The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5

Instead of contacting Driblette, Oedipa drove to Berkeley. Metzger was dispassionate about her leaving. When she arrived late at night, she pulled into a German looking hotel with a sign welcoming an American Deaf-Mute Assembly. She was shown her room and she fell into an anxious asleep. Oedipa found the Lecturn Press office in the morning but it did not carry Wharfinger's play. The employees sent her to a warehouse in Oakland where she finally picked up the collection. Looking for the line containing "Trystero," Oedipa was dumbfounded to arrive at a different word even though her paperback edition was supposed a direct reprint of the older copy she held. The footnote stated that other editions had different variants of the line, one being a pun for the Trystero. But, there was no mention of whatever version the her paperback must be.

The preface was written by a Professor Emory Bortz from UC Berkeley. Oedipa drove to the campus only to realize that many years had passed since his preface of 1957; she was told that he was now a professor at San Narciso College. Leaving the campus, she mused over the differences in atmosphere from her temperate days at college. Next, Oedipa drove to John Nefastis' home and introduced herself as an acquaintance of Koteks'. She mentioned that she wanted to see if she was a sensitive. He showed her the Demon. Nefastis explained the two theories of entropy, heat-engines and communication, which were united within the invention. When Oedipa did not understand, he stressed that entropy was a metaphor to connect thermodynamics to information flow. Then, Nefastis allowed Oedipa to try to work the machine while he watched cartoons. She stared at the Demon through many cartoons but could not make the piston move, though at one point, she thought it might be starting. Frustrated, Oedipa finally gave up and Nefastis comforted her, telling her they could have sex on the couch. Oedipa quickly ran away. Driving without purpose, Oedipa realized that she was heading toward San Francisco in rush hour. Strangely, the hectic rush calmed her. She told herself that she would go with the flow in San Francisco, looking for nothing, and hopefully escape from the maze in which she was entangled.

However, within an hour, Oedipa saw a muted post horn. Walking along the streets, Arnold Snarb, a tourist, had pinned his ID badge on Oedipa. She was suddenly among a group of tourists who moved into a gay bar, The Greek Way. Oedipa was pushed in and given a drink. The man she stood next to had on a different badge, one with the muted post horn symbol. Oedipa tried mentioning that she was from Thurn and Taxis but the man did not understand. She directly asked about his pin but he told her nothing until Oedipa admitted that she needed help. She told him everything she knew. He had heard only of Kirby, the code name from the Scope's bathroom wall. He told Oedipa that his pin meant he was a member of Inamorati Anonymous, an organization for isolated individuals against love. The symbol originated with a fired member of Yoyodyne who had wanted to kill himself but could not decide to do it for weeks. He received a stack of letters from others who wanted to commit suicide but never did in response to an ad he placed. All contained the muted horn on the stamp. The man realized this in an attempt to douse himself with gas and burn to death. At that time, he recognized that love was his weakness and that he would start an organization for others who wished to isolate themselves from it. The horn became the sign.

After the helpful man left, Oedipa felt drunk and alone. The rest of the night, she wandered the streets of San Francisco, locating the Tristero symbol everywhere. She saw it in chalk on the street, like part of a children's game, and on a Chinese herbalist's window. She felt that she was meant to see and remember every sign. She was safe. In Golden Gate Park, she saw a circle of children who knew of the chalk game. Oedipa wandered into a Mexican diner and found Jesús Arrabal, an anarchist she and Pierce had met in Mazatlán. Jesús had been amazed by Pierce's total oligarchism. Lying near him was an old anarchist paper with an handstruck image of the post horn. Jesús could tell her nothing about it. On a bus, Oedipa noticed a scratched image of the post horn on the back of a seat with "DEATH" penciled near it, standing for "Don't ever antagonize the horn." She found the symbol in a laundromat and she heard a mother at the airport asking her son to write by WASTE. Each sign beat her up more than the last. She would later wonder how many times she had dreamt the horn. It seemed that every underground used WASTE to subvert the government.

Near morning, Oedipa spied a shaking old man, with the horn tattooed on his hand, in a stairwell. He told her that he had left his wife years ago in Fresno and wanted Oedipa to drop a letter for her in a WASTE box. She inquired where it was and he replied that the box was under the freeway. He crumpled against her, causing Oedipa to feel helpless. A man from the rooming house came out to claim the old man. Before leaving, Oedipa promised to mail the letter. Musing on the old man's DT's from alcohol withdrawal and the dt's of calculus, she traversed the underside of the freeway for an hour before she saw a can that matched. Oedipa dropped the letter in and then followed the carrier who later picked up the WASTE mail. Ironically, she followed him around the city and back to the home of John Nefastis.

