V. Chapter 3 – In which Stencil, a quick-change artist, does eight impersonations

In light of the episodic nature of this week’s chapter, I thought I’d try something a little different: Eight points for eight impersonations. Stenci’s journey into conjecture about Porpentine hinges upon perspective so let’s look at where the quick changes take us.

1) Two of the most important factors in this chapter is its use of material from “Under the Rose” and its switch in perspective from that short story. First up is P. Aieul, a café waiter. The obvious change is that the outside perspective serves to make the events of “Under the Rose” that much harder to follow. Nevertheless, it also enhances Stencil’s quest. He has no access to Porpentine. He’s left to conjecture and the piecing together of events in the most likely pattern. This chapter puts the reader into a similar position.

2) The anarchist Yusef is next. What’s intriguing about Yusef is his self-centeredness. The portrayal of anarchism and anarchist obviously develops a lot through Pynchon’s work. I find it intriguing that this early self-professed anarchist is so underdeveloped.

3) Maxwell Rowley-Bugge is the third narrative focus. A vaudeville actor and pedophile, Maxwell is perhaps one of the most appropriate narrators for this chapter. Who better to introduce the shadowy forces lurking behind Porpentine’s story than a degraded actor? I also appreciate that Victoria, the V. here, sees through Maxwell’s act as a down on his luck tourist. As she puts it to Porpentine: “Do finish with your cripple. Give him his shilling and come. It’s late” (70). It’s a welcome addition to the mystery of Victoria and it serves to both highlight and undermine Maxwell’s threat as a pedophile insofar as Victoria reminds Maxwell of his victim and yet she also ends the chapter completely seeing through Maxwell’s “disguise.”

4) Waldetar functions in an intriguing manner because he seems to be a genuinely nice guy. His observation of the train episode when Bongo-Shaftsbury frightens Victoria’s sister underscores how disquieting Bongo-Shaftsbury is. His narration closes with the real crux of the scene: “If they are what I think; what sort of world is it when they must let children suffer” (82). The game of intrigue at work in this chapter has little to do with the everyday or the regular people that surround the international actors.

5) Gebrail’s section continues this theme by explicitly calling out the disparate worlds that the wealthy and the lower class walk in Egypt. There is also a pretty powerful allusion to “Ozymandias”at the start of Gebrail’s section to really cement the themes at work here. All that’s to come is ruin.

6) The tone of the entire chapter shifts with Girgis’s section. The perspective here really emphasizes Porpentine’s decline though by injecting Girgis’s pity into Porpentine’s discovery of Victoria and Goodfellow’s affair.

7) Hanne’s section probably requires the most careful reading of the chapter. The fact that her role stays fairly focused on just overhearing other conversations makes for a nice transition to the chapter’s final section. Her V. centered discovery is also important though: as she washes dishes she discovers a plate stained and incapable of being cleaned. The stain is “roughly triangular [and] it extended from an apex near the center to a base an inch or so from the edge. A sort of brown color, outlines indistinct against the faded white of the plate’s surface” (90). Notably, the stain is only visible with at a certain perspective. As the narrator notes, Hanne “tilted the plate another few degrees toward the light and the stain disappeared” (90). It takes perspective to see the stain of the sinister side of the events in this chapter.

8) Finally, the culmination of the chapter and the conflict becomes even more indistinct as we are left without even the rudimentary narration of Hanne’s eavesdropping. What’s most intriguing here is that we’re left without a sense of the pay off of these events. There’s no sense of completion here. Not that there should be. After all, Stencil is still searching in 1956.

Next up is the nose job.




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