The Reagan Era in Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, Essay Example

Published: 2022-05-22
The Reagan Era in Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, Essay Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Political science American history Ronald Reagan
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1829 words
16 min read

By definition, the Reagan Era, or the Reagan age is a periodization of the recent American history that is considered, by political observers and historians as an emphasis that the conservative Reagan era that was led by the United States president Ronald Reagan, in the domestic policy and had a long-lasting impact. Essentially, Thomas Pynchon's book, Vineland, is a postmodern fiction book that is set at the coast of Northern California in 1984, the same year that President Ronald Reagan was re-elected. In particular, through his book, Vineland, Thomas Pynchon, writes concerning the conservative 1980s, where he attacks the state, the military, as well as various other forces of domination. Pynchon introduces Reagan's ideologies by writing a narrative that centers on a very fashionable topic of cultural and social historical research in which case, he widely interprets the American sixties and the early 1990s, giving an ideal revelation of the backlash against Reagan's and Bush's conservative presidencies. Besides, the scope of the novel, Vineland, entails both the hippo movement, which was considered to be at peak in the late 60s and most importantly, the rise of neoliberalism that was considered to be up, halfway through the Reagan administration in 1984. Therefore, based on this context, the core intent of this essay is to discuss the Reagan era, the dimension of American history, as it is embedded in Pynchon's narrative.

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To begin with, according to the American History, the Reagan era, which introduced the Reaganism ideology, was characterized by racial politics and the era's massive debt to the backlash that was generated by the civil rights movement including the Reaganism's entanglement with the politics of crime as well as the rise of mass incarceration. Pynchon extensively narrates the conflict that rocked the United States foreign policy towards Central America. Besides, according to the novel, the role that was played by the recession in the early 1980s and during the reign of President Ronald Reagan, is explained. (Beckett). Primarily, the recession is said to have played a primary role in the decline of the growth of the service and the manufacturing economy. This is substantiated by Thomas Pynchon through his novel, Vineland, where he reflects on the socio-political as well as the historical shifts which happened during Nixon's era through Reagan's administration in the 1980s, in ways that defy the chronological arrangement of time and confuses the distinction between the present day and the past.

In the Vineland, Pynchon addresses how guns are likened to phalluses and also the manner in which a particular member of the Zoyd forces summarizes the Reagan years. According to them, Reagan's presidency, which spans from the early 1980s to the 1990s was described as a program that would dismantle the New deal and restore fascism in America and the world at large. This, in essence, would be done through reversing the effects of World War II. Besides, the most significant successes of President Reagan, during his era, was his efforts in distilling the complex ideological positions into simple aphorisms (Pynchon).

Regardless of the complex ideological positions that characterised the Reagan administration, Pynchon, through his book, held the believe that, just because President Reagan's re-election in 1984, did not have great impacts on the media, meaning that it did not get relevant telescreen attention, into every American household, this was not an implication that Reaganism, was not an American type of fascism. According to Rossinow the year 1984, the year that Pynchon published his work, Vineyard, was undoubtedly the perfect occasion to question what was referred to as;

"the perennial question of whether the United States still lingered in a pre-fascist twilight, or whether that darkness had fallen long stupified years ago, and the light they thought they saw was coming only from millions of Tubes all showing the same bright-colored shadows" (Pynchon 321).

Therefore, with reference to the Reaganism ideology, Pynchon, alongside other scholars during the time substantiated that the primary and most long-lasting legacy of President Reagan was his ability to recast the traditional American conservatism, which was considered a viewpoint of the minority, throughout the middle decades of the 20th century, as a new mainstream populism for the modern day era.


A majority of scholars across multiple disciplines such as historical and economic disciplines define Reaganomics as a popular term that is used to reference the different economic policies that characterized President Ronald Reagan's era. This, in essence, called for widespread tax cuts, an increase in the military spending, decreased social spending and most importantly deregulation of the domestic market. In the novel Vineland, Pynchon references this issue through certain characters who had been axed by Reaganomics stemming from the slashed FBI budget (Pynchon). Scholars from the economic point out the actions of Reaganomics by contending that despite the fact that Regan, throughout his era, reduced the domestic spending, this was overly offset by the increased military spending which in turn, created a deficit throughout President's Reagan's two terms. Therefore, based on this context, what is more, interesting about this issue, according to Pynchon's Vineland, is to present to the Americans, an end to the Greed Decade (CQ Press). In particular, Thomas Pynchon turns his attention to the present day nightmares rather than those of the past, and as a result, his approach to these matters become easier and more deadly, but funnier.

