The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3

Oedipa suggests that she will uncover a system entitled The Trystero beginning after her night of infidelity with Metzger. What bothered her most was how logically that night fit into her own escape from the tower. Many of the clues would come through Pierce's stamp collection, but strange things had already started to happen. On the envelope of a letter Mucho sent Oedipa, a typo caught her eye. She had not told him about her affair because she figured he would know, just as she had known about his many flings with high school girls. So, she had looked more closely at the envelope than the letter and found that it spelled Postmaster as Potsmaster. Metzger dismissed it but Oedipa could not.

That night, they went to a bar near Yoyodyne called The Scope where the electronics assembly people hung out. At the bar, they met a man named Mike Fallopian, who spoke to them about the Peter Pinguid Society. Pinguid had been a commanding officer for the Confederacy, who, in 1863, had led a ship to attack San Francisco where he was met with a Russian fleet. They faced off but nothing happened until March 9, 1864 when each ship disappeared from the sight of the other. Pinguid, against industrialization, remained disloyal to Lincoln and the Czar and so resigned his commission. Fallopian's story was interrupted by a call for the underground mail that used Yoyodyne's inter-office delivery. As he ran to get his mail, Oedipa visited the bathroom and saw a strange horn symbol on the wall with a message asking for response through WASTE. She was confused. When she returned, Fallopian mentioned that he was writing a book on the link between the postal reform movement and the Civil War.

One day, as Oedipa and Metzger waited to gain representatives for Pierce's far flung estate, they took a picnic to Pierce's project, Fangoso Lagoons. The Paranoids accompanied them. Large houses filled the neighborhood and in the center sat Lake Inverarity, with a small island housing the social hall. Oedipa instantly loved the building's art nouveau look. The Paranoids suggested they steal a boat from the marina and take a cruise. Metzger closed his eyes in case a lawyer was needed later. Before they could leave with the boat, a man popped up and asked Baby Igor for help. The man was Manny Di Presso, dressed in a skin-diving suit and hiding under a blue tarp. He was a lawyer turned actor who played Metzger in a TV pilot but had returned to being a lawyer since no one had bought the pilot. He was running from one of his clients, Tony Jaguar, who was involved with a crime family, Cosa Nostra.

They boated out to the social house and sat on the roof. Di Presso explained that he was bringing suit against the Inverarity estate about the bones that lay at the bottom of the lake for which Pierce may never have paid. Jaguar was now trying to borrow money from Di Presso because the lawyer refused to get an advance against the settlement. The bones came from Italy after a World War II battle where dead Americans were dumped into a lake. The Paranoids claimed that the story sounded curiously like a scene in the play, The Courier's Tragedy by Richard Wharfinger. Di Presso noticed that he was being pursued and ran off, taking their boat. The group was marooned until the Fangoso Security Force noticed their lit cigarettes.

The next day, Oedipa talked Metzger into seeing The Courier's Tragedy, which was being performed in San Narciso. The Jacobean revenge play sucked Oedipa in and set up an elaborate plot over five acts. Before the play began, the good Duke had kissed the poisoned feet of Saint Narcissus and died. His murderer, Duke Angelo, was in cahoots with the illegitimate son of the good Duke, Pasquale, who acted as regent for the birth son, Niccolò, after the good Duke's death. They plot to kill Niccolò but the boy is saved by the dissident henchman, Ercole. Niccolò grows up and hides on Angelo's court as a special courier for the Thurn and Taxis family, hoping to avenge his father. Angelo, however, refuses to use any but his own couriers. When Niccolò's friend tries to turn Niccolò in, he is stopped by Ercole, however not before leaving a blood message revealing Niccolò's identity.

There is a coup in Pasquale's dukedom and Angelo panics, deciding to use the alternate courier since he no longer trusts his own men. Niccolò is sent to bring a message to Gennaro, the leader of the rebellion. During Niccolò's passage, Angelo finds the message revealing his identity and sends henchman to kill Niccolò. When Gennaro's men find Niccolò, he is dead but the letter he was carrying has transformed into an explanation of the past secrets and events. One secret is that the ink used for the letter is from the bones of the good Duke's lost guards who were murdered by Angelo and thrown into the lake. Apparently, Niccolò had set his tryst with Tristero, a word which silenced the stage and affected Oedipa. Surrounding this plot, the play was filled with frequent and multiple forms of violence as well as sexually explicit scenes, exploring orgies and incest.

