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The Silencing of Maxine's Sexual Agency, Thomas Pynchon

Inside the apartment, Windlust doesn’t waste time. “ Get down on the floor.” Seems to be in a sort of erotic snit. She gives him a look.


“Shouldn’t she be saying, ‘You know what fuck yourself, you’ll have more fun’, and walking out.  No instead, instant docility.  She slides to her knees…she has joined months of unvacuumed debris on the rug, face on the floor, ass in the air, skirt pushed up. Windlust’s not-exactly-manicured nails ripping methodically at sheer taupe panty hose it took her easily twenty minutes in Saks not so long ago to decide on, his cock inside her with so little inconvenience that she must have been wet without knowing it. His hands, murderer’s hands, are gripping her forcefully by the hips, exactly where it matters, exactly where some demonic set of nerve receptors she has been till now only semi-aware of have waited to be found and used like buttons on a game controller” (Pynchon 258)


Behold our strong female protagonist has been rendered docile, puppet like, by the sheer presence and sexual prowess of a man, a fairly random man at that. Pynchon provides little context of physical, mental or emotional attraction or interest for this sex scene. This is characterized by Windlust’s phallic dominance and Maxine’s submission. He commands her to “get down on the floor” and with only the simple adverb now, he modifies his command. He does not greet her, say her name, nor ask her anything. He does not even bother to repeat his command; he just intensifies through the temporal now.  And she submits.

Perhaps worse yet, the reader witnesses Maxine’s self silencing as she imagines what she should say: “ you know what, fuck yourself.”  She represses this response and replaces walking out with “instant docility.” Walking out would have proclaimed her agency and power to deny his demand, but instead she submits—easily at that. Her inward struggle never surfaces outwardly to challenge Windlust’s command.  The word “instant” describes how quickly this docility was achieved, her inward reluctance thrown aside.

We see Maxine further devalued by the physical change in her position. Once standing, equal and paralleling Windlust, she then lowers herself to her her knees— placing her below him. Not only she is below him, literally and figuratively but her face is physically put to the ground.  No longer parallel to Windlust, her position is now amongst the “months of unvacuumed  debris on the rug.” This implicitly signifies that within the power structure of this scene, this is where Maxine belongs.  Knees on the ground, head to the floor, Maxine is in a position of subjection, bowing down like a serf to her lord.  There is a reason why they don’t both equally lay on the floor and pursue a position that would physically portray them as equal. Maxine on her knees reinforces Windlust’s dominance. Everything about this scene usurps Maxine’s power, transferring it to Windlust.

Even the destruction of Maxine’s tights reflect this this transfer of power. She had spent at least twenty minutes picking out those specific tights. Within moments, Windlust had carelessly destroyed them. All that time she had spent finding them were for naught.  Furher inconvenient is that these taupe panty hose experienced such a brief life span. She was not even able to get proper use out of them, since she’d gotten them “not so long ago.”  The fact these panty hose originate from Saks, connotes the cultural and economic capital of the item as property. They’re not just an old, used pair of whatever panty hose; these are a new expensive pair of stockings that somewhat designate Maxine’s station in life. Not everyone can afford to shop at Saks on fifth avenue. And yet all of this capital is easily torn down by Windlust’s act of aggression. He destroys this piece of private property occupying her body with little concern.  There isn’t the slightest pretense of courtesy—gingerly taking off the panty hose so as to preserve them as a lover might care to do.  Windlust makes no attempts towards this and instead penetrates straight through them, because that reflects conquest. The care of pulling off stockings does not.

Further, his easy penetration, finding her “with [her] knowing it” suggests Windlust’s domination and control over Maxine’s body and sexuality.  Her becoming wet without her even knowing it suggests that Windlust has so skillfully seduced Maxine that she wasn’t even cognitively aware of it happening.  Windlust has more control of Maxine’s body than she does.

The next section, where it mentions how his unclean murderer’s hands grip her, reeks of male aggression.  Murderer modifies the noun hands and really bestows a certain violence to the sexual act in progress.  The same hands, assumedly unclean--if unmanicured  transmits such an  image, which I think it does—that have murdered countless human bodies are now enacting some sort of physical power and pressure onto Maxine’s hips.  Thinking of his hands are capable of murder, place Maxine in an incredibly vulnerable position.  The placement of the word forcefully further emphasizes that aggression. Yet again we see with his hands situated “ exactly where it matters,” the sexual dominance and control of Windlust over Maxine. His sexual knowledge and capabilities are being touted here. Maxine in contrast is not given any complementary sexual ability. She is just constantly unaware of her own body, and simply a vessel for Windlust’s penetration. At best maybe she might be moving, but it could be him, she’s once again unsure.

Yet again as clueless lamb,  until that moment with Windlust,  the now, she has been only “semi-aware” of the nerve receptors on her hips. The fact they have “waited to be found” implies that it I Windlust’s touch that actualized these receptors existence and perhaps no man before them had achieved such a feat. Not even, her ex-husband, the father of her children seems to elicit this. In contrast when we’re told of the sexual relationship between Maxine and Horst we’re given this sparse summary:“ How about what what they call ‘marital relations,’ is there any fucking going on? You, but and what’s it to you…at moments like this, Horst is helpless and Maxine long ago has learned to seize the moment” (Pynchon 333).  So basically we’re told Maxine initiates when Frank Sinatra is playing and that’s it. Does this somehow serve to explain her docility with Windlust? That because she  the initiator with Horst, at least in the post 9/11 moment, then  she needs to be subdued with someone else? That’s a perfectly reasonable reading of Maxine’s sexuality.  The question still remains why Pynchon has furnished so many details of Maxine’s sexual subjugation and so few of her dominance?

This passage gives an immense amount of power to Windlust.  Perhaps a final indication of the devaluation of Maxine’s body and agency is the metaphor places upon her.  He compares the sensors in her hips to buttons on a game controller.  Thus, her body is objectified and further yet rendered as an object frequently coded and played with by males. Therefore Maxine’s body is no more than a toy or a game for Windlust to easily master.

So what then is at stake? What does it matter that Windlust is given sexual power over Maxine? We as readers have to wonder how this submission affects Maxine’s ethos as our heroine. For me she is weakened and rendered less believable. For as much time as the reader spends in the depths of Maxine’s mind, she is still an enigma of emotional distance. Her sexuality is no different; that, too, is off limits to the reader. We cannot understand why exactly she submits to Windlust. Reason and logic are not provided; it’s just an event that occurs. Perhaps Maxine really does not know herself, yet still that portrays as vulnerable and unsure. There is more at stake than the distance put between the reader and Maxine. For those outside of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, (this term coined by bell hooks) representation is of great importance. As the designated “other,” cultural production from literature, movies, plays, t.v. shows, music, art, etc. will reflect how you see yourself in society, if you can see yourself  at all.  Cultural production has the ability to both perpetuate and undermine the inequalities, prejudices, and other socially constructed ailments of our society.  Here Pynchon has chosen to perpetuate the age-old rhetoric of male sexual dominance, conquest and objectification. For those reading with an eye to deconstruct sexist, phallocentric imagery—due to its reification of female docility and sexuality, this scene is ripe for castigation.  Yet for those not on the hunt for this sort of problematic representation, it is a dangerous notion, buttressing and breathing life anew to dormant prejudices.