Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Thomas Pynchon himself has remarked, in the introduction to Slow Learner (1984), the collection of his short fiction in which “Entropy” is included, on the comparative aridity of this story, on the mistake he made (he attributes it to his youthfulness at the time of writing) in believing that a story could be generated directly out of a theme or symbol or abstraction—in this case, the concept of entropy evoked in the title and explored theoretically in Callisto’s musings and the conversation between Meatball and Saul, as well as practically in the actions of Meatball and Aubade at the end. In fact, for even such a brief tale as this one, there is comparatively little action, virtually no characterization of any significance, and the thematic concerns of the nature of entropy in thermodynamics and in information theory almost completely dominate the story. If one were to characterize the story in classical, Aristotelian terms, it would almost certainly fall under the heading of a plot of thought.

The controlling trope or idea of the story, entropy, remains, as Pynchon attests once more in his introduction to Slow Learner, a very slippery concept. In thermodynamics, it is a measure of the disorder in a system, and it was the theorem of Rudolf Clausius that the entropy of any closed system tends toward a maximum. If, then, like Henry Adams(whose autobiography provides the model for the memoirs that Callisto is dictating to Aubade during the course of the story), one conceives of the entire cosmos as a closed system, then it follows that the universe is inexorably heading for ultimate heat death, the ceasing of all motion that is prophesied at the end of this story, the outward and visible sign of which is the steady state of the thermometer outside Callisto’s window.

The concept of...

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