Against the Day
Goodreads ratings
4.13 / 5

"Against the Day" Summary

By Thomas Pynchon

fiction | 1108 pages | Published in 2007

A tale spanning the years between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the end of World War I features characters who are caught up in such events as the labor troubles of Colorado, the Mexican revolution, and the heyday of silent-movie Hollywood.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A sprawling and ambitious novel that weaves together the lives of various characters during the turn of the 20th century, blending elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and adventure.


"Against the Day" is a complex and sprawling novel written by Thomas Pynchon, published in 2006. This highly ambitious work is characteristic of Pynchon's style, filled with intricate plotlines, a vast array of characters, and a blend of historical, scientific, and fantastical elements. "Against the Day" takes readers on a journey through time and space, exploring themes of power, capitalism, science, and the human condition. The novel's narrative spans the late 19th and early 20th centuries, taking place across various locations, from the United States to Europe to the Far East.

Brief Synopsis

"Against the Day" is a polyphonic novel that weaves together numerous narrative threads, creating a complex tapestry of interconnected stories. Set against the backdrop of the Gilded Age and the early 20th century, the novel follows the lives of several characters whose paths intersect in various ways.

The story begins in 1893, during the Chicago World's Fair, where we meet the Chums of Chance, a group of young balloonists who embark on a series of adventures across the globe. Their escapades intertwine with those of the Traverse family, whose members are involved in diverse activities such as espionage, mathematics, and radical politics.

Throughout the narrative, readers encounter a kaleidoscope of characters, including anarchist bombers, eccentric scientists, sinister agents, and mysterious women. The novel takes readers from the vibrant cities of America to the chaotic battlegrounds of Europe during World War I and on to the enigmatic realms of the Far East. The various characters and their storylines are seamlessly connected, forming a sprawling narrative that explores themes ranging from the nature of time to the pursuit of power.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Webb TraverseA miner turned anarchist who seeks to overthrow established power structures.
Frank TraverseWebb's son, a student of mathematics who becomes involved in espionage and secret societies.
Kit TraverseFrank's sister, a talented actress who is drawn into the web of intrigue surrounding her family.
Yashmeen HalfcourtA femme fatale with a complex past, Yashmeen's relationships and actions have far-reaching consequences in the story.
Seth BongoA former slave turned explosives expert and anarchist who plays a pivotal role in the plot.
Lew BasnightAn intrepid reporter who investigates various mysterious events and encounters the Chums of Chance during his travels.
Captain VibeThe enigmatic and eccentric leader of the Chums of Chance, a group of young balloonists.

Main Events

"Against the Day" is a sprawling novel with a multitude of events and subplots. Some of the main events include:

  1. The Chicago World's Fair: The novel begins at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where numerous characters, including the Chums of Chance, converge. This event serves as the catalyst for the interconnected narratives that follow.
  2. The adventures of the Chums of Chance: The Chums of Chance, a group of young balloonists, embark on a series of thrilling adventures across the globe. From rescuing miners in Colorado to helping revolutionaries in Central Asia, their journeys introduce readers to a variety of fascinating locales and challenges.
  3. The Traverse family and their connections: The Traverse family, with their diverse pursuits and ideologies, become entwined in a web of intrigue and power struggles. From Webb Traverse's anarchist activities to Kit Traverse's career in the theater, their lives intersect with various other characters, affecting the course of events.
  4. The European theater of World War I: As the Great War engulfs Europe, several characters find themselves caught in the midst of the conflict. The war serves as a backdrop for espionage, battles, and the exploration of the devastating impact of modern warfare.
  5. The pursuit of power and control: Throughout the novel, the themes of power, capitalism, and control are explored in various forms. From ruthless industrialists to secretive organizations, the characters are drawn into webs of power and must navigate their way through a world where everything is for sale.

Themes and Insights

"Against the Day" explores a wide range of themes, and Pynchon employs his trademark blend of historical, scientific, and fantastical elements to delve into these topics. Some of the key themes and insights explored in the novel include:

  • Time and entropy: The concept of time and its relationship to human existence is a recurring theme in the novel. Pynchon explores the passage of time, its influence on individuals and societies, and the inevitable decay and entropy that accompanies it.
  • Power and capitalism: "Against the Day" delves into the corrupting influence of power and the pursuit of wealth. The novel examines the ways in which individuals and institutions exert control over others, and the devastating consequences of unchecked capitalism.
  • Science and technology: Pynchon incorporates scientific and technological advancements of the time, such as electricity, radio waves, and the theory of relativity, into the narrative. He explores the impact of these developments on society and the potential for both progress and destruction.
  • The human condition: The novel delves into the complexities of the human experience, exploring themes of love, loss, identity, and the search for meaning in a chaotic and ever-changing world.

Reader's Takeaway

"Against the Day" is a challenging and intellectually stimulating novel that rewards readers willing to delve into its intricate narrative and thought-provoking themes. Pynchon's prose is rich and poetic, filled with vivid descriptions and complex characters. Readers who enjoy literary works that push boundaries and engage with big ideas will find much to appreciate in this ambitious novel.


"Against the Day" is an epic journey through time and space that offers a unique blend of historical fiction, science, and fantasy. Thomas Pynchon's sprawling narrative and complex cast of characters create a tapestry that explores themes ranging from power and capitalism to the nature of time itself. By immersing readers in a world filled with adventure, intrigue, and philosophical insights, "Against the Day" offers a thought-provoking and rewarding reading experience.

Against the Day FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Against the Day'?

    Against the Day is a historical fiction novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'Against the Day'?

    The author of 'Against the Day' is Thomas Pynchon.

  3. When was 'Against the Day' published?

    'Against the Day' was published in 2006.

  4. What is the plot of 'Against the Day'?

    The plot of 'Against the Day' revolves around the adventures of various characters during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, blending historical events with elements of science fiction, mystery, and conspiracy.

  5. How long is 'Against the Day'?

    'Against the Day' has a total of 1,085 pages.

  6. Is 'Against the Day' a standalone novel or part of a series?

    'Against the Day' is a standalone novel.

  7. What are some notable themes in 'Against the Day'?

    Some notable themes in 'Against the Day' include capitalism, history, science, technology, and the nature of time.

  8. Has 'Against the Day' won any awards?

    Yes, 'Against the Day' was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 2006.

  9. Is 'Against the Day' suitable for all readers?

    'Against the Day' contains complex themes and intricate storytelling, making it more suitable for advanced readers or fans of Thomas Pynchon's writing.

  10. Are there any film adaptations of 'Against the Day'?

    No, 'Against the Day' has not been adapted into a film.