The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2

Chapter 2 Summary:

Oedipa decided she should travel to San Narciso and look into Pierce's affairs. She told Mucho, who was slightly sad because of her departure, to ignore Dr. Hilarius and watch her oregano. She drove down to the city near Los Angeles in a rental car, expecting the city to stand out from the others. It did not. The pattern of buildings seemed to want to tell her something, but she could not understand what. The numbers on the offices ranged from 70 to the 80,000s, confusing Oedipa. She drove by YOYODYNE, a giant in the aerospace industry owned by Pierce. Though Oedipa decided to stop at the next motel she saw, she hesitated in front of "Echo Courts" and the raunchy nymph with the blowing skirt who rose above the sign. The face was similar to her own and she decided the place was good enough. Miles, the teenage manager, carried her bags to a room, singing a song in a feigned British accent from his rock group, the Paranoids. Oedipa offered to bring a cassette to her husband's station but Miles thought she was trying to sleep with him.

Later that night, Metzger the lawyer appeared, after searching through different motels for her. He was very good looking and had been a childhood actor, named Baby Igor. He carried a bottle of wine, interrupting Oedipa's lazy plans for the evening. Metzger fed Oedipa lines about his days as a star, adding that Pierce had only mentioned Oedipa once. She did not want to know what he said. They turned on the T.V., poured drinks, and noticed that one of Baby Igor's movies, Cashiered, was on. Oedipa was not sure that the coincidence was not a scam. Metzger told her about the plot. Almost every commercial that was broadcast during the breaks was a product or location owned by Pierce, such as the new housing development Fangoso Lagoons. Oedipa began to feel that she was in the middle of some kind of plot.

Soon, the wine ran out and Metzger pulled out a bottle of tequila, mentioning the time Oedipa and Pierce were in Mexico. He claimed he knew about the trip because Pierce wrote it off as a business expense. Metzger then tried to make a bet with Oedipa about the end of the movie. She thought betting on a finished movie was ridiculous but finally gave in and bet him anything that Baby Igor would not get out of the submarine alive. The reels of the movie became boggled and misplaced scenes were shown. Metzger allowed Oedipa to ask questions about what was going on in the movie if she agreed to play Strip Botticelli. Oedipa agreed and ran into the bathroom where she dressed herself with every piece of clothing and accessory she had brought. The new image of herself made Oedipa laugh so hard that she fell, knocking over a can of hair spray which shot off violently around the room. Before it died, the mirror and shower's glass panel had been shattered. When she and Metzger stood up, they noticed the members of The Paranoids watching them and thinking they were kinky. Oedipa asked for a serenade and they performed outside.

When their song ended, Pierce demanded Oedipa's first question about the movie. The Paranoids left a fifth of Jack Daniels on the doorsill and Oedipa poured yet another drink. Regardless of how many questions Oedipa asked, she did not seem to grow any thinner from the clothing she discarded. Metzger began undressing and a headache bloomed in Oedipa's head. At one point, Oedipa visited the bathroom and could not find her reflection. She remembered that the mirror had broken but felt very unsteady. When she returned to the bedroom, Metzger was asleep, aroused, and clad only in boxer shorts. She jumped on him, kissing him.

Twenty minutes later, Metzger had finally stripped Oedipa of all of her clothing but Oedipa was barely conscious. She awoke in the middle of a sexual crescendo and heard the Paranoids playing again. As both she and Metzger climaxed, the Paranoids blew a fuse and all of the power in the motel shut off. When the electricity returned, the T.V. showed Baby Igor being electrocuted in the sinking submarine. Oedipa jumped up, proclaiming that she had won the bet. She asked what Pierce had said about her. When Metzger told her that Pierce had said that she would not be easy, Oedipa cried. Metzger called her to him and, awhile later, she went.

Chapter 2 Analysis:

The chapter begins with Oedipa's departure from Kinneret for San Narciso in order to look into Pierce's affairs. The idea of place is very important within the novel, even at times when it seems the place represents stagnation or monotony as both of these locales will. The name Kinneret, as detailed by the critic, Robert Watson, alludes to the Sea of Galilee which had been alternately known as Lake Kinneret. Thus a reference to Jesus Christ is made, perhaps comparing Oedipa Maas to a savior within the novel. This is a curious reference, seeing as Oedipa is a generic housewife character yet a couple of reasons for the allusion exist. A religious undertone pervades the novel, asking the reader whether one is meant to apply religious ideals and allusions or whether the undertones are metonyms for the contemporary need to signify and inflate.

Also, Oedipa is starting on a journey, as the chapter begins by telling us that she is leaving Kinneret. She is going in search of truth and knowledge, a hyperbolic mission for a housewife who normally spends her days at Tupperware parties and the grocery store. In contrast to Jesus, however, she is looking for self-knowledge instead of looking to spread a message. 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. Her search for revelation, pattern, and truth allows her to leave her Galilee and the life she had accepted there.

The place that Oedipa heads for is named San Narciso. Beyond soun ding like a typical Californian city name, the parallels to Narcissism and the myth of Narcissus are unmistakable. Self-evaluation is one of the byproducts of Oedipa's search, and more directly, by searching through the remnants of Pierce's life, the self-identity of modern American culture is also being revealed. However beyond self-evaluation, knowledge, or reflection, Narcissism implies an infatuation with the self. The myth of Narcissus, from which the term Narcissism has arisen, explores a man who becomes so infatuated with his reflection in a lake that he closes out the rest of the world for the false extension of himself.

