The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Themes


The process of entropy leads to the inevitable progression of a closed system to patterned, chaotic sameness. In thematic terms, entropy represents Pynchon's concern with our culture's movement toward intellectual inertia. In Maxwell's Demon, Nefastis created a machine which works directly with Pynchon's theme of entropy. The sorting inherent in the machine would actually preserve a world able to remain heterogeneous. By dividing the two types of molecules into different compartments so that heat is created and maintained, the molecules do not have a chance to share properties until an equilibrium is reached. As Grant comments, "ŒSorting,' therefore, becomes an absolutely central metaphor, and the fact that Oedipa singles this concept out for objection is an indication of her intuitive grasp of her own predicament." The closed system will move toward entropy in the same manner that the entire universal system will, both existentially and rationally. In tune with the allusions to Narcissus, the world is contained within itself and has become a egotistical system moving toward a chaotic sense of orderlessness.

Post-modernist examination of textual versus metaphorical literary significance

The majority of recent critics, such as Tanner, seem to believe that Pynchon's many allusions are partially red herrings. They are an attempt by Pynchon to lead the reader into drawing the easy references and falling into the traps readers so often do when they reach for allusions in order to find significance. Pynchon is possibly leading the reader into assumptions which they are all too likely to make so that they realize the error as they proceed within the postmodern novel which espouses a theme of non-categorization and structuralism. We are taken on her journey because the search for self and meaning and connection is insatiable, even when it is being parodied as is often the case with Pynchon. Is the search of meaning and analysis then a fruitless attempt to grant significance to a increasingly gray ash type of modern society or is the only escape in a system which is decreasingly transmitting communication to forge new, alternate means of informing and differentiating human beings?

Excluded middles: the gray ash / what has been thrown away as valuable

The entire idea of waste is concurrent with Pynchon's theme of excluded middles, in this sense, where the gray ash of life is often tossed away in order to hold onto the overly extreme binaries. A consumer society disposes and dispossesses more of life than it keeps. Often more questions are raised then answered and for every binary presented, an inversion of the duality is also usually suggested. One of the most common terms thrown around in literary criticism concerning Crying is the "excluded middle." The progression toward dichotomy is also a progression toward the questioning of what lies between the two extremes. The gray area is very significant, while also asking the reader if it is significant only because the human being cannot be satisfied without an attempt at pointing significance. Largely, though, it points to the waste, the disinherited of society, as symbolized by the amount of underground networks who have felt unrepresented by the official postal system. These are the people, the lives, the core of humanity disregarded and dispossessed. Mucho Maas is haunted by nightmares of these grey ash leftovers of humanity and so, in its way, is the entire novel.

Man versus modernity/consumerism/consumption

At the start of the novel, Oedipa is not working. She attends a Tupperware gathering, a clear symbol of mid-twentieth century American housewifery. As some critics have noted, the fact that the host of the party had likely put too much kirsch in the fondue shows that the party signifies superficial consumership in material America more than any type of sincere communal bonding as the hostess felt the need to get her attendees drunk in order to entertain them. Oedipa's search for information and cohesion within the world at large is symbolized by her entrapment by commercial society. Parallels have been constructed between the green bubble glasses that Oedipa wears when crying as she views the painting in Mexico City and the lone green eye that is a metaphor for the television screen. Furthermore, expanding the theme of disillusioning modern commercialism, Oedipa notes that in her vision, Pierce only reaches the top of her tower when he uses a credit card to shimmy his way up. In the mass consumer society in which Oedipa lives, the individual is in dire need of revelation, another term which is used often by Pynchon.