The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Like the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the figure of Pierce Inverarity broods over the action as would some malevolently indifferent diety. As the characters in The Great Gatsby traveled through the ash heaps midway between their country estates on Long Island and the city of New York, ash heaps presided over by the abandoned sign of the eye doctor, still flashing in vacant desolation, so, too, Pierce Inverarity presides over the characters in search of the full meaning of his bequest. In this respect, none of the characters has a flesh-and-blood personality. Rather, each represents, in parable fashion, a particular aspect of a relationship to Inverarity, the presiding deity.
Some, like Mucho Maas—whose name suggest pure physical existence—ignore the Inverarity bequest. Mucho is caught up in his own shame at being a used-car salesman. He does not care about Inverarity, but only about his own salvation through sexual relationships with teenage girls. He is a pathological sufferer, flagellating himself with guilt and sexual misprision.
Some, like Metzger, start out seriously enough in search of the truth but soon fall away, bored or weary. Like Mucho, Metzger is essentially a comic figure. His interest in the Inverarity bequest is strictly business, for he does not share his coexecutor’s passion for the truth. He, too, is addicted to the banalities of civilized life. As Mucho’s...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Oedipa Maas, a suburban California housewife and Young Republican who is the coexecutrix of the huge estate of Pierce Inverarity, her former lover. An attractive woman of twenty-eight with long hair, she is intelligent and dissatisfied. Feeling imprisoned even before she got married, she looked for liberation through Pierce, but he died, leaving her the job of sorting out his legacy and character. This challenge becomes a mock religious quest. She is a whiz at interpreting texts, but in this case the more information she accumulates, the more difficult it all is to evaluate and the more paranoid she becomes. The focus of her quest for information is The Tristero, or Trystero, a secret countercultural postal system whose symbol is a muted post horn. Every access she discovers to the Trystero can be traced to the Inverarity estate, so it appears that the dead capitalist owned even the counterculture and controlled Trystero. In the course of her quest, Oedipa insulates and desensitizes herself against a predatory environment. Consequently, she is not sensitive enough to communicate with Maxwell’s Demon, a spirit in a box, and is overcome by the entropy she discovers in herself and in America. She sees life as a void, becomes suicidal, loses her bearings, and takes a man’s name, Arnold Snarb, imposed on her by a stranger. At the end, in paranoia she hopes for a saving revelation at an auction of Inverarity’s stamp collection....
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Oedipa Maas is generally agreed to be Thomas Pynchon's most appealing and human character. Like Herbert Stencil, Oedipa is on a quest, but Stencil's search seems rather crackbrained, and Oedipa's, although more frightening, is also more believable, because at first she thinks that she is merely doing a favor for a friend and gradually becomes drawn into the tarbaby of Inverarity's secrets and the intrigues of the Tristero. The reader identifies with Oedipa more than with the bizarre characters of V. (1963) because, just as Oedipa has to try to figure out the riddle of the Tristero, the reader must try to piece together the meaning of The Crying of Lot 49. The pieta-like scene in which Oedipa tries to aid a derelict is one of the most powerful in Pynchon's work.
The rest of the characters are Pynchon's usual gallery of grotesques, each of whom illuminates another facet of Pynchon's coruscating array of duplicitous and unsuccessful facades. Oedipa's husband, Mucho Maas, is a Bay Area disc jockey who thinks that his present occupation is as fraudulent as his previous job, that of used car salesman. Dr. Hilarius, Oedipa's psychiatrist, demonstrates his inability to help her by going mad himself. Randolph Driblette, the director of "The Courier's Tragedy" is reported to have committed suicide, but it is likely that he was dispatched by agents of Tristero who thought that his production of the play revealed too much. Stanley Koteks, an...
(The entire section is 408 words.)