The title characters, Mason and Dixon, are the most fully developed of the virtually innumerable characters in this vast novel. Indeed, some reviewers have charged that all the other characters are mere cartoons and that Mason and Dixon alone display any depth. The charge is partially true; the historical characters tend to be the most cartoonish. George Washington becomes in Pynchon’s hands a real-estate schemer whose plantation grows hemp, both for ropemaking and for smoking. Benjamin Franklin emerges as a perpetual adolescent who cannot resist playing with electricity and flirting with the young ladies of Philadelphia. Yet many of the simplest fictional characters, even those who appear briefly, are among the most fully realized. For example, Frau Luise Redzinger, of the German pietistic faith that would later become known as “Pennsylvania Dutch,” is characterized in great detail by the observations of the Reverend Cherrycoke, who meets her on a coach ride in chapter 35. Thomas Cresap, brother to the militiaman whom Thomas Jefferson accused of murdering the Mingo Chief Logan, presents an unsympathetic but complete portrait of the “mountain man” of the western Pennsylvania frontier, acknowledging no civil authority and representing the sentiment of America on the brink of revolution.
The triumph of characterization in Mason and Dixon, however, is the depth to which readers come to know Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. They are...
(The entire section is 507 words.)