The Crying of Lot 49

Human Transformation and its Basic Aspirations

Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, said, “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” Defining one’s personal identity may coincide with this ancient Stoic principle, but what is not mentioned is the human transformation that must take place to accomplish such an aspiration. In both Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, there is a quest for personal definition that requires breaking the societal conventions of a chaotic culture. The Invisible Man is trapped in a world where his grandpa believes the best response to the white man’s racism is unparalleled, insincere kindness. In The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas exists in a community consumed by the ‘everydayness’ of suburban living. While both the Invisible Man and Oedipa Maas have been alienated by their respective cultures, Invisible derives a personal identity while Oedipa Maas continues to struggle in a world that disintegrates around her because of her inability to connect and communicate with her chaotic society.

Early in the novel, Invisible presents himself to the reader as a black man who has been forgotten by society; he lives underground and steals electricity from a power company for his...

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