As you begin Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, be patient with yourself and with the novel. It moves at a dizzying pace, in long, complex sentences, incident piling upon incident. It is meant to overwhelm and confuse you a bit, as Oedipa Maas feels overwhelmed and confused by her task, and as we identify with her as the protagonist.
And what is that task? What task is she given on the first page of the novel? To execute the will of her former boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity. And what did he own? What didn’t he own in southern California? The OED defines the verb “execute” thus:. 1. a. trans. To follow out, carry into effect (an intention, purpose, plan, instruction, or command.) d. To perform or carry out the provisions of (a will). 2. a. To carry out, perform (an action, operation, movement, etc., that has been planned or prescribed, or that requires skill or care).
Intertextuality (which is like literary allusion, but goes more deeply, as other texts may be directly incorporated into the text, influencing its structure, themes, and so on) pervades the novel, beginning with the reference to Lamont Cranston. On a radio program (1936-1954), he was played by Orson Welles. The Shadow was originally the alter ego of Lamont Cranston, a wealthy playboy who at some point went to the Orient where he learned to hypnotize people in large numbers. On the radio this took the form of being able to appear invisible (handy for a radio show). In the pulp novels, he relied more on his guns and his mastery of disguise; it was revealed that in fact he was NOT Lamont Cranston, but aviator Kent Allard whose plane crashed in the Orient. He took on the disguise of Lamont Cranston. Later it was suggested that in fact the body of Kent Allard was found in the wreck of his plane in the Orient and that The Shadow was neither Lamont Cranston or Kent Allard. (See http://www.pulps.westumulka.com/shadow/ and http://www.spaceports.com/~deshadow/). Given that Pierce is aligned with Lamont Cranston, we might anticipate that his identity is mysterious as well.
Another crucial reference early on is to the painting Bordando el Manto Terrestre by Remedios Varo (1961), which translates as “Embroidering Earth’s Mantle.”
Oedipa has very much been in the situation pictured here, trapped in a tower, fabricating her sense of the reality outside. Anyone walking around on this earth, however, would never realize that the surface is a tapestry created—dreamt up—by others, and that, by analogy, our deeply held assumptions about contemporary reality are not objectively true (which should remind you of Nietszche). Oedipa’s quest will be to escape the tower, and to understand Pierce, and his legacy—literarily, what he left behind for the world, for her, to remember, as well as what his property holdings are.
Once you’ve read the first three chapters of the novel, answer these questions. It is fair to say that the characters and the narration in Pynchon’s novel depart from realistic characterization in important ways, even as they caricature contemporary realities in 1960s California. Please complete your response by Saturday, April 8th at 10 p.m., and please respond to two students by Monday, April 10th at 10 p.m.
1) How does the characterization of Oedipa Maas, Mucho Maas, Dr. Hilarius, Roseman, Pierce Inverarity, or Metzger, etc., compare to that of Quentin, Jason or Caddy Compson in The Sound and the Fury? In what ways does their characterization seem to follow verisimilitude, and in what ways does it not? Consider point of view, their names, what we are told and NOT told about them, and how they behave. QUOTE AND ANALYZE EVIDENCE.
2) How does Pynchon’s narrator compare to Faulkner’s realistic third-person narrator in the last section of The Sound and the Fury? Consider verisimilitude in all aspects, as well as tone, syntax, place names and plot. QUOTE AND ANALYZE EVIDENCE.
3) What do you think the Trystero is? Don’t look ahead or read elsewhere. Speculate, at this point in the novel, and QUOTE AND ANALYZE EVIDENCE.
SOME HELPFUL REMINDERS OF CONVENTIONS OF REALIST FICTION:
“Critic George J. Becker’s definition of the realist novel [is] … a substantial work in prose that offers verisimilitude of detail, a norm of experience, and an objective view of human nature…. By the mid-nineteenth century, realism was simply considered modern, and readers assumed that contemporary fiction would aspire to verisimilitude” (911).
Verisimilitude: the appearance of being true or real; likeness or resemblance to truth, reality, or fact; probability.
- An objective, third-person, omniscient narrator.
- Ordinary, middle-class, non-heroic characters.
- Detailed, accurate description of physical and cultural settings, personal appearances, etc.
- Vernacular dialogue that accurately portrays the social background, education, class, etc., of the characters.
– The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. C. 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.