The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4

Everything Oedipa was witness to seemed to lead to the Tristero. She read over the will more closely and decided to bring it life, as it seemed Pierce wanted. She visited a stockholders meeting at Yoyodyne, sat through their songfest, and then tagged along on the tour. Somehow, she became lost. She wandered until meeting Stanley Koteks, a young worker. As first glance, she noticed him drawing the WASTE symbol but he quickly tucked the envelope away. On hearing that Oedipa was a stockholder, Stanley hoped she could enact a change for him concerning Yoyodyne's patenting rules. Engineers at the company had to sign away patent rights for inventions and Stanley felt stifled. He explained how one inventor, John Nefastis, was an inventor who had escaped this fate and created Maxwell's Demon, an object which could sort fast and slow molecules to drive a heat engine by staring at the picture of Clerk Maxwell. Only sensitives had been successful at working the machine. Oedipa wanted to try so Stanley gave her a box number where she could reach Nefastis before realizing he had made a mistake. He had given her a WASTE address and Oedipa asked about it. However, she pronounced the acronym as a word and gave away her ignorance on the subject. He would no longer help her.

Oedipa asked Mike Fallopian about her suspicions. He confirmed that Koteks was probably part of some underground system. Another clue which came to Oedipa was the bronze historical marker on the lake at Fangoso Lagoons. The inscription related the massacre of Wells, Fargo men by masked marauders as told by the sole witness, a post rider, and a cross traced in the dust by one victim. Oedipa immediately wondered if the cross had been a T for Tristero, as in the play. She tried calling Driblette but did not reach him so she went to Zapf's bookstores to find the collection of plays. Zapf mentioned how popular the book had been recently. Oedipa turned to the one mention of Tristero and saw a handwritten note giving a variant edition. Looking at the preface, Oedipa remarked that the original hardcover was a textbook published in Berkeley. She called the L.A. Library to look for it but then decided to check the publishers so she could visit Nefastis as well.

Continuing with her obsession to track Pierce's estate, Oedipa traveled to a senior citizens home that Pierce had constructed. The one man who spoke to her was ninety-one and told her about his grandfather at the same age. His grandfather had ridden for the Pony Express. Oedipa asked if he ever fought off marauders and the old man answered that his grandfather loved killing Indians and Indians who weren't Indians. These pretend Indians wore a black feather and rode at night. To remember their Spanish name, the old man took out a ring his grandfather had cut off the finger of a marauder. The ring contained the WASTE symbol. Oedipa again tracked down Fallopian, telling him of the marker and the old man's ring. He thought it was a correlation but one too difficult to decipher.

The next connection came from a philatelist, Genghis Cohen, to whom Metzger had sent Pierce's stamp collection. Oedipa received a call from Cohen asking her to look at irregularities. Instantly, Oedipa understood that the stamps and Cohen may lead her to information on private mail carriers. Cohen gave Oedipa a glass of wine made from dandelions which he had picked from a cometary now cleared for the East San Narciso Freeway. The connection to the graveyards plowed by Pierce was unmistakable. Oedipa felt lost in a maze of connections. Cohen showed her the watermark on a stamp from a 1940 Pony Express issue which revealed the WASTE sign. Cohen did not recognize it. He then pointed out a Thurn and Taxis legend on a German stamp. In the corners of the stamp stood a horn with a single loop. The WASTE symbol differed because of the extra loop, likely a mute, Cohen suggested. Cohen also mentioned that the reverse side of the Pony Express stamps had the obvious mistake of an engraved black feather and the transposition, "U.S. Potsage." After Oedipa told Cohen what she knew of these markings, he concluded that whatever the postal fraud was, its members were still active. She asked if they should tell the government. He said no and was not open to other questions. It seemed to Oedipa that almost everything in Pierce's world had been overturned for the Tristero, whatever it was.

