Family Legacies: Identifying the Traces of William Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow



In this essay, I begin by relating Pynchon's fictional character William Slothrop to his real-life counterpart, Thomas Pynchon's colonial ancestor William Pynchon. By pointing out the similarities and the differences between the historical Pynchon and the literary creation of his eleventh-generation descendant, I am able to highlight recurring themes and images in the text of Gravity's Rainbow and to suggest how these inherited points of interest have been developed in Mason & Dixon. These themes and images highlight the novel's concern with a cluster of issues comprising colonialism, empire and the historical construction of nation states. American literature, including modern classics like Gravity's Rainbow, is excluded from the contemporary discourse of post/colonialism on the grounds that America achieved independence from Britain long before those nations that came to constitute the British Commonwealth (and produced the literature subsequently described as postcolonial). However, I argue that Gravity's Rainbow places America at the very heart of the imperial enterprise–from the seventeenth century to the present. And the figure of William Pynchon provides an access to this important subtext of Gravity's Rainbow.


How to Cite: L. Madsen, D. (1998) “Family Legacies: Identifying the Traces of William Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow”, Pynchon Notes.(0). doi: