The protagonist of the novel, Oedipa leads the reader in an exploration of Pierce Inverarity's legacy and of her own inner psyche. She is an ordinary housewife in California, wife of Mucho Maas, when she learns that she is to be co-executor of Pierce's will. She has struggled with the feeling that she is trapped in the Rapunzel tower of her monotonous existence but does not know how to escape. Yet, when she looks into the will, a strange pattern of coincidences and symbols forms around the word Tristero, what seems to be an alternative, covert postal system which had continued since the middle ages. Oedipa follows the track to San Narciso, Pierce's property at Fangoso Lagoons, the Yoyodyne plant, a nursing home, the Tank Theatre, and San Francisco. She has a slight affair with the other executor before he and the other men in her life leave her in a myriad of ways. She is left lost in a multitude of signs and symbols, caught between the literal and metaphoric levels which have seemingly been intertwined implicitly within the text of the will. Oedipa waits at the auction to see who will bid on lot 49, Pierce's stamp collection, when the novel ends.
Oedipa's husband, Mucho was a used cars salesman before he met Oedipa. He had to quit when he could not stand the flow of waste left in the cars from people's lives. He also could not overcome the tarnished reputation of being a used cars salesman. He then became a disc jockey but could not believe in it. He feels censored and likes to fool around with high school girls. He also knows when Oedipa cheats on him but they understand each other and she tries to sooth his nightmares. They have trouble communicating though. While Oedipa is away, Mucho joins Hilarius' LSD experiment. His nightmares leave and his senses become attuned to the many harmonious voices which live in every voice. As Funch says, he loses his singular identity. Oedipa loses him.
A California real estate mogul whom Oedipa had an affair with, Pierce died a year before the start of the book and left Oedipa as co-executor of his will. She does not know why and had not heard from him in over a year. They had traveled to Mexico together because Oedipa was trying to escape her humdrum life in Kinneret but she realized that she could not escape through Pierce. In his will, the mysterious Tristero appears in pieces and symbols to Oedipa who is never sure if Pierce created a maze to laugh at her or if he was trying to live beyond death or if the Tristero is real or if she is crazy. Pierce owned Fangoso Lagoons, Yoyodyne, the complex of Zapf's Books, and most of San Narciso.
Oedipa's shrink, he calls Oedipa at 3am while she is still in Kinneret to persuade her to join his LSD experiment on housewives called Die Brücke. Husbands join his experiment and Mucho gets hooked on LSD. Hilarius later goes crazy, overcome by paranoid delusions because of his willingness in WWII to experiment on Jews in Buchenwald.
Mucho's boss at the radio station, KCUF, Funch is accused by Mucho of censoring him and claiming that he is flirting too heavily with the young listeners. Mucho and he argue daily over these issues. Funch later tells Oedipa how Mucho has lost identity and he hopes that she can save him.
The Maas' lawyer in Kinneret, Roseman is paranoid about the power and success of Perry Mason on TV so he works on a script, entitled The Profession v. Perry Mason, A Not-so-hypothetical Indictment. He flirts with Oedipa but cannot think how to take it further. He explains what the executor of a will does.
The teenage manager of Echo Courts Motel in San Narciso, Miles is also part of a band named the Paranoids in which he feigns a British accent. Miles thinks that Oedipa and Metzger are kinky so he gives them alcohol to promote their kinkiness.
The lawyer who is the other co-executor of Pierce's will, Metzger finds Oedipa at the motel and brings a bottle of wine to seduce her. In the end, he succeeds after playing Strip Botticelli. He was a childhood actor named Baby Igor and his movie shows on TV when he and Oedipa watch. They take a picnic to Fangoso Lagoons to check on Pierce's property and Oedipa takes him to see the Courier's Tragedy but he does not believe in the connections Oedipa finds. When Oedipa returns from visiting San Francisco and Kinneret, Metzger has run off to marry Serge's chicks.
Dean, Serge, Leonard and their chicks
The other members of the Paranoids and their girlfriends, they play music for Oedipa and Metzger as they have sex after playing Strip Botticelli. They blow a fuse at the moment of sexual climax. They also attend the picnic at Fangoso Lagoons. One of the chicks mentions the similar stories between the bones Jaguar is suing over and the plot twist in The Courier's Tragedy. Serge's chick runs off to marry Metzger.
A member of the Peter Pinguid Society, Fallopian meets Metzger and Oedipa at the Scope bar near Yoyodyne and tells them about the society and the underground mail service of which he is a part. The alternate system uses the inter-office mail at Yoyodyne and requires that its members send a piece of mail a week. Oedipa returns to Fallopian several times to ask him about the symbols she finds. The last time she sees him he tells her to see if Inverarity was playing a trick on her. Oedipa feels she has lost another ally.
Manny Di Presso
The lawyer turned actor turned lawyer, Manny played Metzger in a TV pilot which failed. He pops up at Fangoso Lagoon's marina and asks Metzger for help running away from a client who is connected to the mob. The picnickers take him out to the social house on Lake Inverarity while he tells them about his case against Pierce's estate. He then takes off with their boat.
