Dualities and the Middle Ground in The Crying of Lot 49

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  • Topic: Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, Novel
  • Pages : 9 (3317 words )
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  • Published : April 11, 2013
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Dualities and The Middle Ground in The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 continuously presents dualities, irresolvable polar extremes. As Oedipa Maas delves further into the mystery of the Tristero, she discovers the dualities of solipsism and assimilation, isolation and communication, conservative mainstream politics versus the counterculture of the 60s, and chaos versus order. All of these dualities function in some way build to the final question of meaning versus non meaning as it pertains to the Tristero, Oedipa’s life, and the text as a whole. The stylistic aspects of the text, specifically the maze-like prose, puns, and the deluge of bewildering details are revealing of its refusal to settle on a singular meaning. The excessive, “wasteful” details are symbolic of the text itself, leaving the reader to question whether it is simply absurd or exists in its own right as an aesthetic unity. Yet the lack of closure or presence of a final revelation asserts Lot 49’s achievement as a text which escapes the limits of binary interpretations and reveals the importance of the quest rather than the object. The beginning of the novel immediately presents the stagnation of innovation and diversity within American culture, and the widespread psychological emptiness created by the growth of consumerist ideals. As Dussere writes, “The central paradox of the rise of consumer culture is that although it accompanied one of the highest standards of living known in history, it also produced a broad cultural sense of emptiness, alienation, and loss (p. 11). The opening descriptions of vapidity and haunting dissatisfaction in the lives of Oedipa and Mucho Maas set up the duality between popular, conservative American culture and the underground movement of the counterculture that Oedipa later discovers. Oedipa initially embodies the blandness that Pynchon depicts as pervading American 1960’s society. Upon returning home from “a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue” Oedipa finds that she has been appointed executor of the estate of her ex-boyfriend Pierce Inverarity, a Californian real estate mogul (Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, p. 1). As she tries to remember if anything significant or out of the ordinary occurred at the time of her appointment, the reader is taken through a panorama of the pattern of her daily life: …Through… the reading of book reviews in the latest Scientific American, into the layering of a lasagna, garlicking of a bread, tearing up of romaine leaves, eventually, oven on, into the mixing of the twilight’s whiskey sours against the arrival of her husband, Wendell (“Mucho”) Maas from work, she wondered, wondered, shuffling back through a fat deckful of days which seemed (wouldn’t she be the first to admit it?) more or less identical (p. 2).

This opening description of Oedipa is important to her initial image as the “typical” conservative American woman/wife who spends her days in a monotonous routine of shopping, attending empty social gatherings (centered on consumption), and preparing meals. However, although she realizes that her “fat deckful of days” seem more or less identical, Oedipa is not yet at the point where she is miserable enough to actively seek to change them. Her husband, on the other hand, suffers periods of severe depression and emptiness: “He was a disk jockey who worked further along the Peninsula and suffered regular crises of conscience about his profession…. “I don’t believe in any of it, Oed,” he could usually get out. “I try, I truly can’t,” way down there, further down perhaps than she could reach, so that such times often brought her near panic…. “You’re too sensitive.” Yeah, there was so much else she ought to be saying also, but this was what came out. It was true, anyway. For a couple years he’d been a used car salesman and so hyperaware of what that profession had come to mean that working hours were...
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