Finally, returning to the hotel, she entered a lobby full of deaf-mute delegates. She was pulled into a silent ballroom where, amazingly, no one collided for the half hour that Oedipa danced. She then fled to her room and slept. In the morning, Oedipa drove to Kinneret, deciding to stop first at the office of Dr. Hilarius. She hoped he would tell her that WASTE was a delusion. As she walked toward his office, a bullet flew by her head. She ran into the building and was told by the nurse, Helga Blamm, that Hilarius had gone crazy and thought that terrorists were after him. Oedipa noticed that an escape was possible through a window but Helga explained that Hilarius may need someone. Since she had been away, Oedipa offered to try to talk to him. The Doctor spoke of his efforts to remain loyal to Freud and the especially evil face he could make. As sirens neared, he pulled Oedipa into the room. The truth of Hilarius' past was revealed, including the experiments he had practiced on Jews for the Nazis in Buchenwald. He was now overcome with paranoia that he would have face his crimes. The cops hoped Oedipa could hold Hilarius long enough for TV coverage. Finally, she got a hold of the gun and the cops came in.

Oedipa left the office and discovered Mucho, in the driveway covering the story. He interviewed her for KCUF and, then, they drove to the station so Mucho could edit the tapes. Funch told Oedipa that he was glad she was back so she could hopefully help Mucho stop losing his identity. Oedipa did not understand until she and Mucho went for pizza. At the pizzeria, Mucho commented that he had known about Metzger but also knew that their affair was over. In the middle of their conversation, Mucho stopped to listen to the many levels of Muzak he could decipher. He talked about the seventeen violins used and how every voice, when saying the same words, was the same. Each individual, he claimed delightfully, was really a chorus of everyone. Oedipa was alarmed. When he took out a bottle of LSD pills from Hilarius' study, she understood. The study had been expanded it for husbands. Mucho loved that his nightmares about the car lot had stopped and that his senses were so attuned to the world. Oedipa knew she had lost her Mucho. He offered her the pills but Oedipa refused them. She was going back to San Narciso even though the cops had told her to remain in Kinneret for the investigation.

Chapter 5 Analysis:

The confusion surrounding the line of Trystero in Wharfinger's play comes to a head when Oedipa tracks down an original copy of the book and finds only reference to a variant that had a pun of Trystero. No versions are mentioned as having the actual word, such as the versions Oedipa and Driblette had contained. The suspicions surrounding the Tristero thus become problems of text, language, and punning. These changes foreshadow the information Oedipa learns when Professor Bortz tells her that Driblette did not speak the line about Tristero on the night he attended. The language of performance and of Tristero then is used not just as the words on a page but as windows into a meaning beyond the page. Oedipa's inability to track down Bortz at UC Berkeley is thus symbolic of the variants in language and Pynchon's belief that no singular central meaning can be pinned on the words of language. He is not available at the location where he wrote about The Courier's Tragedy because, like the language employed within the play, his existence is not stable but fluctuates with the flow of time and information.

Oedipa's meeting with Nefastis highlights one of Pynchon's largest themes. Nefastis has created a machine which attempts to replicate and bring to life Maxwell's Demon. When Oedipa does not understand the complexities of the theory, he breaks the idea down by saying that entropy is a metaphor: "It connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow. The machine uses both." Critics such as Frank Kermode believe that the Demon is actually even larger than that. Perhaps the machine is a metaphor for the entire novel and the process of reading a novel. Oedipa is searching and sorting, physically and mentally, hoping to classify the clues which manifest in her life but she cannot make the piston move, a metaphor for the inability to find a central truth. However, as Kermode details, "But if you make the eyes of this novel move, or if you believe in the original plot on which it depends, you risk a kind of madness, which is the ultimate human cost of holding everything together in a single design." This is the madness we risk as readers whenever we apply a critical approach in which we are designating meaning or dissecting significance.

This idea or skepticism of search dominates the novel and Oedipa's quest. In the information age in which Oedipa and the reader live, information is dispensed in such a rapid overwhelming manner that one must sort through the waste to see if a truth lies within. Thematically, Pynchon employs WASTE, symbolic of the waste of a consumption society, and the theory of entropy as the metaphors to illustrate the job of sorting through information and having to decide what is worth valuing. As critic, Tony Tanner, confirms, "But it is true that in one form or another Œcommunication' is the key, and Oedipa - demonically or not - will have to go on "sorting" out the clues (molecules), trying to discover which information really works against entropy as opposed to the kind of noninformation ("newsless" letters) that effectively accelerates it." Oedipa feels constantly on the edge of revelation, but never within a state of revelation. She is, instead, in the process of deciphering to which levels of understanding her knowledge and vocabulary apply in the modern world. The Demon is Nefastis' attempt, and Pynchon's parody, to bridge the gap which exists between the dichotomous ends of the metaphor, between the literal and metaphorical, which, tellingly and ironically, ends only in Nefastis' hope that Oedipa will have sex with him in front of the TV. The cartoons he is watching were foreshadowed by the confusion Mr. Thoth had separating his reality from Porky Pig. One must wonder at veracity of Nefastis's truth as well. The TV, as foreshadowed by the dead green eye expressed in chapter one, is another symbol of empty communication.

