The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6

Returning to Echo Courts, Oedipa learned, through song, that Metzger had run off to marry Serge's fifteen year old chick. Metzger had left her a note explaining the turn over of his executorship to another lawyer from his firm whom she would be hearing from shortly. Oedipa was surprised that there was no mention of their relationship but was too preoccupied to reflect on it. She called Driblette but was greeted by his mother saying that a lawyer would give a statement tomorrow. Oedipa was confused. She called the professor, Emory Bortz, and reached his wife who invited her over. On the drive over, Oedipa a passed rubble where Zapf's bookstore had stood. She learned at the government surplus outlet next door that Zapf had burned his store down for insurance. The owner of the outlet, Winthrop Tremaine, told her of the SS arm bands which were selling quickly at his store.

Back in the car, Oedipa was angered that she had not hit Tremaine. When she arrived, Bortz was surrounded by three graduate students, all drinking heavily. Oedipa first asked about the line containing Tristero in her version of The Courier's Tragedy. Bortz demanded to know how she got into the Vatican library and was astounded to see the paperback version she held. In the Vatican, a pornographic version of the play existed but he proclaimed that Driblette's version in his play was far from pornographic. Oedipa was then told that Driblette had walked into the ocean after he had struck the play's set. It turned out that the occasion for their gathering was his wake. Oedipa realized that her men were being stripped from her. She asked what lines Bortz had heard when he saw Driblette's production. He stated only the preceding couplet, explaining that Driblette had left the following couplet out. Oedipa mentioned that not only was the next couplet used when she saw the play, but Driblette had used the "Tristero" version from her paperback. Though the students and Bortz did not find it extraordinary that Driblette added lines at whim, Oedipa posited that Driblette had been trying to tell the audience something about his life.

Bortz showed her slides of the Vatican version, clarifying that experts believed the version to be a Scurvhamite project, an extreme Puritan gesture to damn the theater by changing the play's words. Tristero would have represented the "brute Other" who controlled the Scurvhamite universe. In response to Oedipa asking what the Tristero was, Bortz showed her a book which Wharfinger had used to learn about the marauders in Italy. The author, Blobb, had crossed a desolate section of Italy in a mail coach belonging to "Torre and Tassis." Black cloaked riders set upon the coach and brutalized all but Blobb and his companion who declared that they were English. Bortz believed that the Tristero wanted to spread its message to England, thus explaining why Blobb was saved and why the highwaymen warned the Brits in English to spread word of their wrath.

Oedipa looked into all that she had researched in order to create a history of the Tristero. According to her history, after a Calvinist take over in Brussels in 1577, the executor of Thurn and Taxis was replaced by Jan Hinckart. Hernando Joaquín de Tristero y Calavera, claiming to be Hinckart's cousin and the rightful heir to Thurn and Taxis, was jealous and fought a small guerrilla war versus Hinckart. When Hinckart's operation fell into debt, Tristero saw an opening to begin his own system. He cloaked his followers in black to symbolize his exile and led them in creating terror against Thurn and Taxis. He later added the muted horn and a dead badger to their symbolism.

The next day, Oedipa attended Driblette's burial. After hearing the eulogy, Oedipa sat on the ground and tried to communicate with Driblette, hoping he could tell her if his death was connected to the Tristero. She dreaded that the Tristero had removed Driblette as it had removed Mucho, Metzger, and Hilarius. She still needed Driblette. However, though she felt some penetration, Driblette did not speak to her. The libraries were of no further help to Oedipa. Bortz looked at every low period for Thurn and Taxis as an important time for Tristero. He felt that the rival to Thurn and Taxis was only first mentioned in the 1700s because Tristero had reached a point where they could not retaliate. Bortz fabricated scenarios of Tristero meetings and disagreements, such as possible union with Thurn and Taxis which was denied. He suggested, without sources, that they may have caused the French Revolution. Oedipa was beyond the point of following anything up. She did return to the Scope, however, and found Fallopian changed toward her as well. After listening to her update, he proposed that she write down her solid facts and consider whether Tristero was an Inverarity hoax. Oedipa had considered the possibility but refused to hear it and left the bar. She continued to avoid validating her sources. Cohen called her in to look an a new American stamp with a muted horn, badger, and WASTE defined as "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire." Cohen claimed to have received it from a friend and showed her an addendum pasted on to the American stamp catalog he had bought which spoke of the stamp. Looking at the back of the book, Oedipa noted that he had bought it at Zapf's. Suspicious, she later looked at Pierce's list of holdings and saw that he owned the strip that Zapf's had been in and the Tank Theatre where Courier's Tragedy was produced. Every clue to the Tristero also traced directly to Pierce's estate. She saw four alternatives which explained her mess: she had stumbled onto this real, alternative network; she had hallucinated the connections; an elaborate plot had been arranged against her; or she had fantasized a plot against her. She had reached a void, where no one could help her. Oedipa suffered greatly, tortured between oversleep and sleeplessness. At one point, she thought she was pregnant and gave Grace Bortz's name to the doctor. Cohen now called her frequently with new information, the greatest being a translation of an article describing a split in the ranks of the Tristero, causing a large number to flee to America in 1849, a very bad time because of the U.S. postal reforms. Bortz figured that they had organized with the Indians during the Civil War, supporting the story of the black feather bandits. Oedipa thought through all of the corrupted stamps she had come upon. Bortz suggested she check out the article's veracity but she did not.

