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First edition
AuthorThomas Pynchon
CountryUnited States
GenrePolitical satire
PublisherLittle, Brown
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages385 pp
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3566.Y55 V56 1990

Vineland is a 1990 novel by Thomas Pynchon, a postmodern fiction set in California, United States in 1984, the year of Ronald Reagan's reelection.[1] Through flashbacks by its characters, who have lived the sixties in their youth, the story accounts for the free spirit of rebellion of that decade, and describes the traits of the "fascistic Nixonian repression" and its War on Drugs that clashed with it; and it articulates the slide and transformation that occurred in U.S. society from the 1960s to the 1980s.[1][2][3]


The story is set in California, United States, in 1984, the year of Ronald Reagan's reelection.[1] After a scene in which former hippie Zoyd Wheeler dives through a window, something he is required to do yearly in order to keep receiving mental disability checks, the action of the novel opens with the resurfacing of federal agent Brock Vond, who (through a platoon of agents) forces Zoyd and his 14-year-old daughter Prairie out of their house. They hide from Brock, and from Hector Zuñiga (a drug-enforcement federale from Zoyd's past, who Zoyd suspects is in cahoots with Brock) with old friends of Zoyd's, who recount to the mystified Prairie the story of Brock's motivation for what he has done.

This hinges heavily on Frenesi Gates, Prairie's mother, whom she has never met. In the '60s, during the height of the hippie era, the fictive College of the Surf seceded from the United States and became its own nation of hippies and dope smokers, called the People's Republic of Rock and Roll (PR³). Brock Vond, a federal prosecutor, intends to bring down PR³, and finds a willing accomplice in Frenesi. She is a member of 24fps, a militant film collective (other members of which are the people telling Prairie their story in the present), that seeks to document the "fascists' " transgressions against freedom and the hippie ideals. Frenesi is uncontrollably attracted to Brock and the sex he provides, and ends up working as a double agent to bring about the killing of the de facto leader of PR³, Weed Atman (a mathematics professor who accidentally became the subject of a cult of personality).

Her betrayal caused Frenesi to flee, and she has been living in witness protection with Brock's help up until the present day. Now she has disappeared. The membership of 24fps, Brock Vond, and Hector Zuñiga are all searching for her, for their various motives. The book's theme of the ubiquity of television (or the Tube) comes to a head when Hector, a Tube addict who has actually not been working with Brock, finds funding to create his pet project of a movie telling the story of the depraved sixties, with Frenesi Gates as the director, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding this big-money deal create a net of safety that allows Frenesi to come out of hiding. 24fps finds her and achieves their goal of allowing Prairie to meet her, at an enormous reunion of Frenesi's family. Weed Atman is also present at the reunion as one of many Thanatoids in the book—people who are in a state that is "like death, but different."

Brock, nearly omnipotent with D.E.A. funds, finds Prairie with a surveillance helicopter, and tries to snatch her up in order to get to Frenesi, but while he is hovering above her on a ladder, the government abruptly cuts all his funding due to a loss of interest in funding the war on drugs because people have begun playing along willingly with the antidrug ideal, and his helicopter pilot flies him away. Later he tries to come after Prairie and Frenesi again, but is killed when he crashes his helicopter. The family reunion allows everyone to tie up all their loose ends, and the book ends with Prairie looking into the beginning of a life no longer controlled by the fall-out of the past.


Throughout the novel, Pynchon's technique is recognizable. From a cameo of Mucho Maas (from The Crying of Lot 49) to a bizarre episode hinting at Godzilla, Pynchon's "zaniness" pervades the novel. For example, Pynchon laces the book with Star Trek references. He has his characters watch a sitcom named Say, Jim, about a starship all of whose officers "were black except for the Communications Officer, a freckled white redhead named Lieutenant O'Hara." The numerous references to films rigorously include the year of release in a manner unusual for a work of fiction. Several characters are Thanatoids, victims of a particular karmic imbalance.

In addition, the novel is replete with female ninjas, astrologers, marijuana smokers, television addicts, musical interludes (including the theme song of The Smurfs) and metaphors drawn from Star Trek.


  1. ^ a b c Knabb 2002
  2. ^ Vineland, p.71
  3. ^ Patell (2001) p.129


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