Chapter 4 Analysis:

In chapter four, the discovery of coincidence picks up speed and the intensity of the search picks up urgency. Oedipa begins to view herself as analogous to Driblette, a type of projector of worlds, using the will as her script. The metaphor of Oedipa as director brings into question her role as protagonist and hero of the novel. By Oedipa wanting to project a world and its constellations, Pynchon implies that Oedipa will be controlling the outcome, the product, of her production. Yet the following pages seem to infer that Oedipa is being controlled or, at least, that the events Oedipa participates in are beyond her control. This point foreshadows the inner conflict Oedipa will work unsuccessfully to solve. In later chapters, Oedipa will be overcome with doubts, questioning her own sanity as well as questioning a world in which the type of system she seems to have uncovered could operate.

The metaphor of Oedipa as director conflicting with the metaphor of the Tristero as the director of Oedipa functions to create a synecdoche for the types of driving metaphors which are enforced throughout the novel. Oedipa wonders from the first time she meets Metzger if she has been set up and if she is on the set of a performance. Her fears are slightly validated when we learn that Metzger was, in fact, an actor but is now a lawyer. Manny Di Presso arises as the lawyer turned actor turned lawyer. Roseman, Oedipa's lawyer in Kinneret, is continually writing a script to combat Perry Mason, a T.V. show character. As critic, N. Katherine Hayles, confirms, "The construction hints that the legal world Oedipa entered when she was named executrix of Pierce's will is not a clear-cut world of fact. Rather it is a twilight zone..." Thus, many of the characters to whom Oedipa has looked to for truth, information, validation, or advice find themselves unable to separate their reality from the surreality of performance and of Hollywood. Oedipa then views a play which strangely echoes many of the same themes which she has discovered in her search, most namely the notion of ritual reluctance, on the implicit level, and the malignant use of bones, on the physical level.

As the blurring between reality and fiction increases, Oedipa begins to see herself in a role, Driblette' role of director. Driblette thus is never heard from again as his role has been usurped and Oedipa has taken on the function of projection for herself. Critic, Hayles adds, "Like the tapestry the imprisoned maidens weave, the world [Driblette] projects has no external referent other than the inexplicable workings of his mind. The connection proves to be fragile as it is mysterious, for Driblette later disappears into the Pacific Ocean..." His strange disappearance irks Oedipa and she will later wonder if maybe they were even in love, although they met for only ten minutes. The intense attachment between the two characters, and the confusion between the literal and metaphorical levels, therefore blurs as well.

After attending the Yoyodyne stockholders' meeting, Oedipa takes the tour of the plant but becomes lost. The incident would be benign but Oedipa quickly panics because of the blank faces looking at her. The inside of the plant, thus, parallels the bland, homogeneous outside which Oedipa viewed when entering San Narciso. The entire city is reflected in the blank worker's faces, making the environment inside Yoyodyne a synecdoche for the entire world Pierce has constructed. Remember that when Oedipa entered the city, it reminded her of the "unexpected, astonishing clarity [of] the [transistor radio] circuit card..." This ordered, yet shocking and seemingly "hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning" stares back at her through the synecdochal faces of the Yoyodyne workers, thus sending her into a panic that would be irrational without the suspicion that had been pulling at Oedipa and growing since that day she drove toward the city.

Stanley Koteks is the one employee Oedipa speaks with at Yoyodyne. He strikes her as different immediately because of the WASTE symbol she sees him drawing and likely because of the bitterness he embodies. His inner conflict is a metaphor for the conflict which will grow inside Oedipa and foreshadows the point when she will think she is pregnant with the horror of Tristero. We realize that the last name of Koteks as well as the last name of Fallopian, relating to female reproduction, are symbolic of this monstrous faux pregnancy which will later haunt Oedipa. She will became pregnant with a knowledge neither desired nor understood.

