Thomas Pynchon Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr., descendant of an early New England Puritan family, was born and raised in a middle-class Long Island suburb. His first known literary works were satiric essays published in the literary magazine of Oyster Bay High School, from which he graduated in 1953. He enrolled at Cornell University in that year, majoring in engineering physics. His college career was interrupted by a two-year hitch in the U.S. Navy; he returned to Cornell and graduated in 1959. While at Cornell, he took writing courses from the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who was evidently impressed by the younger man’s abilities but who had little direct influence on Pynchon’s style or themes. Pynchon may have been married briefly during the 1950’s, but careful investigations have produced no concrete evidence of this.

In 1959, he published two stories, one in the Cornell literary magazine, the other in Epoch 9; he published four more stories in 1960 and 1961. Most of these stories were eventually collected in Slow Learner: Early Stories (1984). Also in 1959, he began work on his first novel, V., while living in New York’s Greenwich Village; during 1960 and 1961, he worked as a technical writer for the Boeing Company in Seattle, Washington.

Virtually nothing is known about Pynchon’s life after 1961. V. was published in 1963 and received the William Faulkner Foundation Award for the best first novel of that year....

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Pynchon’s stories and novels depict a wild modern world in which motion pictures, rock music, and drugs provide an outlaw alternative to an increasingly repressive society. His characters inhabit a landscape of their own which nevertheless bears eerie resemblances to everyday life. Pynchon uses a wide range of styles, employing slang, obscenity, vivid narrative, and poetic prose to convey his sense of the hazards and possibilities of the second half of the twentieth century, in which the forces of repression have all the power but in which creative art and occasional joy are still possible.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr., is one of the most intensely private writers who has ever lived, even outdoing J. D. Salinger in his quest for seclusion and privacy. Only his close friends are even sure of what he looks like—the last available photograph of him is from high school. What is known of Pynchon is available only from public records. He was graduated from high school in 1953 and entered Cornell University that year as a physics student, but in 1955 he left college and entered the U.S. Navy. He returned to Cornell in 1957, changing his major to English and was graduated in 1959. He lived in New York for a short time while working on V., then moved to Seattle, where he worked for the Boeing Company assisting in the writing of technical documents from 1960 to 1962. For several years after that, his whereabouts were uncertain, although he seems to have spent much time in California and Mexico. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the ever-reclusive Pynchon was reported to have established residence in Northern California, the site of his novel Vineland. Confirmed sightings of Pynchon in New York City abounded in the late 1990’s.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Because of Thomas Pynchon’s passion for privacy, little is known about his life. He was born Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr., into a family that lived in Glen Cove, East Norwich, and Oyster Bay—all on Long Island in New York. His father, an industrial surveyor and a Republican, eventually served as town supervisor of Oyster Bay. Pynchon was sixteen when he graduated from Oyster Bay High School in 1953. He was class salutatorian and winner of an award for the senior attaining the highest grade average in English. With a scholarship at Cornell University, he first majored in engineering physics but, though he was doing well academically, abandoned that curriculum after the first year. A year later, he decided to do a hitch in the U.S. Navy before completing his baccalaureate degree. He attended boot camp at Bainbridge, Maryland, and did advanced training as an electrician at Norfolk, Virginia. His two years in the Navy, partly spent in the Mediterranean, provided Pynchon with a number of comic situations and characters that he later exploited in his fiction, such as in “Low-Lands,” V., Gravity’s Rainbow, and Mason and Dixon. Pynchon finished at Cornell as an English major and graduated in 1959. While at Cornell, he took a class taught by Vladimir Nabokov; Nabokov’s wife, Vera, who did her husband’s grading, remembered Pynchon for his distinctive handwriting.

Pynchon lived briefly in Greenwich Village and in uptown...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Thomas Pynchon’s first two novels earned him a place in the forefront of American fiction. His novels and stories combine wild, almost slapstick humor with violent action and a bleak outlook on human possibilities. Gravity’s Rainbow, a longer and far more complex work than his first two novels, brought him wide attention and distinction as a pioneer in metafiction, a term used to define works that go far beyond the conventions of realism to include the supernatural and the fantastic. They may fairly be called fabulations.

His antirealistic intentions are clear in his selection of odd characters’ names, from Mucho Maas, Stanley Koteks, and Bennie Profane in the earlier novels to Brock Vond and Billy Barf and the Vomitones in Vineland as well as in the profusion of styles and modes, especially in Gravity’s Rainbow. That novel includes movie scripts, spy stories, a carefully trained octopus, a mid-air pie-in-your-face battle between the fliers of an airplane and a balloon, and characters who reappear after dying.

His novels also have loosely organized plots, except for The Crying of Lot 49, which keeps to its central plot: a search for a concealed, sinister, undefined conspiracy. Such a search is also central to V. and to Gravity’s Rainbow. The central figures of his fictions are engaged in searches, whether for something vague (the conspiracy in The Crying of Lot 49) or...

(The entire section is 412 words.)