Oedipa's toothaches and dreams grew worse and she realized that she was pregnant, but only with horror. Cohen called and told Oedipa that the stamps were set to be auctioned and would be sold under lot 49. A new and anonymous bidder had arranged to bid by book, thus not in person, which was peculiar and suspicious, Cohen alerted her. He suspected it may have to do with the Tristero. Back at her hotel, Oedipa drank bourbon until dark and then drove the highways with her headlights off, but nothing happened. Desperately, she called The Greek Way bar from a phone booth and gave a description of the man she had spoken to there. When he came to the phone, she pleaded with him to tell her if he had been asked to run into her and tell her his story of the muted horn. He replied it was too late and hung up. Oedipa looked around but could not orient herself. She felt lost, without boundaries, and began wandering along a railroad track. Meditating on her discoveries and Pierce's intentions, Oedipa decided that San Narciso had no boundaries. Pierce's legacy was America. He could have encrypted the Tristero in the will, Oedipa could be the mistress of his legacy, Pierce may have hoped to live past death as paranoia, or Oedipa might accidentally have discovered a conspiracy of subversion. She wondered how far the network of Tristero could stretch. She reflected on excluded middles and saw the world loom in front of her as a tapestry of binary zeros and ones. With nothing to lose, Oedipa called the agent of the mysterious bidder the next day. He would only tell her that his client had decided to appear at the auction in person. On the day of the auction, Oedipa arrived early and ran into Cohen, who apologized for his conflict of interests. He was very interested in bidding on some of the stamps. Cohen informed Oedipa that they, luckily, would have Loren Passerine as a crier. Oedipa wondered what she would do to the man who bid on lot 49. She sat in the back of the auction house alone and watched the proceedings begin.

Chapter 6 Analysis:

On Oedipa's ride to the home of Emory Bortz, she drives past the former Zapf's bookstore which has since been burned to the ground. The neighboring store, a government surplus outlet, is owned by Winthrop Tremaine. Tremaine's first response that Zapf was irresponsible because he could have burned down the entire strip of stores seems rational. However, we soon learn that Tremaine has been selling SS arm bands and plans to soon sell entire SS uniforms. When Oedipa asks if the arm bands are government surplus items, Tremaine gives her an "insider's wink." Why he trusts her with this knowledge is not apparent but the connection to Nazism is an extension of the demons who haunt Dr. Hilarius. And, parallel to the irony surrounding the shrink who is overcome by his own delusions, Tremaine's identity is filled with irony. Winthrop is one of the oldest names in America, originating from America's first puritan settlers. Tremaine can also be connected to an American past because of the book and television series, entitled Johnny Tremaine.

As critic Georgian M. Colville states, "Pynchon seems to want to create a link between Nazism and the fanatic early American Puritan persecution of Quakers, witches, Indians, and other Œheretics' and consequently the very foundation of America, which seems to be an important background element in the novel's tapestry." America as woven into the tapestry which surrounds Oedipa in the vision she discovers while staring at the Varos painting foreshadows her coming realization that the legacy Pierce has left her with includes all of America. This America contains a dirty past, contrasting with the idea that the new world is presently moving toward entropy but had been an independently active system previously. Perhaps, Pynchon is providing the alternate end to the binary in order to create a sense of doubt, or, in order to stress a sort of evolution from prejudicial persecutions to suffocating disrupted communication swallowed by an overly consumer oriented society moving toward intellectual inertia. America, perhaps, symbolizes the entire gray area between the binary of good and evil.

