Fire of Paradise

Even an hour later, the Meggezone still lingers, a mint ghost in the air. Slothrop lies with Darlene, the Disgusting English Candy Drill a thing of the past, his groin now against her warm bottom. The one candy he did not get to taste—one Mrs. Quoad withheld—was the Fire of Paradise, that famous confection of high price and protean taste…any number of descriptions, positive, terse—never exceeding two words in length—resembling the descriptions of poison and debilitating gases found in training manuals. (Pynchon 121)

I choose this passage mostly because shoving awful candies down Slothrop’s gullet is an inherently amusing scene, the most amusing scene since his toilet escapades earlier, and because I’m strongly curious as to why 4-5 pages have been dedicated to describing this scene. Maybe it’s just an extraordinarily humorous means to introduce Darlene, one of Slothrop’s “girls”—if everyone recalls, the V-2 drops right at the end of this reel—but this quote towards the end seems to link the candies back to the war at large.

Meggezone is not actually a candy. The text of GR says, “Mrs. Quoad offered a tin of that least believable of English coughdrops, the Meggezone” (120). The definition from NHS.uk goes,

This medicine helps relieve the symptoms of sore throats, coughs, colds, catarrh and nasal congestion. The main ingredient, menthol is an aromatic decongestant which relieves stuffiness in the nose and helps make breathing easier. It also has a soothing effect on the throat and helps reduce irritation which leads to coughing.

This medicine is available in the form of pastilles which slowly dissolve in the mouth when sucked.

Sounds awful. It’s funny, of course, that Slothrop’s choking on Mrs. Quoad’s candies, and if he hadn’t eaten them she wouldn’t have offered the Meggezone.

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Sugar in WWII was one of the most strictly rationed commodities. Mrs. Quoad mentions her wine-jellies are “prewar” (118), because they obviously wouldn’t have been able to produce candy in the middle of it. This again becomes apparent when Slothrop’s revolted, not only at the wormwood tea, but at the lack of sugar in it.

I love the phrase “Disgusting English Candy Drill.” It obviously has a military connotation of performing drills and so on, but alternately it might mean something like a dentist’s drill. Maybe a stretch, but historically speaking, too much candy leads to cavities and cavities lead to dentists.

Then there’s mention of a famous confection called the “Fire of Paradise.” It sounds more like a romance novel (and apparently it is) than a candy. The name seems much more referential of the fact that Slothrop’s currently got his groin pressed up against Darlene’s “warm bottom.” As far as I’ve been able to discern, the Fire of Paradise is not a real candy. Thank the maker. So that makes “Fire of Paradise” solely an innuendo as to the nature of Slothrop’s visit in the first place.

(I saw a headline that “Fire of Paradise” might also be a reference to Paradise Lost, but I haven’t read it. If anyone has and sees the connection, I’d be happy to hear about it.)

Regardless, the “Fire of Paradise” need not be read only sexually. Fire could also be “firebombing;” “Paradise” can be a utopia or heaven or something that might be attainable—or maybe not. Taken together, there’s the idea of “fire (in our) paradise,” which sounds like an exact foreshadowing of the chapter’s end (remember, the V-2 hits). The “paradise” of the sexual encounter has been destroyed by the (figurative, if not literal) “fire” of the rocket hitting the nearby area.

I had to look this up. “Protean” means changeable, versatile, and variable taste. Pynchon included a number of possible flavors for the Fire of Paradise, but they’re all mythologized, as Slothrop never samples the candy, but the fact that they resemble “descriptions of poison and debilitating gases found in training manuals” again directly ties the candy to the war. I can only imagine how horrible poison and chlorine gas and any number of substances found in training manuals must taste, so not only does that link intensify the ugliness of the candy, it directly references itself to the same experience a soldier might go through. If I remember my history correctly, the Germans were the first to use gas masks in WWI. Presumably, these tactics were reused in WWII, so being prepared for that eventuality would have been an important lesson in a training manual.

And as a final note, “training,” in a training manual sounds oddly reminiscent of the huge Pavlovian thread running through GR. Maybe ‘they’ would use the term “conditioning,” but if Pynchon’s characterized to be circular and recursive, I don’t see why this couldn’t be interpreted as a return to the Pavlovian conditioning—training—of Slothrop’s infancy.

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About Steph Roman

2015 University of Pittsburgh grad with majors in nonfiction writing and English literature. Formerly of the Pitt News and PublicSource. I like games and nerd culture in general.
This entry was posted in Gravity's Rainbow, Reading Response and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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