Di Presso's client, Jaguar's real name is Anthony Giunghierrace. He is part of a crime family and chases Manny because Manny will not give him an advance on his case. He is suing Inverarity for payment on the bones Jaguar sold from a lake in Italy where Americans were thrown after a WWII battle. The bones decorate the bottom of Lake Inverarity.
The director of the production, The Courier's Tragedy, at the Tank Theatre, Driblette is approached by Oedipa after the performance to explain the "ritual reluctance" surrounding the Tristero in the play. He also played Gennaro, the drably clad hero, of the play, symbolic of Pynchon's use of gray. Driblette tells Oedipa that as director he simply made choices for the play, with no deeper meaning behind them. But Oedipa feels that the connection is greater and that he was trying to tell her something. He dies later, by walking into the Pacific Ocean.
The engineer at Yoyodyne whom Oedipa meets when she is lost at Yoyodyne, Stanley hopes she will help him change the patent rules of Yoyodyne where an invention cannot be claimed by an individual. He describes how Nefastis, the inventor of Maxwell's Demon, escaped this fate. When Oedipa says she wants to see if she could work the Demon, he gives her Nefastis' WASTE address before realizing, angrily, that she is not involved in the system.
The inventor of Maxwell's Demon, Nefastis allows Oedipa to try to move the piston on the machine as only sensitives can. He explains the theory of entropy behind the Demon, and how entropy works as a metaphor linking the Thermodynamic and Information flow ends of the theory. He comforts Oedipa when she fails, and suggests they have sex in front of the television but Oedipa runs out.
The best philatelist in the area, Metzger sends Inverarity's stamp collection to him. He calls Oedipa when irregularities are found and shows her the marks of fraud which match the WASTE symbols she has found. He realizes that the WASTE horn is a muted version of the Thurn and Taxis horn. Though unresponsive when Oedipa first informs him of the evidence she has, he soon inundates her with more and more information. She sees him at the auction at the end, where he plans to bid on some of the stamps.
Anonymous man at The Greek Way
After being pushed into the gay bar in San Francisco, Oedipa spies this man with a muted post horn on his badge. Though he does not respond to Oedipa saying she is from Thurn and Taxis, he does feel sorry for her after she unloads all of her findings on him. He tells her that he belongs to Inamorati Anonymous, an organization begun by a fired Yoyodyne worker who realized that he wants to isolate himself from love. Oedipa later calls the man at the bar to see if he had been set up to meet her but he says it is too late.
An old man at the nursing home owned by the Inverarity estate, he tells Oedipa of his grandfather who had worked for the Pony Express. Though unable to definitively distinguish between reality and Porky Pig cartoons, he tells Oedipa how his grandfather loved killing Indians and fake Indians. The fakes would attack at night wearing all black, reminding Oedipa of the marauders recorded on the marker at Fangoso Lagoons and the henchmen in Driblette's production. The ring his grandfather cut off the finger of one of the fake Indians contains the muted post horn.
The professor who had researched and edited one version of Wharfinger's The Courier's Tragedy, Bortz had previously taught at the University of California at Berkeley but was teaching at San Narciso College when Oedipa finds him. Bortz shared with Oedipa much of the information he had found on the play as well as sources, such as a book by Blobb, which had affected Wharfinger's decision to use the Thurn and Taxis versus Tristero rivalry. Bortz informs Oedipa of Driblette's death. Bortz's information that he heard a line other than the Tristero during another night of the Driblette production troubles Oedipa.
The owner of the used book shop where Driblette and then Oedipa bought their copies of The Courier's Tragedy, Zapf mentions to Oedipa that the collection of plays she was buying had been popular recently. Zapf later burns down his store for insurance money. The block of stores was owned by Pierce.
The owner of the government surplus store next to Zapf's, he boasts to Oedipa how well Nazi arm bands are doing in his store and that he will soon get entire SS uniforms. She wandered in to ask how Zapf's store burning down. She wished she had hit him but she did not.
The anarchist from Mexico whom Oedipa and Pierce had met in Mazatlán, Jesus is in a greasy spoon diner in San Francisco when Oedipa drifts in. He remembers her and Pierce because Pierce struck him as being so totally an oligarchist. He has a sixty year old anarchist newspaper next to him with the muted horn symbol but Jesus does not know from where he received the paper.
Old man in the stairwell
Oedipa comes upon an old man crumpled in a stairwell below a rooming house. He is a sailor with the muted post horn symbol tattooed on his hand and he asks Oedipa to mail a letter through WASTE to his estranged wife. She finds out from him that the WASTE mailbox is under the freeway. As the man is taken back into the rooming house, Oedipa knows that she cannot save him and he will die.
Dr. Hilarius's part time assistant, she lets Oedipa into the building as Hilarius shoots at Oedipa and explains about Hilarius' delusions. Oedipa realizes that Helga could have escaped through a window but Helga chose to stay because Hilarius may have needed someone.
The Crying of Lot 49 Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Crying of Lot 49 is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.