In a scientific sense, as is often referenced in the novel, the closed system will move toward entropy in the same manner that the entire universal system will, both existentially and rationally. The world is contained within itself and has become a egotistical system moving toward a chaotic sense of orderlessness. As Thomas Shaub associates, "Pynchon's direct evocation of the Narcissus myth is a clear statement that Pierce's estate and what it represents are a culture in love with a dream-image of itself." This is the world that Oedipa enters in her search for Pierce, the truth, and herself and this is the world which will, in turn, become contained within herself.

Oedipa first notes that San Narciso has no identifiable differences to other Southern Californian cities. However, she will note the differences at a later time and the reader should note the lack of activity and the intense patterning that surrounds the city. Her first observation of the city tells us, "Nothing was happening." She notes only buildings, but mentions no people, exchange, or communication. The place is immediately stagnant. Oedipa then compares the layout of the city to the patterned inside of a transistor radio. She states, "The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had." In this ordered world of similar pink buildings and guard towers, a feeling of artifice and coldness prevails.

Moreover, Oedipa comes close to having a religious moment as she looks upon the stagnant city of San Narciso and she relates that moment to the relationship her husband had to the car lot. She feels close to realizing the supposed secrets which this structure holds inside but then the moment passes, as an illusion. We are left with the feeling that the symbolic gestures Pynchon makes, especially toward the religious end, may be illusions as well. As Oedipa enters the city, one of the first structures she observes is the YOYODYNE plant, a company owned by Pierce. Oedipa remembers that Pierce had described himself as one of the companies "founding fathers." This self-assumed title implies, as the critic J. Kerry Grant suggests, that the factory is a metonym for America itself and denotes that America may be one of Pierce's legacies to Oedipa as well. The conflict between seemingly religious signifiers and commercial signifiers is one which appears often within the novel.

The sign of the motel which Oedipa stops at arrests her and she hesitates before entering. The name is heavily symbolic and fits into the mythological scheme presented when Pynchon named Pierce's city San Narciso. The motel is named "Echo Courts." In the myth of Narcissus, the nymph Echo tries to win Narcissus's love by echoing fragments of Narcissus's speech but Narcissus was deaf to outside, entreaties. We see again how Narcissus, as a symbolic figure, symbolizes the closed system, also symbolized by Oedipa's closed tower. In addition, the face of the nymph displayed on the sign for the motel greatly resembles Oedipa's face. This parallel allows the reader to draw a direct comparison between the myth of Narcissus and Echo and the figure of Oedipa. To the critic, Hanjo Berressem, the likeness "implies that...Oedipa is in love with the narcissistic culture of which she herself is so much a part." However, one can also see the tawdry nymph as the distortion and commercialization of the classic ties which Oedipa herself has to classical myth and story.

The relationship between Oedipa and Metzger further draws on this idea. They spend nearly the entire night together watching a television movie which portrays Metzger, the lawyer, as a childhood actor. Oedipa herself thinks it is overly coincidental that a movie starring young Metzger would be playing on T.V. the night she meets him. She reflects, "Either he made up the whole thing...or he bribed the engineer over at the local station to run this, it's all part of a plot, an elaborate, seduction, plot." Furthering her thoughts of plot, a commercial for Pierce's property is advertised during the breaks from the movie. Each commercial is thus a synedoche for Pierce's holding of American commercialism, his hold on modern Americana and everything that Oedipa is searching for and is trapped within. Oedipa's first inklings of something being connected beyond her grasp are enhanced. She, much like the reader, is uncertain whether to connect all of the symbols, keys, and gestures she observes or to allow them to pass as empty, hyperbolic vehicles for a significance she is working too hard to create.

As she and Metzger begin to play the strip guessing game, Oedipa takes her first steps toward protecting herself against the attack or plot she feels may be coming. The game is a metonym for her entire search. She feels the answer is predetermined and that she is the only one who does not know what the outcome will be. She is willing to play but is still very skeptical and unsure of the rules within the game. Thus, Oedipa comically covers herself with much of the clothing she has brought, creating many layers over her body. As the reader will often feel as they navigate the novel, the more layers she will strip off, the more layers will seem to exist underneath. By the time Metzger strips Oedipa of all of her clothes, she is nearly unconscious. She wakes in the middle of a sexual climax but does not remember getting to that point. In Pynchon's satire, sex too is an empty gesture in the game. While Oedipa climaxes, the narrator tells the reader how she listened to each member of the Paranoids plug in, and was able to count six guitars, three more than the Paranoids normally played. Clearly, her concentration is not focused on the sexual act.

Relating back to the Ovid's myth of Narcissus and Echo, Oedipa's reflection of herself is shattered, symbolically, while at the motel. As she layers her body with clothing, the sight of her bundled self makes her laugh to the point that she falls and knocks over a can of hair spray. The can careens out of control and ends up shattering the mirror and part of the shower glass. Later, when Oedipa enters the bathroom, she fears that her reflection has disappeared because she, in her drunken state, has forgotten that the mirror was broken. Oedipa's connection to herself, the Narcissistic link to self as is represented in a reflection, has shattered and lies in fragments upon the motel floor. The shattered mirror is symbolic of the broken hold on life and self which Oedipa held previously. The closed system is indeed entropic and Oedipa must learn that she cannot rely on the reflection of her old knowledge of life to save her from searching deeper and uncovering the fragments which may or may not hold significance. In the postmodern world of Pynchon, you never know in what to believe.