Sexual child abuse features centrally in Gravity’s Rainbow. While the sexual abuse of children is certainly a valid topic for a novel, I have become more and more disturbed by Pynchon's handling of Slothrop and Bianca. While I can justify the centrally themed child abuse in Lolita and Finnegans Wake, I am less sure about Gravity's Rainbow.

Slothrop was sexually abused as a child by Laszlo Jamf, as part of an experiment involving inducing erections in the kid. It turns out that Slothrop's father had "sold" him, for Jamf's experiments, to pay for Slothrop's education. The entire novel is in essence Slothrop's response to this childhood horror and it's consequences.

Then Franz Pökler, at the Zwölfkinder, fantasizes incest with his daughter Ilse, who is permited annual summertime visits, although Franz doubts the girl who visits is really is Ilse. Instead of acting on the fantasy, he becomes "Ilse"'s "father".

I feel that there is no problem with Pynchon's handling of these first two examples.

But then there is Bianca!

Slothrop meets Greta Erdmann, the actress, who is looking for her lost daughter, Bianca. They head for Swinemünde, where Bianca is supposedly on a boat. The Anubis arrives and Greta and Slothrop board, where they find an giant orgy. Slothrop and Greta participate. Slothrop catches sight of Bianca, who is eleven or twelve, "a knockout." Mother (Greta) and daughter (Bianca) then perform a public S/M act, with the mother fairly brutally slapping the little girl’s bottom, which Bianca seems to enjoy. Slothrop dreams about Llandudno, "where Lewis Carroll wrote that Alice in Wonderland." Bianca appears at his bedside, ready and willing. They have sex.

All very titillating and unreflective.

After sex, she asks him to escape with her: "I'm a child, I know how to hide. I can hide you too." Slothrop leaves without her and Bianca is lost again.

The only possible reflection demanded for our participation, is that later, Slothrop, when listening to Margherita's story, is overcome by nausea, but it is not even clear at what.

What is the reader to make of Slothrop and Bianca? What is the purpose/meaning/role behind Slothrop and Bianca? Or is this an example of Pynchon's "proto-fascism", as he describes some of his writings in Slow Learner?

3 Answers 3


Slothrop is not a pedophile, Bianca is not a child

Bianca (on the first look) is 11-12 but in fact she is around 16-17, which would make the sexual relation far less squicky without pedophilic undertones:

How old IS Bianca?

Slothrop thinks, "Bianca's a knockout, alright: 11 or 12, dark and lovely [...]" (p.463), but how old is Bianca, really? Well ...

Bianca is conceived during the filming of Alpdrücken ("I think Bianca is [Schlepzig's] child. She was conceived while we were filming this." - p.395)
Ilse was conceived after Franz Pökler saw Alpdrücken ("he knew that had to be the night, Alpdrücken night, that Ilse was conceived." - p.397)
Leni had already given birth to Ilse when she was seeing Peter Sachsa, e.g. "Ilse is awake, and crying. [...] They ought to try Peter after all. He'll have milk." (p.163); and Sachsa is killed during a street action in 1930 ("Taken forcibly over in 1930 by a blow from a police truncheon [...]" - p.152)
Placing Bianca's conception, say, 6 months to a year before Ilse's (depending on how long it took for Alpdrücken to reach the theatres and how long it took Franz Pökler to go see it), Bianca's birth would have been in 1928 or 1929.
Slothrop meets Bianca aboard the Anubis in 1945.
Thus Bianca must be 16 or 17


Since Slothrop first sees her during the orgy, Bianca has been "fetishized" to look like a "Lolita" - a pre-teen girl, something that pedophile would want, while at the same time she is much older.


It's a long time since I read it, but ...

I don't think you should expect a proper "handling", nor do I think scholasticism or moral apologetics, as suggested in other answers, can save it.

As for myself, it's 1960s literature. It is not affirmative of childhood sexual abuse, as @Daniel would have it; rather, it tries to put you to that place of truth where you realize childhood abuse is everywhere (especially with the powerful) like SM is everywhere (especially with war, politics etc.). It puts you where you were abused, or are abused, in whatever low-key or metaphorical sense that may be.

So, the truth ... yes, Slothrop is also a paedophile ... that's how far the early 1970s bring us. That is really far for that time, just to state that it is everywhere. It is not before Karen Finley, Lydia Lunch, and Vivenne Dick in the late 1970s that arts and culture have started to thematize sexual violence.


Though I agree it is an uncomfortable part, it may refer to this, which is taken from the Pynchon-wiki page, which is pretty thorough:

466.06 young Shirley Temple Compare the following excerpt from a review of Temple's film Wee Willie Winkie written by the novelist Graham Greene, who was then reviewing films for the British magazine Night & Day:

"Miss Shirley Temple's case, though, has peculiar interest: infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece (real childhood, I think, went out with 'The Littlest Rebel'). In 'Captain January' she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in 'Wee Willie Winkie', wearing short kilts, she is completely totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant's palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers — middle-aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire." Greene and the magazine were consequently sued by Twentieth-Century Fox, bankrupting Night & Day and forcing Greene to hide out in Mexico where he drew the inspiration for his novel The Power and the Glory. (Ironically, both Wee Willie Winkie and The Fugitive, an adaptation of The Power and The Glory starring Henry Fonda, were directed by John Ford.)

  • 1
    How do you interpret Slothrop sleeping with with 12 year old Bianca? Where is Pynchon taking us?
    – fundagain
    Sep 14, 2018 at 17:06

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