The Adenoid and Nazi Germany

“[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.

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4 Responses to The Adenoid and Nazi Germany

  1. Steph Roman says:

    Nice work. I was terribly confounded by the Adenoid issue as well. First of all, I’d never heard the term. Second, I was unprepared for a “literal” giant monster in the opening pages of this novel. I did a similar search and only came up with the definitions of the lumpy tissue in the throat, which is pretty out there in itself. The Charlie Chaplin reference is a new one to me. But the Hitler connection makes a ton of sense, seeing as the English probably expected Hitler and the Nazis to “absorb” London at any time.

    My addition might be a bit superficial, but I’ll mention it. Knowing that Pynchon was deeply interested in pop culture, and likely knew the movie you mentioned. Similarly, on the subject of film, “monster flicks” were hitting their stride before WWII. King Kong, Dracula, and Frankenstein would have been popular. Could the Adenoid also be a reference to this history? The Adenoid reminds me a lot of something we’d see in Godzilla. The first one didn’t come out till 1954, but I doubt that Pynchon really cares with the way time’s constructed in his novel anyway.

    So, yeah. Adenoid = Nazi Godzilla?

  2. patriciafox17 says:

    Your connection between the Adenoid and Nazi Germany makes sense. I must admit that I missed that interpretation the first few times I read that scene; I was, like you, trying to figure out why Pynchon would choose an Adenoid to be the “monster.” I did some Googling myself after reading your post and stumbled upon something I think is pretty interesting. An artist named Zak Smith created illustrations for each page of Gravity’s Rainbow. Smith illustrated the Adenoid literally as Pynchon describes it, as he does with each page of the novel–he claims to never interpret the text in his drawings, only representing the action. He draws a blob that actually looks very similar to a real human adenoid, although the one in the drawing is obviously Pynchon’s fantastic science fiction-esque monster. I’m no expert on art, but I felt that the style in which Smith draws also reflects the postmodernist era leaving it open to a wide variety of interpretations. The drawing might illuminate a different take on that mysterious Adenoid.

    (The illustration of the Adenoid is found in Book 1, page 14 on the website).

  3. moniquebriones2014 says:

    I like yours and Steph’s interpretations of the Adenoid as a representation of Nazi Germany due to The Great Dictator and monster movie references as well as the fear of the city being engulfed. But yes, again, why the adenoid? Couldn’t he be a little more on point with a gigantic fear-inducing mustache or fleet of flying swastikas? I think I can add to your Nazi Godzilla argument.

    What I’m interested with about the adenoid is the fact that it’s in your throat. What do you do with your throat? You swallow food with it, your windpipe’s there so you breathe with it, your voice box is there as well so you speak with it, and just in terms of location it’s what connects your head to the rest of your body. Do what you will with any of these functions, but I would like to focus on just a couple of them.

    Following the Nazi Germany interpretation, Hitler was known for being an extremely powerful orator. His speeches were very impassioned, patriotic, and motivational to the German people, who before the war had been dealing with both economic hardship and an identity crisis after the first World War left them largely stigmatized by western Europe. Using the metaphor of this Adenoid as Hitler, then, brings to mind his voice and its power to persuade others to wage international and ideological warfare. It’s a huge, massive, growing Adenoid because the power of that voice and the ideas it’s trying to force onto the rest of the world have far-reaching and terrifying consequences.

    As for the throat’s swallowing function, its expansion and the threat of it absorbing the city calls to mind the idea that the adenoid is trying to swallow London whole, with these pressing fears of the rockets and the almost greater fear of being defeated in a war in which the other side is, well, the Nazis (and all their thoughts on collective punishment and eugenics). I guess another facet of this “swallowing function” argument I’m posing is that it’s specifically Pirate Prentice, master chef of everything involving bananas, that sees the Adenoid. This throat-tissue is coming after his city and him and all we’ve seen of him at that early point in the novel is heavily connected to food. He’s got a very real fear of being eaten by the Adenoid.

    Now that I’ve added Pirate to the equation, I guess I can talk about the phallic symbolism of the bananas in relation to the Adenoid? I think you can make the case that the Adenoid, in the above sense of swallowing, or rather eating, the city whole along with Pirate and his bananas could represent (cultural?) emasculation and the death of sexual liberation? This ties into the idea that Nazi Germany is trying to engulf London and force its oppressive ideology onto the city.

    The fact that you can remove the Adenoid along with the tonsils may simply symbolize that there’s hope for the city in stopping the threat of the Nazis? They’re almost down Nazi Germany’s throat, but not quite.

  4. John says:

    Probably because of the Chaplin reference tbh…

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