The closer Oedipa comes to realizing the breadth of her discoveries the closer she also comes to the void, a place where she is alone, stripped of companions and allies. Once Oedipa learns that Driblette, her best connection to possible meaning behind the Tristero, has also disappeared, she recognizes that "they are stripping away, one by one, my men." Her shrink, husband, lover, and guide have left her. Is this, then, her escape? She relates her feelings to "a fluttering curtain in a very high window, moving up to then out over the abyss..." The image is an allusion to the Rapunzel tower metaphor from the very first chapter. Oedipa is again trapped within a high structure. Instead of her hair flowing over the side, she is a curtain on the window, fluttering over a void. Now, no one stands below who can reach her, either by crawling up or using a credit card. Her men have been stripped and she flutters hopelessly alone. What lies below is the unknown, the truth that Oedipa will wait at the end of the novel to find.

Perhaps the tragedy that Pynchon is alighting upon is neither the entrapment of Oedipa nor her loneliness but her inability to explore the void below. She is attached to the window in this metaphor, able to be pushed by the wind in and out of the tower but she will always be pulled back. Instead of becoming stronger when she is left to carry on her search relatively alone, Oedipa retreats into a sort of madness and hesitancy. She will no longer follow up the leads she has and will soon attempt suicide. Remember the skirt on the nymph of the Echo Courts sign. The face of that nymph resembled Oedipa's and thus a similarity is drawn between the metaphor of Oedipa as Echo, aimlessly hearing her own cry echo in a void, and that of her fluttering as a curtain above the void. In either case, transmissions of communication and significance rarely reach receptors and the individual becomes further isolated. Still, at the end, Oedipa will sit alone, calmly waiting. Pynchon seems to be evoking an image of strength after all, of America perhaps actively waiting for the future, poised to do something it does not yet know. We cannot be sure.

Oedipa attempts to reach Driblette beyond the grave parallel her attempts to communicate with Nefastis' Demon machine. In both cases, the piston refuses to move. The transfer of communication is refused, a metaphor for Pynchon's theme of the entropic move toward inertia as well as the theme of disrupted human connections because of the motion of modernity to consumerism above humanism. Just as working the Demon would have started a molecular sorting process, Oedipa looks to Driblette to sort through the information she has received on the Tristero. Nefastis had told Oedipa, "Communication is the key...Entropy is a figure of speech, then, a Metaphor...The Demon makes the metaphor not only verbally graceful, but also objectively true." The sorting done by the machine tries to uncover which information works against entropy versus the type of noninformation Oedipa has witnessed on other occasions, such a the newsless letter Fallopian receives. This metaphor, as we have discussed, is thematically the driving metaphor of the novel and thus functions similarly as Oedipa again searches for validation and help. Synecdochal of the reading process, Driblette is called upon to sort through the evidence she has found and tell her which is true/significant/valuable and which is newsless noninformation. Yet again, no response comes because with Pynchon answers are never given. The reader must work through this process of sorting the fluff from the significant just as Oedipa must.

Oedipa's process of sorting has slowed considerably by the time she meets Bortz and learns that Driblette has died. She believes there is a connection between Driblette's mentioning the Trystero the night she saw the play and his death but Bortz and the students scoff at the idea. They support Driblette's own explanation that as director he had a subjective vision of the play which he simply constructed. Oedipa's inability to contact Driblette as his burial would seem to support this but we also know how the other men in Oedipa's life have been "stripped away" and thus doubt is set in place. Oedipa is able to make a certain history of the Tristero up to a point that libraries have information. After that point, she must depend on the recreations of Bortz and the overwhelming information that Cohen suddenly supplies. Fallopian, also turning and changing on Oedipa, proposes that she consider that the Tristero may have been a hoax conceived by Pierce. This possibility has hit her but she does not want to face it. Cohen provides Oedipa with the meaning of the WASTE acronym and a catalog which has a pasted addendum identifying a Tristero stamp. When Oedipa learns that the book was purchased at Zapf's and then that Pierce had owned not only Zapf's and Tremaine's but also the Tank Theatre, she realizes that every connection to the Tristero could be linked to Pierce. The routes of communication it seems, even the alternate underground routes of the disinherited, ironically lead back to the inheritance left by a wealthy California real estate mogul. This symbolizes Pynchon's fear of social and intellectual entropy, cutting off individual transmissions and transforming a society into a commercial state of inertia.

