Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller
Tropic of Cancer Chapter 9 Summary
- Out of the blue, Miller receives a letter from Boris. It's a real rambling mess, with no context or date or address. Boris tells Miller he is dying and all sorts of "nutty" stuff.
- Miller starts to think about Boris's strange habits and ways: his frock coat, his favorite authors. Boris tells Miller that he wanted him to commit suicide so he wouldn't die by surprise and leave Boris "high and dry." Boris adds: "You must be life for me to the very end" (10.4). The letter makes no request to see Miller or any inquiry about how he is doing.
- Miller starts to question his choice of friends: "I sometimes ask myself how it happens that I attract nothing but crackbrained individuals, neurasthenics, neurotics, psychopaths—and Jews especially" (9.6).
- His mind turns back to Tania, who is also a Jew (a "Jewess," as he calls her). She visited recently and tried to get Miller to go back with her to the Crimea.
- Carl thinks they should get married. But Miller doesn't want to leave Paris, and he explains why: "Paris takes hold of you, grabs you by the balls, you might say, like some lovesick bitch who'd rather die than let you get out of her hands" (9.7).
- Miller thinks about how things are going well for him. Tania's around, he has a steady job, it's summer. Things are good. He has a few sentimental moments with her, but mostly they just drink to excess.
- More than once, he has to stick his finger down his throat so he can get his head together to proofread.
- His job isn't as easy as it sounds: "It requires more concentration to detect a missing comma than to epitomize Nietzsche's philosophy" (9.10). He admits he's made his share of blunders at work. And his boss is clearly threatened by his intelligence, so he has to kiss his butt every once in a while.
- Every so often, he thinks about his wife (Mona), but he tries to push his feelings about her to the back of his mind. He's already spent seven years thinking only about her: "Were there a Christian so faithful to his God as I were to her we would all be Jesus Christs today" (9.12). That's intense.
- He has spent many days longing for her, wondering if she would ever walk the streets of Paris by his side. She used to read a lot of Strindberg, so he goes to the library and picks up one of his books. Strindberg's writing brings him clarity: "I understood then that Paris attracts the tortured, the hallucinated, the great manics of love" (9.18).
- Henry calls the streets his "refuge" and has bizarre visions of blood and filth—which, by the way, are not sinister. He accepts the terms of this existence, even though he is alone: "My world of human beings had perished; I was utterly alone in the world and for friends I had the streets, and the streets spoke to me in that sad, bitter language compounded of human misery, yearning, regret, failure, wasted effort" (9.22). But it's still all good.
- He accepts that Mona is not coming to Paris. She will starve in America, and he will remain in Paris, walking the streets.
- For all his cheery irony, the chapter does end on a bit of a downer: "No matter where you go, no matter what you touch, there is cancer and syphilis. It is written in the sky; it flames and dances, like an evil portent. It has eaten our souls and we are nothing but a dead thing like the moon" (9.23). Bummer alert.
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