“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?