Just as Cohen throws more and more evidence and information Oedipa's way as the novel progresses, the novel continues to overload the reader with references, metaphors, empty symbols, and language. Cohen miraculously finds a transcript of an article giving a history of the Tristero during the French Revolution. Without any machine to sort out the truth, Oedipa feels overwhelmed and lost. When Bortz suggests that Oedipa check the article's legitimacy, she does not. Instead, her pain becomes physically manifested. The abundance of symbols and signals is symbolized in the pregnancy that Oedipa fears. She ultimately links the pregnancy to the horror of the Tristero, but only after first seeing a gynecologist under the name of Grace Bortz. Perhaps, Oedipa hoped the find grace under the pressure of her despair but she realizes that this is not possible. Answers seemed to be spreading further apart from Oedipa rather than coming closer to her. She hopes that she is mad because then she has an answer, a category, an explanation which justifies the events happening to her. Otherwise, the void is real either because Pierce has tricked her, or because the Tristero is a true plot, or both.

These explanations share contrasting characteristics because of Oedipa's increasingly reduced existence contrasted with the boundlessness contained within the legacy of America. As the critic, Tanner describes the conflict, "Oedipa is mentally in the world of Œif' and Œperhaps,' walking through an accredited world of of either/or. It is part of her pain, her dilemma and, perhaps, her emancipation." Oedipa first sees four symmetrical explanations for the Tristero but her options, like her men, are soon stripped and reduced. As Hayles comments, "As if to accentuate the danger, the imagery shows a decreasing range of options in a computerized landscape...The reductive process gradually excludes the middle range until there are four, then only two choices left, Œone or zero,' meaning or non-meaning." We are thus reminded of the theme of the excluded middle as Oedipa simultaneously enters a void with few boundaries. Oedipa herself considers the excluded middle. Pynchon writes, "She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it happened here, with chances once so good for diversity?" Binaries are represented in stark extremism, progressively as the novel nears the end. After Oedipa has hopelessly driven the highways with her headlights off and then called the Greek Way with no success, she is finally stripped of all of the possible exits she has come up with. As Grant comments, "[Oedipa] wonders to the very end whether she might not indeed have discovered Œa real alternative to the exitlessness' of contemporary experience, but she is never sure." She walks along the railroad tracks, symbolizing the many lines of communication which are often confused, manipulated, empty, or disrupted. The similar metaphor was created with the lines surrounding Driblette's eyes like a series of estranged but interconnecting networks.

Oedipa has been walking this line since the beginning but does not realize until this point, when she is unable to see the boundaries of San Narciso, that Pierce's legacy is America. As Oedipa asks the reader and herself, "What was left to inherit?" The grey remains of life which haunted Mucho when he worked as a used cars salesman? The disinherited of society? The disrupted transmissions and the overload of empty signals? As Tanner illuminates, "The Tristero system may be a great hoax; but it might be Œall true.'" The last pages of Pynchon's work are metonymically filled to capacity with language, dragging the reader further into the mire of syntax and possible critical significance. We are asked, what is the word and how does it differ from the Word? We are asked, what is America? At the end of the novel, the Tristero is metaphorically an aborted pregnancy representing the middle between an America as empty as the void of oblivion and as dichotomously divided as a computer program or the circuit card of a transistor radio. Pynchon asks, what exists between these binaries? Who hides in the symbolism and significance of America? Who will inherit America and what will they inherit?

The Tristero changes for Oedipa during her search accordingly, following the reader's search for meaning and Pynchon's thematic elaboration of his concern for intellectual inertia and the disinherited of America in an increasingly consumption oriented society. As Hayles informs us, "Thus the values assigned to the Tristero keep changing...Underlying these uncertainties is the profoundly ambiguous relationship of the text to its own language. Interrogating the conditions of possibility for its utterances, it is never able to resolve whether its language play is a postmodern excursion into consensual constructions or a thrust through the theater curtain to a higher order of reality, in which we may, after all, be mere playthings....The only unthinkable option is not to question, to remain insulated within placid acceptances." As we wait with Oedipa as the novel closes, symbolic of the acronym We Await Silent Tristero's Empire, she, at least, is still questioning and still searching. The answer thus is not nearly as significant to Pynchon as the drive to avoid an entropic process of intellectual inertia. The closed system of entropy, the enclosed tower of Oedipa's vision, have been opened onto the void of America's legacy and the possibility to bring true human contact back to a world which increasingly strives to calculate ones and zeros.