Study Guide

Tropic of Cancer Sex

By Henry Miller


After midnight she stands there in her black rig rooted to the spot. Back of her is a little alleyway that blazes like an inferno. Passing her now with a light heart she reminds me somehow of a goose tied to a stake, a goose with a diseased liver […] Must be strange taking that wooden stump to be with you.

Henry assesses a prostitute with a wooden stump for a leg. His image of her is a little freakish—like her goose is, er, cooked. It's pretty clear that Henry seems women as a sum of their parts, not any greater whole. And to him, those parts are all inevitably tied to sex.

I am f***ing you, Tania, so that you'll stay f***ed. And if you are afraid of being f***ed publicly I will f*** you privately […] I will bite your clitoris and spit out two francs. (1.19)

First, ouch. Second, is this Henry's idea of a romantic evening together? It's no wonder Tania is with crusty old Sylvester. Remember, this is the woman to whom he dedicates the whole book, the woman whom he possibly even loves. If he can't think of her for anything but sex, we're pretty sure the same will go for all other women, too.

Llona, now she had a cunt. I know because she sent us some from down below. (1.21)

Ugh. Here's a good ol' nasty example of how our charming narrator has a tendency to be a bit reductive. You'll notice he doesn't exactly wax poetic about a woman's beautiful eyes or luscious lips.

I'm dancing with every slut in the place. But we're telling them we're leaving in the morning. That's what I tell every cunt I grab hold of—leaving in the morning! (1.50)

Henry just gets more and more infuriating, doesn't he? He's making it super clear that these aren't relationships that will last. He's going to get these women in the sack and then leave. Although we're not told that the women want any attachment either.

How a man can wander about all day on an empty stomach, and even get an erection once in a while, is one of those mysteries which are all too easily explained (3.9)

This sentence pretty much sums up Henry's concerns: getting food and having sex. He's obviously grateful that not getting one doesn't mean not getting the other.

When [Germaine] lay there with her legs apart and moaning, even if she didn't moan that way for any and everybody, it was a good, it was proper show of feeling (3.13).

Deny it as he might, even Henry knows that prostitutes are performing. But he doesn't even care if she's faking it as long as it makes him feel good.

You don't know how palatable is a polluted woman, how a change of semen can make a woman bloom! (5.5)

This goes into the "don't do me any favors" category. Henry is commenting that having sex with a woman can really perk her up. Is he being ironic?

I find myself wondering what it feels like, during intercourse, to be a woman—whether the pleasure is keener, etc. Try to imagine something penetrating my groin, but have only a vague sensation of pain (6.18).

Whoa, what? Is Henry seeing himself in someone else's shoes? Mark the calendars! But, of course, rather than thinking about how prostitutes are degraded and put down, he thinks about what it's physically like to have sex as a woman.

His mind is now fixed on the "f***ing business" (7.18).

This sentence refers to Kepi, the Hindu man whose job it is to hook up clients with prostitutes. Of course, Henry doesn't mind taking a temporary job as a pimp, too. Does being involved with the process change the way he views it?