Short Story The Small Rain English Literature Essay

Thomas Pynchon burst into the literary world of 1959 when his short story The Small Rain was published in the Cornell Writer Stolley. He was lucky enough to gain almost instant popularity around the nation. People were drawn to the peculiar personality of Levine as well as the sexual undertone found throughout the short story. Pynchon also seemed to have slipped some autobiographical elements into the plot, which make the work all the more amusing. Pynchon’s ability to showcase what the real world was like at the time based off his first hand experience makes this an attractive piece of literature for readers of all sorts across the country in 1959, and still today.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of “The Small Rain” is the main character: Nathan “Lardass” Levine. Levine is introduced in the beginning of the story as a lazy bum, who, despite being quite intelligent, was out to do as little work as possible and get his assignment over with by putting in the minimal effort required. After being gradually transformed throughout the story, Levine is portrayed at the end of the story as a determined and ambitious individual who shook off the faulty character traits that he displayed in the beginning of the book. Levine was a character who was easy to fall in love with, and it is clear why America loved “Lardass” back in 1959. People sympathized with the lazy bum as he tried his hardest to overcome his bad habits. He even was lucky enough to court a young lady, and it seemed his career was moved onto the right track. Levine was obviously very emotionally moved by the devastation the hurricane had caused in the disaster area. Only two days after arriving, he found himself up early, realizing his trivial problems were nothing compared to those of the bayou’s residents, and ready to help with the recovery mission. However, a message of the story could have been, “a tiger never loses its stripes,” for the story ends with Levine sleeping while traveling back to Fort Roach. With this last scene, the reader is reminded that Levine was only human, and some things he would never be able to change. Despite all that he had done and everything he had changed, he was sleeping while thousands of poor people were hungry and homeless as a result of the hurricane, and he could do nothing to put an end to this (Pynchon).

Pynchon is often suspected of writing “The Small Rain” as a short autobiographical anecdote. After all, just two summers before the story was published in the Cornell literary magazine, a hurricane had ravaged through Southern Louisiana and left thousands of people desperate for help. The Navy was sent down to Fort Polk to help the recovery effort. There is a good chance that Pynchon, who was enlisted in the Navy at the time, was sent down to Fort Polk to help clean up and get people’s lives back on track. Matthew Windston also points out how Pynchon’s experience paralleled Levine’s: “Pynchon’s circumstances and Levine’s were (allowing for artistic license) very similar during the summer of 1957 when the story takes place. Moreover, there was a hurricane, Audrey, which destroyed the southern Louisiana town of Cameron (“Creole” in the story) on June 27 (“around mid-July”) of that year,” (284). David Gale agreed with Widnston, stating, “Pynchon did write from his own life experiences, it seems,” (5). Gale also cites the same similarities between Pynchon’s actual life and that of Nathan Levine that Windston did. However, neither of these two critics went to San Narcisco Community College, it seems. In SNCC’s database, there is an article without a named author that would disprove the two men’s theory. The article cites an interview with Mr. Pynchon, himself and reveals some interesting information about the origins of the story. “The hurricane his story takes place after really existed, and a Navy companion who had been involved in the rescue operation had filled (Pynchon) in on the details,” (3). So, in fact, “The Small Rain” was not an autobiographical tale after all. Rather, it was a story that was passed along to Pynchon by a comrade. Whether or not the story was true and there actually was a Nathan Levine will always remain a mystery, for the accuracy of the second-hand story passed on to Pynchon is in question, and there is always the chance Pynchon added his own elements to enhance the story line. Nevertheless, the story is based on actual events, and this promoted the poem’s popularity.

With the country on the brink of entering the Sexual Revolution in 1959, “The Small Rain” had more than its share of sexual appeal. David Gale points out, “In accounting for the sexual tone of his short story “The Small Rain,” Pynchon wrote, “Maybe this wasn’t only my own adolescent nervousness about sex. I think, looking back, that there might have been a general nervousness in the whole college-age subculture,”” (5). The sexual undertone of the whole story is no secret; Levine has a collection of pornographic magazines, and at the end of the story he has a sexual encounter with Buttercup. Baxter, a comrade of Levine, boasts how he got “laid tonight,” (Pynchon). Despite being Catholic, Pynchon depicts sex as being remarkably casual. This upfront-ness is another aspect of the story that attributed to its instant success. It also offers a preview of how casual sex was about to become in the United States as it entered the 1960’s.

Thomas Pynchon was just giving the world a taste of his literary achievements to come when he released “The Small Rain.” With a rich family history with deep roots in America, dating back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he would go on to become one of the most well know writers of the twentieth century. He would even win the National Book Award for Fiction in 1974. Despite his successes, information about him became hard to come by towards the later part of the twentieth century. He was even known to have used a moniker, J. D. Salinger, to apparently keep a quiet life and live his golden years in peace. He left behind one of the most profound writing resumes ever put together, and is remembered as an expert fiction novelist (Stolley).

“The Small Rain” was Pynchon’s first great literary work and was the subject of the American people’s eyes when it was first released. Based off of a true story, it includes many appealing and interesting themes that had been featured in few books or stories before it. The story, along with its lovable main character Levine, has become part of America’s rich history of writing and is a classic that should be read by all.

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