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Jason Helms; October 21, 2003; Psycho-Crit Paper 2.

Within Gravitys Rainbow two distinct classes emerge: the Preterit and Them. The main character, Tyrone Slothrop, vacillates between the two: sometimes one, sometimes the other, often both. The Preterit, those "passed over" or left behind, are the lower classes, pushed around and aggressed against. On the other hand, They are the ones who pull the strings: the ultimate aggressors and distributors of death. Slothrop is caught between the two.

"Death has always been the source of Their power" (GR 539). To be overly simplistic: They are death and the Preterit are life. Gravitys Rainbow then becomes the tale of life against death, and the eventual triumph of either, depending upon perspective. The well-organized conspiracy found throughout the novel is dedicated to aggression, which is the extroversion of the death instinct (LAD 71). Looking to a "genital character as a way out of neurosis" (LAD 29) they rediscover the rocket which was within their unconscious all along. Their "homosexuality in high places" (GR 616) is the evidence of "well organized tyrannies" (LAD 27) which accompany adult sexuality. In this state of adult sexuality They seek to abolish the ambivalence between life and death, love and hate (LAD 54), utilizing Slothrop as a go between. The only return to innocence they seek is a figurative one. Thus they re-enact their primal fantasies, placing one of their own within a rocket in the fetal position and blasting it (and him) toward the null (female) point: ground zero. For them therapy is war. (LAD 153).

The Preterit have no such lofty ambitions. They are pure infantile sexuality, ignorant of the reality principle (LAD 26) caring not about consequences, but only the present and pleasure. Their return to innocence is literal in this sense, as opposed to the figurative return to innocence of the conspiratorial They. Therapy for them leads to erotic behavior as Brown predicted (p. 140), which comes forth not only in their sexual escapades, but more acutely in their obsession with art and hallucinations. They find comfort in the universal sickness of nature (LAD 82), "so they dissolve now, into the race and swarm of this dancing Preterition" (GR 548). They are subversive, and as such are life itself.

Slothrop is caught perpetually between the two becoming increasingly more paranoid as a result of his inability to reconcile life and death (LAD 112-3). He consequently undergoes each of the three stages of psychoanalytical duality: oral, anal, and phallic (LAD 116-8). First, as searching for the rocket he displays the oral stage of wanting, at times identifying himself as both object and subject of his search. His anal stage is his insatiable activity in the face of unconquerable odds combined with his abject passivity to the day-to-day circumstances that he allows to govern his life. Finally he splits between masculine and feminine in the phallic phase. In a fairly comic interlude, one of the pseudo-villains of the story, Major Marvy is confused for Slothrop and subsequently castrated. Thus, Slothrop is castrated in effigy embraces the feminine. Likewise, he becomes his own father when he realizes that Jamf (his supposed father who he has spent most of the book searching for) is his own creation, "to help him explain what he felt so terribly in his genitals for those rockets" (GR 738). This process leads toward Nirvana as Slothrop gives into the "dissolution of consciousness" which the Dionysian ego provides, yet which is a form of death. He dissipates into culture, last being seen on a record cover, prompting us to "look among the Humility, among the gray and preterite souls, to look for him adrift in the hostile light of the sky, the darkness of the sea" (GR 742). His death "[takes] the form of an eschatology, declaring the conditions under which redemption from the human neurosis is possible" (LAD 86). What then, must one do to be saved?

There is a Hand to turn the time,

Though thy Glass today be run,

Till the light that hath brought the Towers low

Find the last poor Pretrite one . . .

Till the Riders sleep by evry road,

All through our crippld Zone,

With a face on evry mountainside,

And a Soul in evry stone. . . .

Now everybody

(GR 760).


Copyright (c) 2004 Jason Helms.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "
GNU Free Documentation License".

Copyright (c) 2004 Jason Helms.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "
GNU Free Documentation License".