After the play ended, Metzger was ready to leave but Oedipa wanted to ask Driblette, the director, some questions. Metzger mocked her sense of investigative duty. He ranted loudly that he was too old for this feminist, liberated sense of justice. Oedipa, embarrassed, tried to explain but Metzger decided to wait in the car. Oedipa found her way back to the man dressed as Gennaro because Driblette had played the hero. Driblette began by telling her that the play was simply for entertainment. She still wondered why he had made the choices he did, especially the decision to have the cast share knowing looks when Tristero was mentioned. Oedipa wanted to see the original manuscript but Driblette had lost his copy. He got in the shower but she continued to ask about Tristero. Driblette claimed that it was simply his job to make choices. As Oedipa left for the parking lot, she realized she had forgotten to ask about the bones. She wondered if her mistake was accidental. On the drive back, the DJ broadcast on the radio was Oedipa's own Mucho Maas.

Chapter 3 Analysis:

Chapter Three is a chapter of curious new characters, curious coincidences, and curious subplots within the main plot. As Oedipa tells the reader at the start of the chapter, "Things then did not delay in turning curious." She too is becoming aware of the events which are occurring around her and is willing to see some kind of connection or, at least, curiosity between them. This journey of Oedipa's to determine and signify connection will constantly contrast with her perpetual feeling of inner entrapment. If there is no escape, as her revelation in front of Varo's painting made evident, from the tower that is the tapestry that is the world, then is Oedipa wrong to search for new links and connections within the world? Would not they simply be part of her own world? The protagonist's desire to search for new information, on the one hand, while revealing, on the other, that she is trapped within a closed system establishes a paradigm for reading the novel which is very close to the reader's own approach to the material. The notion, indeed, forces the work's own textuality and book form into question, asking the reader to consider every man's search for meaning in a world Pynchon may have identified as becoming more and more homogeneous and closed. 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? These questions are all raised and left unanswered by Pynchon.

Tristero is the key word, standing as a synecdoche for the mystery and hints of revelation that lie within Oedipa's hunt. Although we have no idea what to make of the term, it is introduced in the first paragraph of the chapter nevertheless. Pynchon's manner of relating known future events back to the reader in a way that defies proper relations of time is comparable to the writing of Henry James. As David Seed has suggested, " Pynchon constantly draws back from attributing too definite an awareness to Oedipa. The Jamesian periphrastic tenses ('was to label,' 'would come to haunt.' etc.) suggest a knowledge of subsequent event." By taking a past, knowing stance while introducing the Tristero, Pynchon endows the term with suspicion and foreshadowing. The sense of revelation that Oedipa will undergo leads the reader to also endow the term with significance as we are told that Oedipa has several objects behind her discovery of the Tristero system. We feel that our search is to uncover the truth that Oedipa has sought and to find if the objects that lie behind her search will free Oedipa from her tower. We also must wonder if the suspicion and significance suggested may be empty in the end.

The reader gets an inkling of the suspicious nature with which Oedipa is beginning to regard her surroundings when Oedipa notices the misspelling on the envelope of Mucho's letter. This letter also gives the reader the opportunity to learn more of Oedipa's married life. It seems neither care too much if affairs are had, a situation which is a metaphor for the breakdown of traditional unity and communication in the novel. Accordingly, Oedipa does not pay much attention to the letter, the vehicle for communication, but instead inspects the envelope, the shield of communication. The "Potsmaster" misspelling foreshadows the alternate, covert paths of mail carriage that will be revealed in the next scene at the Scope bar.

The envelope incident continues directly into to the bar scene, leading the reader to connect the two events. Life at Echo Courts, we are told, would become overly quiet at times, causing Oedipa to try to escape the existence she was inhabiting. Her desire to escape is reminiscent of her tower. Pynchon's mention of "the stillness of the pool" relates directly to the allusion of the myth of Narcissus and the idea of the closed system. As Oedipa's humdrum life is reflected objectively back to her, she feels herself being drawn in. Though she leaves the hotel, the reader must wonder if her search takes her further from herself or further inside of herself. Pynchon's theme of entropy would suggest that each is a parallel path, as every system in modern society moves toward a patterned, homogeneity.

Subsequently, at the Scope, Oedipa and Metzger encounter what seems like a different world but they are very shortly drawn in. The sign on the wall above the words WASTE along with the delivery of the PPS mail are Oedipa's first real clues that alternate forms of communication are operating underneath the official surface. Yet as with many of Pynchon's symbols, the image of covert communication is coupled with its binary opposite. As Frank Palmeri deciphers, "The muted post horn, emblem of dispossession, renounces authorized channels of communication. Tristero communicates only through alteration of licensed signals, through parody or strategic silences." Moreover, Fallopian tells us that the mail passed through PPS is often trivial and forced, symbolizing the futility of alternate systems. 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. Still, at this point in the novel, the link between Tristero and the WASTE symbol or the PPS system has not been substantiated.

