The Analysis Of The Novel “The Crying Of Lot 49” By Thomas Pynchon Essay Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Literature, Novel, Art, Postmodernism, Voltaire, Enlightenment, Society, Character

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2021/02/13


Thomas Pynchon (born in 1937) is considered as one of the most interesting, important, and cited representatives of the postmodern American literature. “The Crying of Lot 49” (1966) is his renowned novel, a brilliant satire on the society of the 60s that claims to show the full depth of its spiritual and moral decay. The author easily throws his protagonist, tangling her stronger and stronger in a web of obscure and mysterious events, creating a large-scale canvas of the modern living apocalyptic expectations.
The novel “The Crying of Lot 49” is the most two-faced novel of the 20th century. It embodies the postmodernism, but also it is a parody of postmodernism, which ridicules and ‘distorts’ literary features of the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Modernism on its pages, changing its heroes and mocking of noir. Thus, the novel can be regarded as the birth of the genre of "black humor".


In the novel “The Crying of Lot 49”, the author recreates the mid-century America, i.e. a country of lonely people. This is done in the background clutter of Gothic mystery, horror parody of the situations and adventures. Pynchon emphasizes that love is rejected as the most famous way of human communication in this country (Kohn, 203). The assertion is ironic because a psychoanalyst is as common as a dentist; and that is the most developed country in the world. Moreover, the rescue team from the existence of suicide is quite advisable. Paranoia is the only means of communication. The characters, who like the protagonists from the Enlightenment’s “Candide’ (1758), are trying to get out from the ‘prosperous’ middle class and are ‘marked” as mentally ill by the author. It turns out that only the mentally ill retain the ability to communicate.
Pynchon carried out not only the genre experiments in his novels but also was constantly balancing between fiction and high literature. For example, “The Crying of Lot 49” describes the artistic techniques in detail. However, when the majority of the representatives use the "erased strokes" of the mass literature parody mode, for Pynchon, the mass literature becomes a breeding ground from which he draws not only a detective story but also the formula of other genres (adventure story, historical and gothic formula). He creates a systematic “labyrinth” of various genres: if one turns to the right, he sees a romantic character, or, for instance, the absurdity that resembles “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. “Thus the metaphor of the labyrinth, used rather simply as a physical description in "Low-Lands," becomes fully sophisticated only in The Crying of Lot 4”" (Hawthorne, 84). At this intersection of analytical language of literature and cultural studies, it is possible to demonstrate how the idea of ​​ established literary forms begins to transform into Pynchon’s novels, modifying each other. Pynchon shows one of the central problems of postmodernism, i.e. the search for the identification of the subject in his style of writing, including subject-narrator. The mere naming of Oedipus for female character makes it clear to the reader that the novel does not contain a detailed and traditional storytelling, which is one of the main features of postmodernism. Such a violation of literary canons is common to all of Pynchon’s novels; according to most researchers, the author’s technique becomes a way of ‘educating the reader’ (Andersen, 129). After all, it is very difficult to understand the structure of the modern reality; and in order to better comprehend the events and phenomena it is necessary to become familiar with the variety of existing semantic forms. The reading of Pynchon’s novels requires from the reader a hard analytical work that pushes on a variety of ideas and thoughts. The writer creates a space of coexistence of two types of historical discourse while playing with the notion of ‘reality’. However, instead of creating a paranoid statement about reality and facts, he switches the historical narrative mode of irony and grotesque, bringing the story of blocking the enclosed space in the open field game of fudge and facts.
The fact that the detective story of popular literature is trying to reconstruct and present as a true ‘history’, prove the ‘reality’ of the historical conspiracy had been embodied by Pynchon almost half a century ago (Drake, 231). It was represented as an element of the game in the fictional space. One can say that the elements of the postmodernism in Pynchon’s novels are unique because they do not try to overcome the uncertainty but to teach his character (and the reader along with him) to live in an uncertainty, reality that is open to challenges and interpretations. Neither conspiracy, nor Gothic formula (Andersen, 117), nor adventurism become dominant in the novel, but their interaction and encoding can create a true postmodern detective genre.


The postmodern mindset of the novel “The Crying of Lot 49” bears a stamp of disappointment in the ideals and values ​​of the Enlightenment with its belief in progress, the triumph of reason, the immensity of human capabilities. The general idea of ​​the novel can be regarded as its identification with the name of the era of ‘tired’, ‘entropy’ culture that is marked by the eschatological sentiment, aesthetic mutations diffusion of great styles, and eclectic mix of artistic languages. Entropy is a major contrast to a ‘seeking and finding person’, as they are, for example, in the story “Candide” by Voltaire. His character takes on new meaning - to become a knight for his beautiful lady. In addition, all the dead miraculously become alive, as if in order to justify the second part of the story titled “The Optimist”. In Pynchon’s novel, such philosophical and positive hope becomes distorted in a variety of images of entropy. The main feature here is that entropy finds expression in new forms, as a true embodiment of chaos, in the last chapter of the novel. It is shown by distancing of all Oedipa’s familiar people and her tearing of the subjective ties. Thus, Oedipa’s psychoanalyst and her husband went crazy, her lover deserted her, her friend’s bookstore had burned, and the friend himself disappeared; the theater director Driblette, who communicates with Oedipa, had drowned, etc. From this point of view, “The Crying of Lot 49” creates a situation of uncertainty, as the signs of increasing entropy and its reduction or even absence (at the end of the book) are equally represented.
However, both Pynchon’s novel and Voltaire’s story have a similar side. Therefore, the interpretation of selecting a name of the protagonist, Oedipa, is an inversion of the myth of Oedipus, who solved the riddle of the Sphinx. And the name of Candide can be translated from Latin as “sincere and simple,” although the character can hardly be called an innocent being. Both options depict satire and mockery of the canons of the past, along with the society the protagonists live in (Moddelmog, 303). Their names stand out among others, highlighting the main characters from the “gray mass” of other characters who bear the labels of pop-culture (e.g. The Paranoids, Stanley Koteks, Wharfinger, Fallopian, etc.). A question of entropy is ceased in both works and embodied in a kind of labyrinth of ‘difficulties’: Candide is convinced that the phrase ‘all to the good’ is meaningless because the troubles always follow it. Pynchon’s entropy is a metaphor (e.g. Nefastis’ perpetual motion machine). Here, the general idea embodies the spirit of the Enlightenment and Pynchon’s postmodernism, their uncertainty in the denouement, mockery of the surrounding society and its ‘labyrinth’. So according to Hawthorne (89), “Pynchon fully transforms the labyrinth into a metaphorical process that describes the fragile human condition and the forces of disruption, evil, irrationality, or disorder that threaten to upset it.” In conclusion, it can be said that Pynchon’s novel is an ‘exaggeration’ of the Enlightenment; it emphasizes the existing drawbacks of the society and brings the reader to encounter them face to face, without Voltaire’s optimistic mood.


