Arnold Roth’s original illustrations for Thomas Pynchon’s 1964 short story “The Secret Integration” (and a link to the full text of the story)

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Thomas Pynchon’s short story “The Secret Integration” was first published in a December issue of The Saturday Evening Post, and later published again as part of Pynchon’s first and only short story collection, Slow Learner.

In a 2018 article published at The Yale Review, Terry Reilly suggested that by publishing “The Secret Integration” in The Saturday Evening Post,

…Pynchon uses the form of an apparently simple, entertaining adolescent boys’ story to engage and then to manipulate the Post readers; to invoke various features of the publication history of The Saturday Evening Post while simultaneously calling attention to the magazine’s limited scope and conservative bias concerning issues of civil rights and racial integration in 1964.

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Pynchon’s story was accompanied by three illustrations by the cartoonist Arnold Roth, including a header, a small illustration, and this full page illustration below:


The first page of the story:

“The Secret Integration”


Thomas Pynchon

OUTSIDE it was raining, the first rain of October, end of haying season and of the fall’s brilliance, purity of light, a certain soundness to weather that had brought New Yorkers flooding up through the Berkshires not too many weekends ago to see the trees changing in that sun. Today, by contrast, it was Saturday and raining, a lousy combination. Inside at the moment was Tim Santora, waiting for ten o’clock and wondering how he was going to get out past his mother. Grover wanted to see him at ten this morning, so he had to go. He sat curled in an old washing machine that lay on its side in a back room of the house; he listened to rain going down a drainpipe and looked at a wart that was on his finger. The wart had been there for two weeks and wasn’t going to go away. The other day his mother had taken him over to Doctor Slothrop, who painted some red stuff on it, turned out the lights and said, “Now, when I switch on my magic purple lamp, watch what happens to the wart.” It wasn’t a very magic-looking lamp, but when the doctor turned it on, the wart glowed a bright green. “Ah, good,” said Doctor Slothrop. “Green. That means the wart will go away, Tim. It hasn’t got a chance.” But as they were going out, the doctor said to Tim’s mother, in a lowered voice Tim had learned how to listen in on, “Suggestion therapy works about half the time. If this doesn’t clear up now spontaneously, bring him back and we’ll try liquid nitrogen.” Soon as he got home, Tim ran over to ask Grover what “suggestion therapy” meant. He found him down in the cellar, working on another invention.

Grover Snodd was a little older than Tim, and a boy genius. Within limits, anyway. A boy genius with flaws. His inventions, for example, didn’t always work. And last year he’d had this racket, doing everybody’s homework for them at a dime an assignment. But he’d given himself away too often. They knew somehow (they had a “curve,” according to Grover, that told them how well everybody was supposed to do) that it was him behind all the 90s and 100s kids started getting. “You can’t fight the law of averages,” Grover said, “you can’t fight the curve.” So they went to work earnestly on his parents to talk them into transferring him. Someplace. Anyplace. Expert though he might be on every school topic from igneous rocks to Indian raids, Grover was still too dumb, as Tim saw it, to cover up how smart he was. Whenever he had a chance to show it, he’d always weaken. In a problem like somebody’s yard’s a triangle, find the area, Grover couldn’t resist bringing in a little trigonometry, which half the class couldn’t even pronounce, or calculus, a word they saw from time to time in the outer-space comics and was only a word. But Tim and others were tolerant about it. Why shouldn’t Grover show off? He had a hard time sometimes. It wasn’t any use talking to people his own age about higher mathematics or higher anything else. He used to discuss foreign policy with his father, Grover confided to Tim, until one night they’d had a serious division of views over Berlin. “I know what they ought to do,” Grover yelled (he always yelled — at walls, at anything else solid that happened to be around -to let you know it wasn’t you he was mad at but something else, something to do with the scaled-up world adults made, remade and lived in without him, some inertia and stubbornness he was too small, except inside himself, to overcome), “exactly what they should do.” But when Tim asked what, Grover only said, “Never mind. The thing we argued about isn’t important. But now we don’t talk; that is important. When I’m home now they let me alone and I let them alone.” This year he was only home on weekends and Wednesdays. Other days he commuted twenty miles to college, a Berkshire men’s college patterned on Williams but smaller, to take courses and talk to people about higher everything. The public school had won, had banished him. They didn’t have time for him, and wanted everybody doing their own homework. It was apparently OK with Grover’s father too, because of that estrangement over Berlin. “It isn’t that he’s stupid, or mean,” Grover yelled at his family’s oil burner. “He isn’t. It’s worse than that. He understands things that I don’t care about. And I care about things he’ll never understand.”

“I don’t get it,” said Tim. “Hey, Grover, what’s ‘suggestion therapy’ mean?”

“Like faith healing,” said Grover. “That how they’re trying to get rid of that wart?”

“Yeah.” He told about the red stuff that glowed green, and the lamp.

“Ultraviolet fluorescence,” Grover said, having obvious fun with the words, “has no effect on the wart. They’re trying to talk it away, but I just messed that up for them,” and he started laughing, rolling around on the floor of the cellar, as if somebody was tickling him. “It won’t work. When it wants to go away, it will, that’s all. Warts have a mind of their own.”

Read the rest of “The Secret Integration.”

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