Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”

Here is some helpful info you should know while reading

Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

The Author

Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937 in Long Island, New York.  He studied engineering physics at Cornell University, but left after two years to join the Navy.  He later returned to Cornell in 1957 to pursue a degree in English, graduating in 1959.  Pynchon utilizes a lot of his own life experience as source material in his writing.  This is especially made evident in aspects of Gravity’s Rainbow where the story centers around World War II and the design of V-2 rockets by the German military, drawing upon Pynchon’s background in engineering and the Navy.


For as much as his personal background factors into his writing, Thomas Pynchon is a notorious recluse.  Actual photographs of Pynchon are hard to come by, only a few have been published, and a subsequent mystery developed in the 1960s surrounding his identity and location.  Pynchon made light of this later on in his life in an episode of the animated television show The Simpsons, where he made an appearance as himself, but drawn with a paper bag over his head the entire time.


Thomas Pynchon on The Simpsons[1]


The Novel

First published in 1973, Gravity’s Rainbow is known for its encyclopedic length, complexity, and cast of over 400 characters.  This novel is considered by many notable scholars and critics as one of the Greatest American Novels of all-time and has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award for Fiction in 1974.  Furthermore, both the novel’s popularity and heavily detailed storylines have yielded numerous companion books to reference while reading the novel.

For Reference

Because of the novel’s complexity and global scale, the following terms are useful to define:

  • SOE: Special Operations Executive
  • V-2 rocket: the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile
  • Schwarzgerät: “black device”
  • S-Gerät: short for “Schwarzgerät”
  • PISCES: psychological warfare agency
  • SS officer: part of the elite military unit of the Nazi Party
  • Schwarzkommando: a faction of African rocket technicians
  • OKW: German for “Oberkommando der Wehrmacht” which means “High Command of the Armed Forces”
  • Raketenflugplatz: rocket site
  • Kriegsmarine: navy


[1] “Thomas Pynchon on The Simpsons,” Wikipedia, accessed June 20, 2015,

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