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Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer


by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer Chapter 13 Summary

  • Macha finally meets someone else and moves out.
  • Henry and Fillmore pass the winter evenings comparing Paris and New York. They also discuss their shared love of Walt Whitman. Henry writes, "Whatever there is of value in America, Whitman has expressed, and there is nothing more to be said. The future belongs to the machine, to the robots" (13.2) (Boy, was he right.)
  • They say that Goethe is "the nearest approach" to an equivalent writer in Europe, "but Goethe was a stuffed shirt, by comparison" (13.2). Go USA!
  • Henry often goes for walks out in the deep freeze of Paris. He observes that Paris is a place where the "people protect themselves against the invasion of their privacy, by their high walls, their bolts and shutters, their growling, evil-tongued, slatternly concierges, so they have learned to protect themselves against the cold and heat of a bracing, vigorous climate" (13.3).
  • Paris is a city that changes block to block. People are partying on one block, and on the next, they're living in tenements without warmth. Men and women sleep on the steps of cathedrals among lice and vermin.
  • Henry is preoccupied with the differences between "ideas and living." Fillmore is obsessed with the idea of gold—how the French hoard their gold and store it under the city.
  • Henry has been working on his writing, considering ideas of emotion and depicting human beings "in the grip of delirium" (13.5).
  • He sits in cafes thinking about Western civilization and how Nietzsche believed in the evolution of man. Miller just sees men wilting behind prison walls. People may just be shadows. (This is getting deep.)
  • He and Fillmore bring a few women back to their room. (Less deep.)
  • A picture of Mona mounted on the wall overlooks the scene.
  • Fillmore muses on vaginas as "an Arabian zero": "Into that crack I would like to penetrate up to the eyes make them waggle ferociously, dear, crazy, metallurgic eyes" (13.12). Huh?
  • Henry sees the prostitute as symbolic of a crumbling world. He believes that men fear the truth and that there has been a steady decline in art. The world is a "yawning gulf of nothingness" (13.14).
  • He turns his thoughts (again) to Mona, who once called him a "great human being," but she left him to perish. He questions why Mona thought he was so great. She seemed so miserable, "light like a corpse that floats on the Dead Sea" (13.16).
  • He awakens with "curses of joy" on his lips, telling himself "Do anything, but let it produce joy" (13.17).
  • He wonders where man's joy has gone. What is the purpose of the artist? He concludes that the artist "is not only sublime, but absurd" (13.18).
  • Feeling lost? Don't worry, this is all pretty philosophical stuff.
  • He used to aspire to be human, but now aspires to be inhuman. He goes through life intoxicated—but not from wine.
  • Books should have a new purpose in this world: writers "must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul" (13.22).
  • Henry embraces the disease and the madness. We thought he might.

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