Not surprisingly, Oedipa feels calmer in the freeway madness she drives into leaving Nefastis' home than she had in the silent, stagnant city of San Narciso. As Grant describes, "The regularity of the calm pool surface and of the streets of San Narciso reflects an ordering process that has gone too far...The freeway...does evince a degree of chaotic vitality, [and] provides a more stimulating and therefore thought-provoking environment." The stagnating quality of ultimate chaos within a closed system, as is implied by the thermodynamic form of entropy, is also echoed in Koteks' cry for help as well as in the multitude of voice Mucho hears at the end of the chapter, showing how information theory entropy comes into play. Still, Oedipa briefly escapes the blandness, as she had hoped to do with Pierce in Mexico City, by entering an environment filled with human involvement and vitality. The night is spent drifting through the streets of San Francisco where, ironically, she is inundated with the sights and sounds of a Tristero she had rarely heard of a week earlier.

The most touching episode of the night comes when she meets an elderly man shaking in a stairwell outside a rooming house. This is one of the only times we hear of Oedipa making physical contact with another human, besides the footsie with Roseman and the experience with Metzger --both times when she was, physically and symbolically, very insulated from her own reality. With this man, she feels her breast get wet and notices that the old man is crying against her. Feeling motherly, she has reached out to him. The crying is an allusion to the tears Oedipa cried behind her green bubble glasses while staring at the Varos painting in Mexico City. There, she had realized she could not escape the tower of tedium she had created. A similar scene is recreated as we enter an enclosed, dark stairwell leading to an upstairs room which Oedipa immediately dreads. This time, however, she is climbing the stairs to a man who has reached out to her with his Tristero tattoo, in contrast to the Rapunzel metaphor Oedipa spins around Pierce. As he cries, the same helpless feeling hits Oedipa as the time she had cried and, in a parallel moment, she tells the man that she cannot help. Oedipa has made intimate contact and gained significant knowledge on the Tristero in the form of an actual mailbox. However, she is struck by the feeling that this knowledge does not allow her to break through the walls of communication and to save this man from the waste of society into which he has fallen, symbolized by the mattress he fits himself into as she leaves the rooming house. She knows that he will die regardless of her actions.

Similarly, Oedipa follows the mail carrier for WASTE in a huge circle which brings her back to the home of Nefastis, symbolic of the labyrinthian but ultimately circular and ineffectual search for meaningful communication she has begun. WASTE brings her no further than her own means had taken her. She drives back to her hotel only to be swept into a ballroom full of deaf-mute couples. Ironically, a night filled by signs, symbols, and promises of communication ends in disrupted transmissions, a silent dance where the couples move simultaneously without collision. Oedipa is amazed at their feat but in many ways their dancing simply echoes the stagnation of San Narciso and the many unfulfilled, empty patterns she has uncovered. She runs from the ballroom paralleling her run from the home of the Demon machine.

Oedipa's return to Kinneret reveals a much different town than she had left. The two predominant men in her life have been changed completely, both because of newly felt delusions which have conquered their psyche. Ironically, and satirically, Mucho has seemingly benefited from the hallucinogenic drugs given dispensed by Hilarius, who himself has been overcome by delusions while still being sane enough to admit to Oedipa that she was smart to not take the LSD he provided in the experiment. Hilarius had "sounded like Pierce doing a Gestapo officer" when Oedipa received a three A.M. call from him in chapter one. In addition, the experiment had strangely been named the German title, Die Brücke. The irony of Pynchon's simile is realized later when Hilarius' past is revealed and we are told that he, in fact, worked for the Gestapo and experimented on Jews in concentration camps. The likely hyperbole of the first comparison is more humorous when Hilarius snaps with paranoia. Another irony, Oedipa had been coming to him that day because she hoped she was simply paranoid concerning the Tristero! Who then is there to ask?

Then Oedipa learns that her husband has had a virtual lobotomy thanks to the LSD dispensed by now paranoid Hilarius. He too suffers from delusions but of a pleasant kind in which he can hear the harmonies of every note of music and tone of voice. The muzak that followed Oedipa as background noise early in the novel, symbolic of her life's tedium, has taken over the life of Mucho, saved him from the nightmares of his past, and stripped him of his identity. A metaphor for the homogeneity that is hinted at the first sign of San Narciso when Oedipa compares it to a circuit card, Mucho loses the individuality which had allowed him to be attune to the gray middles and sadness of a society moving toward entropy and waste. Stripped of her shrink and husband, Oedipa moves toward the void of the excluded middles which will open in the final chapter.