Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon is narrated by the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke, whose protracted stay at his sister’s home in Philadelphia depends upon his entertaining his two nephews, Pliny and Pitt. The entertainment consists of his account of the adventures of Mason and Dixon, the surveyors who created the line dividing Pennsylvania from Delaware and Maryland. Although he knew the two surveyors, he was not privy to all the information, factual and otherwise, with which he regales his audience. His embellished account is occasionally interrupted by the nephews and other members of his audience.
The novel is divided into three parts, the first of which concerns the backgrounds of the two surveyors; their first meeting; their travels to South Africa and St. Helena to conduct transit of Venus observations; their meeting with Nevil Maskelyne, a rival astronomer who wins the post of Royal Astronomer that Mason seeks; and their encounters with the fictitious Vroom family. The first part of the novel also introduces three themes that permeate the novel. First, Mason and Dixon are part of the Age of Reason, which stressed science, but that science was imperfect at best and is subject to Pynchon’s satire. Second, slavery, with its necessary “engine,” the gallows, is seen as a means by which white people become more “savage” than the indigenous people they exploit. Third, Mason’s inability to escape the guilt he feels about the death of...
(The entire section is 528 words.)