At this point, however, Koteks feeds Oedipa an urgency to search and learn about WASTE. His slip up concerning the WASTE address allows her to gain information on John Nefastis, a man whom has escaped the ordered sameness of Yoyodyne. In Maxwell's Demon, Nefastis created a machine which works directly with Pynchon's theme of entropy. The main mission of the machine is to sort high speed and low speed molecules without work, thus bypassing the second law of Thermodynamics. As Oedipa questions, is not sorting work? Although Koteks replies that mental work is not work in a Thermodynamics sense, engineers stress that the functional definition of work in that sense remains uncertain. Still, Oedipa wishes to check out the invention for herself and to see if she is a "sensitive" who has the power to move the piston and begin the Demon's mental work.

If she succeeds, the sorting would actually preserve a world, which unlike all other closed systems, would not move toward entropy because of an ability 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, " 'Sorting,' 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." Oedipa informs Koteks that he should not look at sorting as only mental work, and gives the sorting done by postal workers as an example. She is able to perceive that sorting between the poles of a dichotomy is not a cut and dry process, touching on the theme of excluded middles.

Oedipa's continuing need to encounter more of Pierce's property leads her to the nursing home where she meets Mr. Thoth. The name Thoth is an allusion to the idea of hieroglyphics and encoded ancient processes. As critic, Robert D. Newman, emphasizes, "Mr. Thoth, named for the Egyptian god of scribes, resides in a nursing home and, like the state of the written word, decays." Further stretching Pynchon's elusive, though thematic, postmodern metametaphor for the significance of language, Thoth starts immediately into a mode of storytelling which is little preserved in the modern world but slips occasionally into a Porky Pig cartoon and is unable to distinguish between the reality of each. The reader must wonder at the veracity of Oedipa's sources as the ninety-one year old man speaks of the stories his ninety-one year old grandfather had shared with him. Yet the non-Indian marauders clothed in black mentioned in the story directly parallel the henchmen in Driblette's production and the dark riders who disrupted the Wells, Fargo men of the Fangoso Lagoons marker. As critic, Bernard Duyfhuizen, concludes, "The repetition of identical plot elements in stories placed in widely divergent contexts sets up an uncanny sense on coincidence, yet in COL 49 the fine line between randomness and pattern is always under question." History is at once confused with metaphor and fiction and language.

The last character Oedipa encounters in the chapter is the philatelist, Genghis Cohen. Pynchon has admitted publicly that Cohen's name was simply a pun for the Mongol warrior, Genghis Khan. It appears that he did not mean for the reader to look into why this specific character was named after the warrior, perhaps only for the irony of a character who seems rather meek garnering such an allusion. However, Cohen does bring Oedipa to a new frontier of her search by supplying her with solid evidence. First, he offers her dandelion wine which symbolically parallels the bones which were dug up by Pierce as he cleared graveyards for a freeway. Some critics suggest that the living qualities of the wine, fermenting in spring and clearing in fall, symbolizes the remnants of himself that Pierce has left behind, foreshadowing Oedipa's later sense that Pierce may have wanted to beat death through the will and the Tristero.

Furthermore, many of Pierce's stamps, from Pony Express editions to German stamps, show signs of being Tristero forgeries. The post horn emblem is displayed on the stamps as well as the black feather which Thoth had referred to and another misspelling, "potsage." As the misspelling "Potsmaster" was symbolic of the corruption and decay of the normal transfer of communication, so to is the corruption of Pierce's stamps. However, Oedipa is also able to view the correct Thurn and Taxis symbol on a stamp. It is similar to the WASTE sign but missing a loop. Cohen's realization that the extra loop is a mute allows the reader to make the symbolic connection between the WASTE symbol and the breakdown of communication Pynchon signifies. Oedipa tells Cohen all of her evidence and we begin to get a sense of the totality of the closed system in which she is working and attempting to decipher. The more patterned the clues seem to become, the more frazzled Oedipa becomes. Perhaps the Demon is dividing the molecules of Pynchon's writing into a telling binary as well.