Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Oedipa’s search to find the meaning of her legacy is not only a quest for a philosophical explanation of existence but also a search for a valid social, national ethos, for values that clarify, for better or for worse, “the legacy that was America.” That legacy is not necessarily one of despair.
Though Oedipa’s quest takes her through an American society of the maladjusted, the fantasy-ridden, the dropped-out, the “intellectual,” and the materialistic, this stream of humanity does not provide Oedipa with a solution to the meaning of things. Even though a large segment of the disinherited seems to communicate by depositing letters in boxes marked WASTE (We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire), even though the social fabric seems tottering on the verge of anarchy—an entropy of both body and mind, a paradigm of the modern scientific notion of the entropy of nature—and even though Tristero’s own name seems to connote a universal “triste,” a sadness, it is the very uncertainty of a solution that holds out for Oedipa some random hope, a hope symbolized at the novel’s end by Oedipa’s waiting for the auction to begin. Indeterminacy is hope.
In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Scrooge asks the ghost of Christmas future, “Are these the things that will be, or only the shadows of things that may be?” Similarly, Oedipa’s discovery of America is ghostlike—a specter of what is, and yet possibly only a...
(The entire section is 250 words.)
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In The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon combines the themes of decay and conspiracy developed in V. with observations on communication theory. The main character, Oedipa Maas, has been given the job of administering the estate of her deceased lover, Pierce Inverarity, who in addition to being a real estate tycoon, was also a stamp collector. In the course of investigating Inverarity's holdings, Oedipa uncovers a conspiracy in opposition to the postal system which dates back to the sixteenth century. The conspiracy, called Tristero, manifests itself in certain small ways such as counterfeit stamps in which the designs of official stamps are subtly changed. Members of the conspiracy deposit messages in trashcans marked "Waste," which, Oedipa discovers, stands for "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire." In a night journey through San Francisco, Oedipa discovers frightening signs of the existence of Tristero everywhere. She also watches a performance of an Elizabethan play, The Courier's Tragedy (Pynchon's hilarious parody of revenge tragedy), the director of which drowns under mysterious circumstances, an incident which suggests that Tristero, although invisible, is as alert and alive as that other invisible conspiracy which is reputed not to exist, the Mafia.
There are other references to communication in the novel, such as Oedipa's husband's job as a radio disc jockey, which eventually drives him to drugs. In V., the world is going to pieces,...
(The entire section is 331 words.)