Oedipa's conjecture and growing suspicion is solidified, though, by the character of Mike Fallopian. As for Fallopian's name, critics view this reference to a woman's sexual organs, along with character Stanley Koteks's name, as representative of Pynchon's theme of transsexuality. One must also accredit the possibility that Pynchon was again providing empty signifiers. Fallopian is more important to the reader because of his information on PPS as well as the book he is writing on the postal reform movement than he is for any metaphor for transsexuality. The view of history Fallopian gives, through the Peter Pinguid society, is closed and mixes reality with fiction. It is a metonym for how to look at the entire story. The coincidences mount when Manny Di Presso is introduced and the story of the bones is revealed. The consumerism involved with the selling of human bones to a factory for the production of charcoal touches on the theme of entropy. The exchange of life and energy undertaken in the process symbolizes the closed system of humanity. Di Presso himself is a metaphor for the materialism inherent in such an action as he is a lawyer turned actor turned lawyer. As Metzger is the inverse, the reader gets the feeling that one is the same. That the bones of American soldiers are not only part of American consumerism but also part of a play being performed in San Narciso is of no surprise.

Of course the play mentioned, aptly by the Paranoids, refers back to the mystery of alternate mail systems. "The Courier's Tragedy" takes up a substantial amount of chapter three. There is no need to analyze the entire play but we can look at how the plot of the play parallels the plot of the novel. As critics have noted, much as "Mousetrap", the play within Hamlet, provided a synchronous plot and furthered the pace of Shakespeare's work, "The Courier's Tragedy" acts to quicken Oedipa's suspicion and paranoia concerning the Tristero. As Grant relates, "...there can be no doubt that many readers have found the world of the Crying of Lot 49 every bit as labyrinthine as Wharfinger's 'landscape of evil.'" As in the novel, an allusion to Narcissus is made in the play, as the good Duke is poisoned when he kisses the feet of Saint Narcissus. Self-love is paralyzing. Also, the predominance of incest within the play parallels Mucho's mention of the "convoluted incest" of the used car lot. Incest is, by definition, a product of a closed system of connection, or intercourse.

The bones do arise in act IV as we learn that they are the remains of the lost soldiers and have been used to make a evil, magical ink. Symbolically, the play tells us that waste (WASTE), the remains of life, has been made significant through the power of words and communication. Moreover, a direct parallel to the novel lies in Pynchon's words, or Oedipa's thoughts, as she describes a turn in the play. She notes, "It is about this point in the play...that things really get peculiar, and a gentle chill, an ambiguity, begins to creep in among the words. Heretofore the naming of names has gone on either literally or as a metaphor. But now...[c]ertain things, it is made clear, will not be spoke aloud..." The ambiguity of the plot and thematic structure of the novel is highlighted, along with the power and chill behind the employment of language. The mode presented is intertextual and explicitly defines the ultra implicit manner of the text of the novel.

Driblette, the director, is asked by Oedipa to explain why he has chosen the Tristero to be the ultimate vehicle for mystery and suspense in the play. Paralleling the treatment the term is given in the play, Tristero takes on an exceptional, though unknown, meaning to Oedipa. Ironically, though Driblette tries to persuade Oedipa that he must make choices as a director and the treatment of Tristero was one of these choices, she cannot get over the word. He explains that the play was not Shakespeare and was meant only for entertainment. Some have suggested that Driblette stands as Pynchon's voice within the novel, ultimately notifying the reader that they should not read too deeply.

However, Pynchon's treatment of Driblette's character leads most to disagree. Driblette is another metaphor for the idea of human waste in a society of consumption and dispossession. His very name recalls a sense of blahness; he plays the character of Gennaro in the play, who is tagged the "colorless administrator." Likewise, his costume is the color gray, linking the gray ash mourned by Mucho and foreshadowing the theme of "excluded middles" later mentioned by Oedipa. Driblette does little to satisfy Oedipa's suspicions because he "had managed to create around [the Tristero] the same aura of ritual reluctance here, offstage, as he had on." Oedipa decides that she not had asked about the Tristero instead of the bones by accident, but was meant to. Thus, even Oedipa's air has taken on the ritual reluctance with which Pynchon slowly suffocates the reader.