fired at the end of the book. There seems to be some conspiracy surrounding this rocket. It’s unclear who are friends and who are enemies as people deceive one another in their respective searches for ‘The Rocket.’ Everybody’s being watched. Everybody’s under surveillance. Pynchon continuously refers to an omniscient ‘They.’

Gravity's Rainbow, Penguin Edition

A little wear and tear never hurt anybody!
A little wear and tear never hurt anybody!

The Take Away

Discussing the plot of Gravity’s Rainbow is a cruel joke that Pynchon loves. He knows that readers expect linearity—a plot—and he pretends to give you exactly what you want, but in reality, he completely shatters any notion of linearity. This novel is profoundly disconnected. But the title, the title is this novel’s true, unifying force.

So tell me—what’s the shape of a rainbow? A semi-circle? Well, yes and no. When we see a rainbow, we only see a semicircle. But a rainbow is technically a full circle; we don’t see half of it, the half that’s underneath the ground. This half has been taken underground by gravity. Therefore, “Gravity’s Rainbow” is a metaphor for that aspect of the self that’s incommunicable, unable to be expressed in some form recognizable to our five senses.

The ultimate irony of the book is the title because it’s a profound contradiction, an abyss of confusion and clarity. Pynchon is writing this book to communicate something deep within himself, something he knows he can’t communicate, at least not traditionally, and the incommunicable nature of his message is what makes it beautiful and eternal.

Steven Weisenburger's Companion

Another 400 pages of text! But definitely recommend this companion. It helps clarify the novel page to page.
Another 400 pages of text! But definitely recommend this companion. It helps clarify the novel page to page.

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)