Slothrop’s Paranoia

“He has become obsessed with the idea of a rocket with his name written on it –if they’re really set on getting him (“They” embracing possibilities far far beyond Nazi Germany) that’s the surest way, doesn’t cost them a thing to paint his name on every one, right?” (Pynchon 25)

At this point in the novel, Pynchon is describing how Slothrop becomes paranoid about being obliterated by a rocket, after he investigates numerous bomb sights. When he witnesses the irreversible damage that that the rockets cause, Slothrop is terrified by them. Like the victims he had seen trapped in the rubble, Slothrop believes that he destined to the same fate. However he is so consumed in this anxiety, that he is convinced that there is a rocket specifically with his name on it which is targeted at him by an uncertain foe. The quote above provides great insight into Slothrop’s character and his mental state, which leads the reader to speculate whether he is a reliable character to supply us with information of what is going on in the text when the novel switches to his point of view. While his viewpoints may seem unreliable and ridiculous, his paranoia may actually provide us with a sense of truth of what may be going on in the novel.

From this description, it is obvious that Slothrop is showing signs of extreme anxiety; specifically I think he is exhibiting signs of paranoid schizophrenia. The most prominent symptoms of this mental disorder include coming up with personal delusions of persecution or conspiracy. The said individual is constantly overwhelmed with the fear that someone is watching them or that something is out to get them. Even if they cannot verify as to who is watching them, they remain convinced in their belief that something is after them. This type of behavior matches Slothrop’s thoughts regarding the rockets. He is obsessed with the delusion that a rocket has his name written on it, which seems to be a ridiculous and impractical notion. Obviously a massive rocket isn’t targeted at one specific individual; nevertheless, Slothrop is convinced that a rocket is reserved for him. Additionally, the person or group of people sending the rocket Slothrop’s way is never clearly determined. Instead, Pynchon identifies the “persecutors” under the vague pronoun “they.” The quote affirms that “they” may be referring to the Nazi Germans, but it can also encompass a more formidable group than the Germans. So then, the reader is left to question who “they” actually is. Perhaps “they” represents an overseeing authoritative institution such as the government or the elect members of society who control those whom they consider beneath them. The identity of “they” is open to many interpretations, but ultimately these theories cannot be verified; therefore they are unreliable. Slothrop himself cannot prove that such an authoritative force is constantly surveying him; this could be another example of his delusional thinking.

At the end of this quote, it seems as if Pynchon is sarcastically mocking Slothrop’s foolish thinking by affirming that the surest way to fire a rocket at Slothrop is by writing his name on the rocket, and that is doesn’t cost them much to paint his name on every single rocket that they own. However, what is interesting about how Pynchon structured this quote was that he ended it with a question, in which he implies the uncertainty of whether Slothrop’s fears are truly ludicrous. Perhaps Slothrop’s fears are not completely irrational. Ending his paragraph with the question “right?” Pynchon asks for verification from his audience. The question invites his readers to consider: should we believe Slothrop? With his delusional thinking, it is difficult to determine whether we should take Slothrop seriously since he seems like a very unreliable character to trust to present events in the novel accurately. However, by the end of this paragraph there is a hint of doubt of whether Slothrop’s thinking is truly delusional. Perhaps his paranoia is actually verifiable and warranted. Maybe the rockets are not out to obliterate him, but there is some enemy present whom he should fear. Later in the novel it is revealed that Slothrop is unknowingly the human subject of Pointsman’s conditioning experiments. That Slothrop exhibits fear of some authority figure who is out to get him may mean he has an unconscious awareness that someone is indeed controlling and observing him. In this case Pointsman and his other fellow scientists may represent one of the many faces behind “them.” So while the source of Slothrop’s fears and his actual perception of reality may be distorted, his paranoia provides him with an understanding that there is something to be feared, even if that something cannot be clearly defined yet. In that case, Slothrop’s paranoia may express insight of what is actually occurring in the novel. So what do you think? Are Slothrop’s fears valid or are they delusional?

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3 Responses to Slothrop’s Paranoia

  1. elizabeth829 says:

    I think Slothrop’s fears are valid, of course not that there would be a rocket with his name on it, but just the overall paranoia and fear in general. It’s not as if Slothrop is completely delusional, there is a very good chance he will be killed by a rocket and I have to imagine that if I were living in London at this time, paranoia would probably take hold of me as well. I don’t know if Slothrop’s aware of any enemies that specifically target him but I think instead he embodies the sentiments of Europeans at that time as a whole. Just the idea that at any minute one could be obliterated was sort of a unifying factor for the people of London, so I think Slothrop’s paranoia could just be the embodiment of a group of people all facing one very large enemy, whose scope, as you have pointed out, is far beyond just Nazi Germany. Lastly, I must admit I’m having a hard time determining what’s really happening to Slothrop and what isn’t so I don’t find him a very reliable narrator to say the least.

  2. srk552014 says:

    I would agree that placing this story in it’s historical context is of upmost importance for the understanding of this novel. London was constantly being bombed during World War II, and many places were reduced to rubble. Of course Slothtrop’s paranoia is validated by the bombings he sees, although believing a bomb with his name on it is a little far. I think paranoia will play a large role in the novel, considering most of the narrators are probably a little anxious about the bombings, and will give us insight into what the novel is truly trying to say.

  3. I am in agreement that Slothrop’s paranoia is justified, due to what everyone is saying about the historical context and his own personal experiences and traumas. However, I have been also been thinking about the idea of why Slothrop thinks that there could be a rocket with his name on it, and the significance of that specific paranoia. I think that maybe it is his way to find some sort of personal control in the chaos. He sees so many bombs and areas of death and it seems like the death of an individual in a bomb blast is no longer significant in the war torn society. The names of those lost don’t really matter anymore, they are never named. Because of his location, it is probable that Slothrop could be killed in a blast. So maybe by fantasizing a rocket with his name on it, he is asserting a reason to his death- someone specific wanted to kill him specifically. Someone will know that he is gone. His name will be known to have been lost by someone somewhere, rather than just being blended into a group of those killed by the bomb. His death will be different than all the deaths he has been witness to. His death will be one that is calculated and planned by “they”, rather than just randomly being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His end of his existence will be more than just grey rubble. I also think it could do with the fact that he has seen so much death that he is accepting that his own death is coming, his time is coming to and end. Somewhere there is a rocket with his name on it and he knows this, he is just waiting for the day that it will hit him.

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