Pynchon’s Vision Of America In The Crying Of Lot 49

794 words - 4 pages

First published in 1965, The Crying of Lot 49 is the second novel by American author Thomas Pynchon. The novel follows Oedipa Mass, a young Californian housewife, after she unexpectedly finds herself named the executrix of the estate of Californian real estate mogul, and ex-boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity. In reflecting on their history together, Oedipa recalls how her travels with Pierce helped her acknowledge, but not overcome, the poignant feeling that she was being held paralyzed and isolated from the world (and others) within a staid, middle-class existence by some invisible and nefarious external force. Moreover Oedipa struggles to understand why Pierce would name her the executor of his will considering her deep ignorance of finance, law, real estate, and who he was as a person (by virtue of her isolation). Despite these reservations, Oedipa accepts the dubious honor, traveling down into San Narciso, the Southern Californian city at the heart of Pierce’s extensive holdings. A series of improbable coincidences lead her to begin investigating a potential conspiracy centred on an underground communication network called The Tristero. As Oedipa delves deeper into the investigation she begins to question her own sanity. The mounting evidence affirming the Tristero’s existence, like the prevalent sightings of its emblem, a muted version of a post horn, is inextricably tied to Pierce’s estate holdings. Thus, Oedipa has to confront her growing sense paranoia that suggests the whole investigation is either a figment of her imagination, or (far worse) a manipulative ruse being imposed upon her by some unknown external entity (Pierce? The Tristero itself?). Pynchon uses Oedipa’s quest across San Narciso in search of the Tristero to articulate a dystopian vision of the American landscape in the 1960s defined by its inexorable progress towards a state of thermodynamic equilibrium. As a system progresses towards a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the vitality of its components (e.g. the individuals, institutions, ideas, and objects that comprise America) dissipates as they grow indistinct and inert. To assess this vision of an American society heading towards stasis developed in The Crying of Lot 49, one must first discuss the concept of entropy.
Broadly speaking, entropy refers both to the level of disorder and uncertainty in a system.The concept originates from thermodynamics, where it is used to describe the thermal energy in heat engine that is unavailable to be converted into work (i.e....

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