Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Against the Day

Go To
All investigations of time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their base the human fear or mortality.

Against the Day is a postmodern historical fiction novel written by Thomas Pynchon, published in 2006. Pynchon’s another take on magnum-opus (and fattest) novel followed by Mason & Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow. Set between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, charting the rise of corporate capitalism, the short life of the US anarchist movement and the construction of the modern military-industrial state – but doing so against a background of cowboy pastiche, dime-novel take-offs (long, long stretches take place aboard an airship crewed by the Chums of Chance, a gang of horny teenage aeronauts who talk like something out of Biggles) and dense Edwardian-era maths and science.

The novel zips about from Mexico to the North Pole, from Colorado to London, from beneath the arid desert sands to the ageless land of Shambhala above the clouds. Characters are often in more than one place at once, since the form of the book is as anarchist as its content. Against the Day is without doubt, the most intensely confusing of Pynchon’s mega-novels, in ways that were as long-winded as they were usually dogmatic.

Massive Kudzu Plot and Mind Screw ensues, of course.

The novel contains examples of:

  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Averted or even inverted; the anarchists, while not perfect, are some of the most sympathetic characters. Webb Traverse is accused of destroying property but there is no indication that he ever attempts to harm people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The novel ends with the outbreak of WorldWarI.
  • Cerebus Syndrome:
    • The novel began to take a serious and dark turn especially the entire second halves.
    • Knowing that Gravity's Rainbow take place primarily in post-WWII, it is dark especially.
  • Door Stopper: Clocks around 1085 pages long.
  • Genre Roulette: The book follows several separate casts of characters, and each of them is written in a discrete genre with a unique authorial voice.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Critic Louis Menand argues that this is one of the central themes of the novel:
    “Authorial sympathy in Pynchon’s novels always lies on the ‘transcend all questions of power,’ countercultural side of the struggle; that’s where the good guys — the oddballs, dropouts, and hapless dreamers — tend to gather. But his books also dramatize the perception that resistance to domination can develop into its own regime of domination. The tendency of extremes is to meet, and perfection in life is a false Grail, a foreclosure of possibility, a kind of death. Of binaries beware.”
  • Kudzu Plot: Because it's a Pynchon novel, there are numerous, chaotic plots that never fully wrap up.
  • Meaningful Name: As is typical for Pynchon, there is much debate over the meanings of the names of his characters, and indeed whether they have any intended meanings at all. What else can one expect with character names like (to pick a few names almost at random) Luca Zombini, Stilton Gaspereaux, Webb Traverse, and Scarsdale Vibe?
  • Mind Screw: Anyone familiar with Pynchon surely knows to expect this by now.