(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Entropy” was the second professional story published by Pynchon, and this comic but grim tale established one of the dominant themes of his entire body of work. The setting is an apartment building in Washington, D.C., on a rainy day early in 1957. In a third-floor apartment, Meatball Mulligan and a strange group of friends and interlopers are in the fortieth hour of a break-the-lease party. Some of Mulligan’s friends are listening to rock music played on a huge speaker bolted to a metal wastebasket; when the music ends they carry on a hip discussion of the jazz music of the time, centering on Gerry Mulligan’s piano-less quartet. The Duke di Angelis quartet, as they call themselves, carry on an experiment, playing music without any instruments and without any sounds, a kind of telepathic nonmusic. Women guests are passed out in various places in the apartment, including the bathroom sink.

As the party continues, more people arrive. One man comes because he and his wife have had a fight about communication theory and she has left him. A group of coeds from Georgetown University arrives to join the party. So does a group of five sailors, who have been told that Mulligan’s apartment is a brothel. They refuse to leave, latch onto the unattached women, and continue the party. At one point a fight almost breaks out between the sailors and the musical group, but Mulligan decides to intervene and calm people down. At the end of the story, the party is...

(The entire section is 589 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrative opens with an evocation of the fortieth hour of Meatball Mulligan’s lease-breaking party, complete with drunken revelers, much debris, and loud music. The latter awakens the upstairs tenant Callisto from an uneasy sleep, and the scene shifts to his apartment, which is a kind of sealed hothouse luxuriating in plants and protected from the wintry weather outside, where it has been, the reader learns, precisely thirty-seven degrees Fahrenheit for three days running (despite announced changes in weather by the newscasters).

Callisto has been nursing a sick bird back to health, attempting to keep it alive with the warmth and energy from his own body—as if their continuous existences were a single system, an enclosed heat engine (into which the tropically warm room has, in effect, been made). For several pages, the story shifts back and forth from the thoughts and occasional audible remarks of Callisto to Meatball’s party downstairs. The latter includes a brief conversation between Meatball’s friend Saul, whose female companion Miriam has recently left him, the intrusion of a group of drunken sailors on shore leave and in search of a party, and the eventual decision by Meatball to attempt to quell the anarchy that ultimately breaks out and to attempt to keep the party going for several more hours. In the meantime, Callisto reflects on the concept of entropy, on the possibility that the universe will ultimately suffer heat death and cease to act at all (the first sign of which is the constant thermometer reading outside his window), and on the possible implications of the laws of thermodynamics for social existence (this with some help from those investigators who had appropriated the term “entropy” from physics to information theory). The story ends with the death of the bird and with Aubade’s breaking the glass that separates her and Callisto from the cold outside, as the two of them await the equilibrating of the temperatures between outside and inside, the ultimate consequence, for them at least, of the principle of entropy.