When most people finish reading The Crying of Lot 49, they feel like they are in the same position as Oedipa Maas, with whom we have identified throughout the novel: wondering whether the Trystero exists, or whether it was a hoax perpetrated on her by Pierce Inverarity to draw her out of her suburban ignorance and isolation. Of course, that sentence does not exhaust the possibilities!
First, a few comments on the first blog responses on Pynchon. Oedipa Maas does not get rich as a result of being made Inverarity’s literary executor, and she does not particularly seek freedom from her husband. I would also note that Oedipa’s relationship with Metzger appears to be consensual, as it develops, and in this novel, casual sex is casual, not the alleged cause of entire family’s downfall, as it is with Caddy Compson.
And while the California culture and landscape may seem be portrayed realistically, and while the characters may speak colloquially, the Dickensian names alone, the characters’ nutty behavior, and the crazily absurd plot, do not display verisimilitude at all. Pynchon is not only not trying to convince us that these characters are real, but he’s actively making them unreal with allegorical names that match their personality and/or situation (rather than resembling names that real people born in California in this era might be called), giving them preposterous plots to march through, exaggerated behaviors (think of Mucho and Pierce—yes, some people may be good at imitating others, and some may have done drugs in this era, but to this extent?), and so on.
My dear students, the TONE of this novel is absurd and often comic (even as it treats very serious subject matter seriously, like the deaths of American soldiers, the legacy of the Holocaust, poverty and isolation, etc.), which is a stark contrast to the typically solemn tone of Faulkner’s novel. Yes, some passages in Jason Compson’s section may occasionally seem like car chases in “The Dukes of Hazard,” and his offensive views may be darkly comical, but we are meant to believe in him utterly as a realistic character representing his time, place, and class.
Another point about style: Pynchon does NOT use stream of consciousness, which is used by first-person narrators and is often marked by unconventional punctuation and lapses from correct grammar to convey the stream of thought. Long, complex sentences, correctly punctuated, are often associated with a quick pace in terms of plot and with argument in terms of structure, though they can also list many events as occurring quickly. Think of the long lines of Ginsberg’s “Howl”—that poem reads more quickly, does it not, than Williams’s “Spring and All”? This has to do with long lines with little punctuation versus shorter lines. Sentence length matters, but stream of consciousness is not simply characterized by long sentences. And while it is true that Pynchon’s third-person narrator is typically aligned with Oedipa’s point of view, as Faulkner’s third-person narrator is with Dilsey’s in the last section of The Sound and the Fury, this is very different than the first-person narration we get with Benjy, Quentin, and Jason.
All that said, I’ve decided to wait—perhaps to your frustration, though perhaps I’m just treating you like Pynchon’s narrator treat Oedipa—to post my Mini Lecture on Pynchon’s novel until you write your response to this blog post. I’m curious about your thoughts before I make more sense of the novel for you, which I promise I will!
1.) Which of the four possibilities about the Trystero, which the narrator outlines in the final chapter, seem to you the most plausible, and why? (Did it remind you of a conspiracy theory in any way?) Be sure to paraphrase the four possibilities and cite evidence to support your answer. See 82-83, 87-107, especially 91 and 100-101, 131-137, 138-141.
2.) What are some elements of the narration, characterization, and/or tone that seem to you unrealistic, perhaps exaggerated and absurd? Cite and analyze evidence.
3.) How are themes of isolation and/or miscommunication developed in the novel? Cite one example.
4.) What was your experience of reading the novel, overall? What did you enjoy and appreciate? What frustrated you?