More precisely, Pynchon's primary interest is evidently Reagan's hint of redemption owing to the fact that entropy, during this era, is not the only counterweight to power. Instead, Pynchon suggests that community, family, and individuality may be the other counterweights. These, in essence, are said to be the various values that the Reagan era, according to the book Vineland, stole from the early 60's and warped, and aimed them back at America as the primary weapons of control. Referencing the contentions made by Pynchon, in Vineland, Rossinow argues that, by recalling Frenesi Gates' beauty, right before she returned to her family, Pynchon aims to recapture the characters' experiences by remembering their relevance and their meaning, right before, "hell broke loose" and got dirt being thrown at them.

Budget Cutbacks by the Reagan Administration

In the Vineland, Pynchon constructs an intricate web of flashback through which the recollections of the characters of the book, provide detailed narrations. For instance, Pynchon introduces the issue of budget cutbacks during the Reagan administration through Frenesi Gates, Prairie's, the protagonist's mother who despite having abandoned her friends and family to become a government informant, she gets her position abrogated owing to the budget cutbacks that characterized the Reagan administration. In their article, Danziger and Haveman highlight about Reagan's era budget cutbacks as well as how they impacted the poor. More fundamentally, the Reagan administration was characterized by a significant shift in the national priorities which resulted from the president's budget reform plans as well as the allocation of funds among programs. Besides, according to Pear, the budget cutbacks that are substantiated by Pynchon, in his novel and leading to the retrenchment of characters such as Frenesi, touched off a clash between the president's administration and the state officials who argued that they owed to Reagan's budget and tax proposals, they would lose billions of dollars in the Federal support especially due to the fact that they were being asked to take greater responsibilities for their domestic programs.

Similar to Pynchon's contentions Reagan's era budget cutbacks had significant effects on the fiscal retrenchment of some individuals such as Frenesi. The administration produced a tentative list of budget cuts which were inclusive of certain science programs as well as prominent federal research activities.

In particular, Rossinow contends that the budgetary retrenchment, as well as the reallocations that resulted from the fiscal retrenchments, had significant impacts on the distribution of income and this, in turn, altered behavior. Besides, the 1982 budgets cuts in the early years of Reagan's era exceeded 20% in a majority of the programs that were either introduced or expanded since the 1960s. This, according to studies conducted during this era, led to an increase in poverty, regardless of the assurances by the administration that, the safety net would be maintained (Rossinow). Similarly, the African American minorities also suffered greatly from Reagan's fiscal reduction, owing to the fact that a very large proportion of the blacks were poor as compared to their white counterparts. This also had grave impacts on the near poor population. According to Grmusa, even before the Reagan era, the near poor era had been losing ground, especially over the 1970s. Particularly, this group had always been able to stay above the poverty line with the significant help they received from food stamps as well as the extensive unemployment insurance coverage in economic downtowns. Drawing from this contextual base, the CQ Press points out that unlike any other modern president, President Reagan, during his era, sought and also won more spending cuts. During his era, the president's budgeting ideology was centered on his willingness to fight for reductions in the domestic spending, among the American households.

Similar to many historians, Pynchon, writes that the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan marked a new journey for the United States and the United States took a major shift rightwards for the first time dating back to the 1920s. Lehmann-Haupt points out that the dissatisfaction with the existing welfare programs in the United States helped to propel Reagan into his presidency reign which began in 1980. Besides, after his ascension to power, he moved quickly to slow the rate of growth in the domestic spending. Also, according to Pynchon, the Reagan era marked great changes which had not been experienced even during Nixon's presidency, a period which paved the way for the ascendance of the conservative Republicans (Lehmann-Haupt).

According to the Investopedia staff, it was during President Nixon's era that a steady expansion in the liberal governments was witnessed in the United States. This expansion was owing to the continuous pressure from grassroots social movements and the rise of those in power, hence raising on the premises of the New Deal. During the Reagan era, Reagan, the then president, and a charismatic orator promised the Americans that he would restore America to becoming a dominant world power (Beckett). Besides, Reagan promoted the moral order with reference to the heterosexual, patriarchal family after which he promised to limit the role played by the federal government, being a re-distributor of wealth and a regulator of business.

Lowering of Taxes during the Reagan Era

According to Pynchon, the Reagan era saw a significant lowering of the taxes upon ye wealthiest in America, something which led to a large disparity between the rich and the poor since the rich got richer while the working class group and the poor got a lot poorer. Based on this context, Pynchon, in the Vineland, described the large difference between the rich and the poor as;

"it's the whole Reagan program, isn't it-dismantle the New Deal, reverse the effects of World War II, restore fascism at home and around the world" ( Pynchon 265).

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