Guardian of Whatever the City Threw Away

This excerpt, from the end of March Kelleher’s speech at the eighth-grade graduation that opens up Chapter 11, is the conclusion to her story of the stealthy ruler that would pay off those who could recognize him with a small handful of silver or gold. An older lady, described by Pynchon as the guardian of whatever the city threw away, lives in the city and knows everything.  The ruler of the city crosses paths with the elderly woman, but is rejected when offering his money to her.


“By this logic the old woman with her sack of garbage should have become an environmental cabinet minister and someday get parks and recycle centers all across the realm named after her. But whenever anyone tried to approach her with job offers, she was never to be found. Her criticisms of the regime, however, had already entered the collective consciousness of the city and become impossible to delete.” — Bleeding Edge, p. 114


This moment in March’s speech caught my interest, as it deliberately references a problem faced in the 21st century.  My initial reaction to the phrase, “collective consciousness of the city”, was to draw a parallel with the Internet as a collective knowledge-base for humans. That reaction was only bolstered by the idea of her criticisms being impossible to delete from that shared consciousness, much like how what is posted on the Internet now becomes difficult to ever remove entirely due to methods such as reposting or saving, etc. Also Pynchon’s purposeful choice to use the words ‘entered’ and ‘delete’, two keys universally found on keyboards, adds to the notion that this passage is related to computers and the Internet.

What intrigued me even further and inspired me to write about this specific passage was March’s conclusion to her speech, admitting that the story of the stealthy ruler and the elderly woman was in fact an Aesop fable in which all things are supposed to represent some truth in life. However she notes that this fable was from back in the days when Stalin was in power and she challenges the crowd to apply this fable to the 21st century.

Pynchon is meticulous in his describing of the fable, taking almost two entire pages to describe it in detail.  In doing so, it is evident that Pynchon wants us as readers to consider how each piece in this fable applies to the 21st century.  By diagnosing the metaphors in this fable in the scope of the 21st century, we delve into what Pynchon believes to be the truths in technology and the modern era.

While it is unmistakeable that Pynchon’s use of the fable is to tell us what he thinks of the 21st century, it is more difficult to correctly diagnose what each aspect of the fable represents.  March concludes her speech by asking the audience, “Who is this old lady? What does she think she’s been finding out all these years?  Who is this ‘ruler’ shes’s refusing to be bought off by? And what’s this ‘work’ he was ‘doing in secret’?”.  The parallel I drew for the stealthy ruler was the corrupted soul protected by the anonymity of the Internet willing to achieve its goals by any means necessary, while the elderly woman represented the incorruptible individuals with the strength to combat those who would bribe and cheat their way in this world.

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4 Responses to Guardian of Whatever the City Threw Away

  1. raddishspirit says:

    I missed that interpretation the first time through. When I first read this passage, I had a feeling it would be important. Later on in the reading we find out that March is running a blog on Ice and is highlighting all of his misdeeds. In fact, her daughter is married to Ice as well which makes her blog that much more interesting. One of the main parallels with the story is comparing the trash woman to March, having to investigate the dirty deeds, and comparing the rich man to Ice.

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  2. aminoacid2020 says:

    Really great post! I also didn’t catch that interpretation on the first time through. I wonder though, when you say, “Also Pynchon’s purposeful choice to use the words ‘entered’ and ‘delete’, two keys universally found on keyboards, adds to the notion that this passage is related to computers and the Internet.” This may be irrelevant, but do you think perhaps with advancing technology, many keyboards on computers and other hardware no longer use the word “enter” but rather “return” “go” and other verbs. Do you think that the terminology affects how the technology is percieved? I agree that it is nearly impossible to forever remove things from the internet which can be problematic especially when the “collective consciousness” is wrong, such as with early Wikipedia entries. I think that this idea has back-fired in a lot of ways.

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  3. tspace22 says:

    Interesting post! While I think this passage will make itself more clear by the conclusion of the novel, I think the reader is supposed to draw conclusions between the old woman and March, and the ruler of the city and Gabriel Ice. In a lot of ways, March is the old woman; she reports on her blog about Ice, unwilling to ignore his actions. It is entirely possible March could relent, apologize, and form a relationship with both her daughter and son in law again. However, like the old woman, March is unwilling to forget what she has seen and knows, so she refuses to accept the hush money. In March’s sense the money could be related to the financial perks of resuming a relationship with her very well off daughter and son in law.

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  4. Very perceptive reading, though it is difficult to discern what you are arguing. I would have loved to see a more fully developed reading of March’s fable.

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