“[Pirate] reeled back, in horror, back past the point – such recognitions are not reversible. It was a giant Adenoid. At least as big as St. Paul’s, and growing hour by hour. London, perhaps all England, was in mortal peril!” (Pynchon 15).
This quote is from page 15 of Gravity’s Rainbow and describes Pirate’s surreal experience in Lord Osmo’s fantasy. In the fantasy, Pirate sees himself in London, on a normal day, which he soon realizes is not a normal day at all. A giant adenoid is seen by Pirate and it slowly starts assimilating into London, devouring everything, which terrifies Pirate (understandably so).
What the heck is an adenoid? That’s one of the many questions I asked myself while reading Pynchon’s FUBAR novel, which, if anybody is interested in my opinion, I am enjoying so far. To answer the question, I quickly Googled adenoid and found that an adenoid is a mass of tissue located at the back of the throat. By digging deeper into the internet, I also found out that Charlie Chaplin, in his classic movie The Great Dictator, played a character named Adenoid Hynkel, a character meant to be a representation of Adolf Hitler. The real question, however, is why the adenoid is even in Osmo’s fantasy.
I don’t doubt for a second that Pynchon is smart and well-versed in pop culture, and so included the adenoid as both a large mass of tissue as some sort of surreal fantasy and as a representation of Hitler himself, which makes sense considering the novel takes place during World War II. In fact, the fact that the word ‘adenoid’ is capitalized in the quote makes the Hitler comparison even more apparent. This comparison is very interesting, as the adenoid is described as being very large (“at least as big as St. Paul’s”) and that it was “growing hour by hour”. Pynchon’s description of the adenoid is very similar to Nazi Germany during the Second World War: a large empire and one that expanding very quickly during the war. Honestly, the amount of research I had to put into this allusion was amazing, considering all of the other books I have read in my life.
The adenoid, taking all of the above knowledge into consideration, is also a representation of the situation that the characters in the novel find themselves in, which is the bombing of England by Nazi Germany (the large, expanding adenoid), also known as the blitz. Perhaps the adenoid is not only a representation of Hitler himself, but also one of the act of bombing which is occurring during the novel’s storyline. Branching off of that idea, Pirate’s terror at the beginning of the quote (“[Pirate] reeled back, in horror, back past the point – such recognitions are not reversible”) seems to reflect the world’s view on Nazi Germany at the time. The world viewed what the Nazis did as horrific and terrorizing, just how Pirate feels at the sight of the adenoid. “Such recognitions are not reversible”. This part of the quote, then, seems to be Pynchon commenting on how the atrocities committed during the Second World War cannot be called, or recognized, as anything other than horrific acts of genocide. On a more literal level, Pynchon writes that London, or even all of England, is in “mortal danger”. This can be taken very literally as, outside Osmo’s fantasy world, London, and England as a country, was in fact in mortal danger, what with bombs being dropped constantly and all.
Another question to ask is “why did Pynchon, of all of the masses of tissue found in the human body, choose the adenoid”? Honestly, I have been trying to figure this out myself. Initially, I thought that it was just a random occurrence, maybe Pynchon picked the adenoid by chance. However, the closer I read this novel, the more it seems apparent that Pynchon does not indulge in coincidence and randomness; it seems as if everything has been written for a very specific reason. Then, I thought that using an adenoid instead of any other mass of tissue may be due to the fact that the adenoid is usually removed along with the tonsils, in some people. Could the medical definition and possible removal of the adenoid actually have anything to do with Pynchon’s choice of body tissue?
Perhaps the class could help me figure this out by commenting below.