Comparing Pynchon’s novel with the novel "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" by Mary Shelley that refers to romanticism, one can identify common features, which are determined by the Gothic techniques. At the beginning of the Pynchon`s novel, Oedipa is the average American housewife who transforms into a detective, making all sorts of discoveries, and then, as the story progresses, becomes a victim of a conspiracy of mystical powers, which is one of the main features of the Gothic novel.
One of the characteristic features of the Gothic novel "Frankenstein" is a longing for "lost paradise" of the Middle ages with its sense of mystery and the power of faith, and contempt for the modern rationalism. Pynchon's protagonist feels the same longing for the old days and so starts looking for an unprecedented adventure. The concept of "Gothic" includes the concept of the old (medieval) and magic (supernatural). Also, both Oedipus and Frankenstein's monster represent the outcasts of the society (while the story goes on); people are turning away from them. Thus, having considered the particular concepts of gothic and romantic, it is possible to draw the following conclusions: the concept of Gothic includes the presence of various dark, secret forces (e.g. the mythological elements: monsters, demons in “Frankenstein”, and the Conspiracy theory in “The Crying of Lot 49”), a gothic landscape (gloomy, illuminated month castles, abandoned estates, abbeys, crypts and dungeons in “Frankenstein”, the burned book-store and the abandoned post buildings and old fractured posters in Pynchon’s novel). Both protagonists are completely dependent on the will of the author, they are not the subjects. “And Oedipa seems more willing at the end to accept a theory like "convergence that affects meaning" regarding her discoveries” (Gleason, 92).The romantic notion is characterized by intense internal struggle of the character, a disaffected society and returning, as a rule, to the past.


The next work to be compared with Pynchon’s novel belongs to the Irish author Samuel Barclay Beckett. The analyses of the plot and stylistic devices can determine the identity of the work to modernism. One of the main features of modernism is a collection of the most cultural trends of the 20th century: expressionism, cubism, futurism, and absurdism. The product of Beckett and Pynchon’s novel characterizes all these areas. The characters of Pynchon and Beckett are similar in their semi-real search for the main goal. In both works, one can see some blur of the boundaries of reality. The main difference between Pynchon’s novel and Beckett’s play is that Beckett puts a definite purpose, which is to be achieved; and this technique is typical of almost all works of the modernism. In Pynchon’s novel, the whole story is given to the occasion in comparison with modernist works where there is a hierarchy. Pynchon exposes events and characters to the complete anarchy; the whole story of his work resembles a sophisticated game. Beckett’s methods give a story the general metaphorical mood of his play, while postmodernism replaces them with metonymy.


Pynchon’s postmodernism novel “The Crying of Lot 49” is not just a representative of the literary movement. It claims to be the expression of a common theoretical "superstructure" of contemporary art, philosophy, science, politics, economics, and even fashion. Today, scientists say not only about the "postmodern art", but also about "post-modern consciousness" and “postmodern mentality". This one novel embodies three different genres - the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Modernism, however, they have been distorted to create a new course, which will contain contradictions, and the characteristics of the previous and the current era. Pynchon’ novel “The Crying of Lot 49” is the quintessence of the three streams of literature but in the new shell. It has both contradictions and similarities, and can be treated as the only one of its kind – an oxymoron of the epoch.

Works cited

Andersen, Tore Rye. "Distorted Transmissions. Towards A Material Reading Of Thomas
Pynchon's The Crying Of Lot 49." Orbis Litterarum 68.2 (2013): 110-142.
Drake, Scott. "Resisting Totalizing Structures: An Aesthetic Shift In Thomas Pynchon's The
Crying Of Lot 49 And Gravity's Rainbow." Critique 51.3 (2010): 223-240.
Gleason, William. "The Postmodern Labyrinths Of Lot 49." Critique 34.2 (1993): 83-99.
Hawthorne, Mark D. "Pynchon's Early Labyrinths." College Literature 25.2 (1998): 78-93.
Kohn, Robert E. "Pynchon's Transition From Ethos-Based Postmodernism To Late-Postmodern
Stylistics." Style 43.2 (2009): 194-214. 
Moddelmog, Debra A. "The Oedipus Myth And Reader Response In Pynchon's The Crying Of
Lot 49." Papers On Language & Literature 50.3/4 (2014): 298-310.

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