Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Low (and a little High); Cynical
And we're not the first to say it. American writer, literary and social critic Edmund Wilson lays it out for us:
The tone of the book is undoubtedly low; Tropic of Cancer, in fact, from the point of view both of its happenings and of the language in which they are conveyed, is the lowest book of any real literary merit that I have ever remember to have read. (Source, 185)
But what we love about Miller's writing is that he can jump from low to high and back again in a matter of words. Hey, in the middle of an elegy to penises ("The whale with his six-foot penis in repose" [1.9]) you might just want and elegy to Paris ("Paris. Paris. Everything happens here" [1.56]). You never know.
Just don't be on the lookout for consistency here. Because everything is up in Henry's head, we get a lot of half-baked, semi-delusional sentences that express fear and joy all in one place. The one thing it all has in common? Cynicism. According to Henry, things aren't looking so good for America, Paris, or civilization as we know it.