Against the Day

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Thomas Pynchon's novel Against the Day, published in 2006, tells the story of how two generations of two working families, the Rideouts and the Traverses, from 1893 until the mid 1920s. Typical of Pynchon's style and of the encyclopedic novel, Against the Day does not strongly develop any individual characters, but often uses them to articulate watershed historical developments in more depth than ordinarily expected of fiction. Both families originate in the west and midwest of the United States, where the anti-establishment Traverses rebel, in a variety of ways, against the life-draining and exploitive practices of robber barons and fast-growing corporations, particularly of the mining and railroad industries. The Rideouts lead more free-spirited lives, which cross paths frequently with the Traverses.

Family Drama

Merle Rideout follows a career oriented around graphic representations of light ("redeeming light from the inertia of precious metals" (80)), such as photography. Merle's adoptive daughter Dahlia (Dally) travels to New York, Venice, the Balkans, and Paris. Webb Traverse, believed to be "The Kieselguhr Kid"--a mysterious Anarchist dynamite expert who blows up the property of oppressive corporations--fathers three sons and a daughter, Frank, Reef, Kit, and Lake, who follow in his footsteps in different ways. Early in the novel, the tycoon Scarsdale Vibe, the novel's personification of capitalist villainy, has his henchmen murder Webb Traverse, and the Traverses' impetus to revenge against Vibe and his family structures much of the novel's story, though it is never the main story.

As in his other novels, such as Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon makes extensive metaphorical use of modern technology, technical means, and techniques of aeronautical and electrical engineering, as well as higher mathematics. For example, as a young man Kit Traverse's romantically champions vectors over quaternions, which reflects the young mathematician's relation to the world. Most prominently among these themes, birefringence, the decomposition of a light ray into two rays, a property of the mined mineral Iceland Spar, provides the physical representation of the novel's sense of there being two worlds, one of which remains unseen to us and only gnostically available. Light, and people's historical representations of its properties, recurs as a theme in the novel, and Kit Traverse's illumination regarding important aspects of how he conducts his life happens when he witnesses the blinding flash of the Tunguska Event of 1908 while fleeing from the clutches of Vibe near Irkutsk.

The Chums of Chance

Along with the Traverses, Rideouts, and Vibes, the "Chums of Chance" compose another quasi-family of five men whose fantastic relation to the world comments metaphorically on the events they fly over in the gas-filled airship they crew, the Inconvenience. The Chums' adventures, the novel's comedic interludes, take them through hidden worlds inside the Earth and around the globe as they occasionally render general assistance to people on the surface and the main characters. Mostly, however, the Chums are oddly disconnected from the real world. For example, they pass over World War I hardly registering a difference in the Europe they see below them, and marry a group of female sky dwellers called the Sodality of Aetheronauts. The Chums do not age but by the end of the novel, their constant engineering updates renders light itself as Incovenience's motive power:

...on they fly. The ship by now has grown as large as a small city. There are neighborhoods, there are parks. There are slum conditions. It is so big that when people on the ground see it in the sky, they are struck with selective hysterical blindness and end up not seeing it at all (1084).

Pynchon assures us that Inconvenience 's destination is a condition of the world where "good unsought and uncompensated would have evolved somehow, to become at least more accessible to us" (1085).

Pynchon's Prose Style

Pynchon's prose ranges from the erudite and scientific to the langorously wistful (see for example pages 298, 767, 816, and 836); the novel includes pornographic sex scenes, farcical poems of song lyrics, noir crime fiction, Mexican, Russian, and American slang and cadences (see for example the pleonastic "is" on pages 309 and 375).