“‘Here, fellow,’ coaxes Roger. ‘Nice bottle of ether here for you,’ opening the flask, waving it in the cellar entrance, then switching on his beam. Dog looks up out of an old rusted pram, bobbing black shadows, tongue hanging, utter skepticism on his face. ‘Why it’s Mrs. Nussbaum!’ Roger cries, the same way he’s heard Fred Allen do, Wednesday nights over the BBC.
‘You vere ekshpecting maybe Lessie?’ replies the dog (Pynchon 44).”
The above quotation comes from a chase scene, in which Roger Mexico is attempting to capture a dog for one of Dr. Pointsman’s Pavlovian experiments. The doctor originally intended to seize the dog himself, but was forced to assign the task to Mexico after getting his foot stuck in a toilet bowl. Armed with an open bottle of ether to sedate the dog, Mexico tries to approach the dog, but quickly becomes affected by the ether fumes he inhales. When he finally is in a position to sedate it, he cries a famous line from a popular American comedic radio program, Allen’s Alley. To the audience’s surprise, or at least my surprise, the dog’s responds to Mexico by saying Mrs. Nussbaum’s famous response. Her character would say, “You were expecting maybe [a famous celebrity of that time period]?” Appropriately for the dog, he chooses Lassie, also mispronouncing the name as Mrs. Nussbaum would—although in a German accent. Once again flaunting his encyclopedic knowledge base, the author seamlessly ties in a popular culture reference. Here in that reference, Pynchon throws in affectation by a hallucinogenic drug and some kind of hallucination representing a warped reality that both intend to build on one of the novel’s themes of reality versus the supernatural or an alternate reality.
This passage convinced me that Gravity’s Rainbow, indeed, has its humorous moments. It seemed to me until this point of the novel that the plot was consumed by a dark sense of perversion, death, and general pessimism. The humor Pynchon interjects here broke that up for me, and demonstrated that this novel could have brighter moments, although darkly humorous in their own right. I think it even approaches being evocative of a scene from a strange cartoon. It has some of the elements: a witty talking animal onto the humans’ tricks, an uncoordinated dog-catcher, and a partner-in-crime who’s rendered largely immobile by an inane object—here, appropriately a toilet bowl. What makes the scene amusing is the utter absurdity of it all. I feel that the nonsensical scene forces us to parse the reality of the novel from the reality we live in. Of course, dogs can’t talk and it is highly unlikely that they are able to express emotion as obviously as Pynchon describes. We are told that Mexico is also inhaling a good deal of ether vapors trying to capture the dog, but are left to assume it to be the cause of Roger’s hallucination—if it is even actually a hallucination. We’re also left to assume the entire event is a type of warped reality, since it’s also highly unlikely that someone would get his foot actually stuck in a toilet bowl—a toilet bowl! Pynchon leaves the task of parsing realities solely up to the reader. Maybe in the realm Pynchon creates in his entire novel a remarkable talking dog and casually stepping in an abandoned bathroom fixture isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Yet, assuming that the chase scene does feature hallucinations due to hallucinogenic drug inhalation, it draws a parallel to Slothrop’s toilet scene. Both Mexico and Slothrop hallucinate and experience things impossible in our reality. The plot of the novel constantly fades in and out of that reality with subtlety that is difficult to pick up on. Constant vigilance is required for the reader to notice when a shift in the novel’s reality occurs and what that shift even is or what it represents in the overall context of the work. I personally am inclined to think that Pynchon presents such scenes to feature the schlemiels of his story and their importance to the plot. The audience is amused by their antics, which make no logical sense, as the characters are under the influence of drugs and are immersed in a kind of reality of their own creation. We as readers must determine what is truly crucial to the plot itself and Pynchon’s purpose in relating those nonsensical scenes.