All posts by Emma B.

Breaking Down Barriers

“‘What’s integration mean?’ Tim asked Grover.
‘The opposite of differentiation,’ Grover said, drawing an x-axis, y-axis and curve on his greenboard. ‘Call this function of x. Consider values of the curve at tiny little increments of x’ – drawing straight vertical lines from the curve down to the x-axis, like the bars of a jail cell – ‘you can have as many of these as you want, see, as close together as you want.’
‘Till it’s all solid,’ Tim said.
‘No, it never gets solid. If this was a jail cell, and those lives were bars, and whoever was behind it could make himself any size he wanted to be, he could always make himself skinny enough to get free. No matter how close together the bars were.’
‘This is integration,’ said Tim.
‘The only kind I ever heard of,’ said Grover.” (186-187)

In “The Secret Integration,” Pynchon draws an analogy between racial integration and Grover’s explanation of the term used for integral calculus. According to Pynchon’s analogy, racial integration breaks down the barriers between whites and blacks so that they become a community, just as the young boys have initiated Carl Barrington into their group. The young boys exemplify a judgment-free, ideal, classless group. With the forthcoming civil rights movement, the young boys struggle to understand the meaning of integration and their parents’ stubborn racism while growing up in a generation of change and acceptance as they instinctively invite Carl into their gang. Although Carl Barrington is revealed to be a figment of the young boys’ imaginations, his acceptance into the group of young boys shows the hope of a new generation’s first step toward racial integration.

In his analogy, Pynchon demonstrates not only the importance of integration and racial tolerance, but also the innate humanity that a younger generation can demonstrate. The lines of Grover’s graph, as he points out, can be seen as bars of a jail cell. Racial integration allows blacks to be free of those bars.

The young boys occupy their time playing practical jokes while also plotting a large-scale anti-institution revolt. Grover hates institutions and any “scaled-up world adults made” that they live in without him (143). He also hates the world “uneducable,” which he refuses to explain to his friends, because it suggests inequality as he compares it to derogatory terms (150). The young boys, especially Grover, are clearly aware of discrimination and see it as the fault of higher institutions, which are led by adults, but they are also surprised by their own parents’ stubborn racism. Although the group may seem rowdy, they are political minded youth looking to reverse a system that they view is wrong. And with the surprising twist that Carl was a figment of their imagination, it is revealed that Carl was their secret integration. For the adults, Carl is not there, and they never want him to be there. Carl is a playmate the young boys can spend endless hours with because he is a collection of phrase and images “that grownups had somehow turned away from” (192).

The Immorality of Influence

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.” (13)

In this passage, Henry Wotton’s philosophy begins to seduce Dorian Gray, part of Wotton’s ultimate quest to become indispensable to Gray, just as Gray is to Basil Hallward. Wotton eventually seizes Gray’s character and then projects his hedonistic ideals and criticisms of morals and duties onto him, which lead to Gray’s tragic downfall.

Henry Wotton often speaks so profoundly of Hedonism and moral views that his confidence both intimidates and amazes Dorian. It is ironic that Wotton, a man who preaches the immorality of influence and the importance of self-development, becomes the influence from which Gray’s sins are borrowed. But from their first meeting, Wotton saw Gray’s naiveté and sought to take advantage of it and dominate his self-development.

When Wotton and Gray first meet, Gray is praised for his shocking beauty and powerful presence. Hallward is so unwilling to share his muse with the rest of humanity, especially with Wotton, because he is afraid of corruption of his muse, which would result in a loss of inspiration for him. Hallward also criticizes Wotton for his dodgy and radical opinions that make it difficult to infer whether they are his genuine opinions. However, Gray is so enthralled by Wotton’s confidence that he becomes attached to him. But once Gray accepts Wotton’s influence, his sordid evolution begins.

As Wotton dictates an influence on Gray, Gray loses the power over his own thinking and decision-making, a theme also seen in Nora Helmer’s character in A Doll’s House. Both characters are governed by the morals of their caretakers and have their opinions shrouded by the rules their superiors have set forth. However, Gray is stuck in this power dynamic because Wotton attacks his youth, which is Gray’s most valuable quality. Gray is driven into Wotton’s ideals by his fear of not only losing his youth, but his lack of knowledge up to this point in his life. Wotton intimidates Gray so much that he entrusts his life in Wotton, which will eventually lead to his demise.

Escaping Misfortune

“A hundred times I have wanted to kill myself, but I was still in love with life. This absurd weakness is perhaps one of our deadliest attachments: can anything be more foolish than to keep carrying a fardel and yet keep wanting to throw it to the ground? To hold one’s existence in horror, and yet cling to it? In a word, to caress the serpent that devours us, until it has eaten away our heart?” (31)

In this passage, the old woman reflects on her story of misfortune. The old woman’s life of tribulations is much more tragic than Cunégonde’s recent struggles, and when she shares her story with the young exiles, they seem to agree.

The old woman was born to a pope and princess, and like Cunégonde, she grew up quite wealthy. With no comprehension of the treacherous reality outside of her kingdom, the old woman was thrust into a life of slavery and rape at a young age. Despite her treacherous experiences and wanting to die many times, she chose to live. The old woman suggests that even though people hold their existence in horror, they cling to their life.

Candide wishes Pangloss were still alive to hear the woman’s story, imagining he would give a lecture on the good fortune that came out of her situation. Candide governs his life on Pangloss’ eternally optimistic sentiment—even in the face of evil—that there is “no effect without cause…in this best of all possible worlds” (4). If Pangloss were alive, he would most likely find some good fortune in the old woman’s turbulent tale, but this outlook is incredibly flawed. None of the characters are experiencing any good fortune, and the old woman’s story serves to contradict Pangloss’ philosophy and expose the naiveté of Cunégonde and Candide.

However, exposing the naiveté of Cunégonde and Candide is not necessarily bad. The old woman replaces Cunégonde’s reality and replaces it with her own to show that despair and misfortune do not discriminate by social class. The whole journey is an opportunity of self-discovery for Candide as he begins to doubt Pangloss’ eternally optimistic lessons, and the old woman’s story becomes the turning point to Candide’s change. The old woman shows that misfortune is unavoidable, and although she has faced some hardships in her life and wanted to die many times, she clung on.