Miss Lonelyhearts

The Search for Order and Meaning

In Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, the protagonists search for order and meaning. The books are similar in that both suggest the possibility of meaninglessness in America's modern state of chaos. Although both books portray a dismal and temporary existence on earth, Miss Lonelyhearts is more hopeful. West hints at a world that is knowable, despite all of its misery. Miss Lonelyhearts stumbles through countless fragments of pain and despair, but at the base of his searching is a suggestion that there is an answer. The Crying of Lot 49, alternatively, contains limitless possibilities and condemns the search. This is a disorder that is not knowable.

West and Pynchon illustrate the meaninglessness of American culture in many different ways. Both authors use fragmented imagery and language, overwhelming the reader with tiny pieces of real life. Fragmentation illustrates a shallow sensibility by developing countless, even entertaining details with no central force or purpose. There is a striking symbol for this cultural chaos in a used car lot, in The Crying of Lot 49. The language itself communicates a feeling of searching, with enough commas to make each image its own frantic...

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