Thomas Pynchons’ The Crying of Lot 49 challenges the readers’ perception of the world by enfolding his readers, through a variety of means, within the intricate workings of his narrative. It centers around would be heroine Oedipa Maas whose life is turned upside down when she discovers that she has been made executor of the estate of old flame and entrepreneur Pierce Inverarity. When she is imposed upon to travel to the fictional city of San Narcisco, where Inverarity is said to have numerous real estate holdings, in order to carry out her task, Oedipa stumbles upon a muted post horn; the first of many clues leading her deep into the impenetrable conspiracy surrounding Trystero, an underground postal system shrouded in mystery and intrigue; opening her eyes to an alternative way of life. This post modern work of literature infuses dark humor and irony instigating a metamorphosis of intellectually challenging material; subsequently luring us, his readers who have unknowingly become a part of the conspiracy, into the methodical chaos of The Crying of Lot 49.
Well known for incorporating the basic ideas of philosophy and physics into all of his writings, Pynchon states that the “measure of the world is its entropy” (The Grim Phoenix, pg.2); an assertion that extends into the worlds he has created within the covers of his books. The structure of observation that Pynchon has constructed for the viewing of his creation has two distinct levels focused on those of his characters, particularly Oedipa Maas, who’s world is restricted to the confines of the composition and also that of the reader who stands on the outside looking in; but who is also affected by (h…
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… our inability to interact personally with the characters in the book, are bound to a bewildered cicerone who cannot see well enough to point us in the right direction.
Although Oedipa never uncovers’ the hidden truth as to whether or not there really exist a statewide conspiracy involving Trystero, in the end she gives herself over to the paranoia innate to never knowing for sure. Like the reader she has come to the conclusion that it would be a better practice to know that she’s paranoid and accept it as a part of life in that society, then to deny its existence and live in doubt for the rest of her life. Choosing to embrace the new self she has unearthed in her journey, like the reader Oedipa is reintroduced to the world at large and with eyes wide open.
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1965.
Comparing Journeys in Thos Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49
Parallel Journeys in The Crying of Lot 49
The Crying of Lot 49 offers two journeys into the text: that of it’s protagonist Oedipa, and that which the reader is forced to take with her. His brilliant use of detail and word plays blur the lines between the two. The main factor in this journey is chaos, here referred to by its’ more scientific name entropy. Oedipa and the reader get lost in a system of chaos and the task of deciphering the clues within the intricate system. The reader has no choice but to become part of this system through cleverly employed tactics Pychon uses to draw one in.
The uncertainty and complication of the mystery are the devices typically used to bring a character and or reader to an understanding of oneself, in this case it is questionable whether Oedipa or the reader reach this sort of consciousness. Oedipa through Pynchon’s scientific/literary metaphors, has a personal awakening that is not quite resolved with the end of the novel. The reader and the protagonist are both left to question what is real and what is fantasy. Pynchon offers clues to the puzzle, but the truth in question is not the Trystero, but Oedipa’s sanity.
Oedipa Mass is forced to involve herself in what seems to be a conspiracy. Her job can be compared to that of Maxwell’s Demon. “As the Demon sat and sorted his molecules into hot and cold, the system was said to lose entropy. But somehow the loss was offset by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were where¨ (p.105). Perception is blurred in the novel through the use of alcohol and drugs and the blurring of communication systems. In this case a form of entropy linked to the chaos of a communication system is embodied by the W.A.S.T.E. system Oedipa stumbles upon. She must attempt to separate what is real and what is fantasy, to decipher what is important and what is useless information. Pynchon’s use of detail makes this a difficult task, and the reader is caught up in her world of symbols and imagery. His mixture of fiction with history further confuses the reader with the Thurn and Taxis system and the Peter Piguid Society one is drawn into a world where he/she is reliant upon Oedipa to decipher the clues.
Oedipa and the reader are drawn into a constant fear of paranoia.