Useless Lumpens in Gravity’s Rainbow



In the postwar period, as debates about modern conformism and the emerging technologies of psychological conditioning and social control gained momentum, much attention was given to those groups who appeared to remain outside the powerfully centripetal forces of cultural hegemony. The desire for an escape to some space outside was frequently addressed in the narratives that proliferated during the postwar period. Perhaps the best known was Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, in which alienated Holden Caulfield makes a run for it but ultimately has nowhere to go and suffers a mental collapse. Ten years later, in Updike’s Rabbit, Run, the alienated Rabbit Angstrom also makes a run for it, but he too is unable to figure out where to go and, instead of getting away, he returns for three more Rabbit novels spread over a few decades. In both the novel and the movie version of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randle Patrick McMurphy initially seems well-suited to a successful escape, but in the end it’s nothing that a lobotomy can’t cure and Nurse Rachet takes care of that. Other popular movies had already worked this theme. The Great Escape, for example, made Steve McQueen a star, while Hilts, the character he plays, ends up back in custody after a dramatic but abortive escape attempt leaves him tangled up in Nazi barbed wire. Played by Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke—the man who would not conform, according to the movie’s blurbs—seems to have a good chance at first, but (a) he doesn’t have anywhere to go and (b) he is hunted down and killed. The Misfits, with its cast of stars, its Arthur Miller script and John Huston direction, tells a story of modern American containment and defeat. Sepia-toned and nostalgic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid follows a pair of loveable outlaws as they run all the way to Bolivia, where they are finally shot down. Lesser known perhaps, but equally unequivocal, is Lonely Are the Brave. Based on a novel by Edward Abbey, the movie features Kirk Douglas as an anachronistic modern cowboy non-conformist misfit who breaks out of jail and makes a run for Mexico on horseback but is killed on a highway by a truck loaded with bathroom fixtures.


How to Cite: Holton, R. (2011) “Useless Lumpens in Gravity’s Rainbow”, Pynchon Notes.(0). doi: