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Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer


by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer Chapter 14 Summary

  • Fall passes, and the holidays come.
  • Miller takes a position as an exchange professor of English in Dijon. Before he goes, Henry and Fillmore attend a Christmas mass.
  • It's not long before they realize they are not welcome there. It's a bizarre scene with "unearthly noise" and mourners shuffling around. Now he knows why he has always avoided these places. All over the world people are participating in the same mumbo jumbo, he thinks.
  • Suddenly a priest approaches them—because, you know, they stick out like sore thumbs. He throws the two men out of the church but they can't help but laugh at him with his "long skirts and skull cap on his cranium" (14.8)
  • He heads to Dijon and starts thinking about some low moments he had in Florida (yes, there were others.)
  • He had gone to a synagogue for help, only to be turned away for not being Jewish. The rabbi sent him to The Salvation Army. No go there, too.
  • He ended up in trouble with the law and became disgusted at how uncharitable people were to him in America: "[I]f you want bread you've got to get in harness, get in lock step. […] More nuts and bolts, more barbed wire, more dog biscuits, more lawn mowers, more ball bearings, more high explosives, more tanks, more poison gas, more soap, more toothpaste, more newspapers, more education, more churches, more museums. Forward!" (14.15) Yep, that's America as he sees it.
  • He gets to Dijon and immediately realizes that he has made a mistake. The place is seriously jacked—gloomy, lifeless, hopeless, empty cafes.
  • The Lycée (school) is a dump, too. His contact (M. le Proviseur) is not there, so a hunchback shows him around. He meets M. le Censeur—the second in charge. The guy is a laughable freak with a "mincing step." The hunchback shows him the room where he'll be living.
  • The view is desolate. He knows he doesn't belong there. Heck, he's never even taught children. He feels like a worm and a louse all at once.
  • All of the teachers salute each other in a creepy way. The teachers are a real cast of characters, too: some smart, some who fart all the time, and others who just love prostitutes.
  • Since he's not being paid, he has no money even when he does have time off. At least the students love him.
  • He starts to feel a little mad. The whole town looks "a little crazy" and everyone is involved in the mustard business. He can't really socialize with other teachers because "Most of them looked as though they had the shit scared out of them" (14.34).
  • The nights are long and tedious, and time crawls by. Icy wind blows across the dismal town. He walks around like a ghost—"a white man terrorized by the cold sanity of this slaughter-house geometry. Who am I? What am I doing here?" (14.38).
  • The school itself is a disaster, with turds in the hallway. The pipes freeze and a stench fills the place. The night watchman wanders the halls with his jangling keys.
  • Basically, the place is giving him the major creeps.
  • That spring, he manages to escape. Carl has telegrammed him to tell him there is a room available in his hotel. He leaves without as much as a goodbye.

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