Symbolic Deconstruction in The Crying of Lot 49
The paths leading toward knowledge (of self, of others, of the world around us) are circuitous. Thomas Pynchon, in his novel The Crying of Lot 49, seems to attempt to lead the reader down several of these paths simultaneously in order to illustrate this point. Our reliance on symbols as efficient translators of complex notions is called into question. Beginning with the choice of symbolic or pseudo-symbolic name, Oedipa Maas, for the central character of his novel, Pynchon expands his own investigation of symbol as Oedipa also attempts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the muted horn of the Tristero.
In choosing names that conjure up other images/ideas which may or may not reflect directly upon the character to whom the name belongs, does Pynchon attempt to underscore or undermine the entire notion of symbol as an authentic source of insight? The answer may well be both, I am aware, but let us continue down this path awhile longer. Consider one name, Oedipa Maas, for a moment. Classical allusions to the fated Greek king seem virtually embedded in her first name. Yet their direct relevance to her character remains elusive at best. As an intuitive literary/historical detective discovering the existence of Tristero and W.A.S.T.E., perhaps Oedipa attempts to solve her own Sphinx's riddle. More important, however, is the mindset Pynchon is able to create in the reader by including such overt symbolic references.
Other names, perhaps with less symbolic significance, begin to take on added meaning. The precedent is set. It is possible then to find further significance in Oedipa's last name, Maas. Of course this exercise can quickly degenerate into absurdity when the word itself can mean anything from thickened sour milk, to a type of fish, to a farm cottage, to a vulgar form of the word master. It is as an aberrant form of the word mass, however, that the name could acquire some symbolic content. As a lump of raw material...