Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Vineland is the most overtly political of Thomas Pynchon’s novels. Themes and ideas from the earlier books are given more direct expression, as if Pynchon had decided that readers and critics were not understanding his principal ideas. The book contains clear-cut distinctions between good and bad characters, and it is the only one of Pynchon’s novels to comment directly on the domestic political scene.

At the same time, Vineland is, like the earlier novels, varied in its prose styles, making use of wild and sometimes profane humor, original song lyrics, and caustic addresses from the narrator to the characters, among other devices. While it is the first of Pynchon’s novels to deal explicitly with supernatural events—including a class of beings called Thanatoids, the shades of people who are dead but not quite gone, and the fact that DL Chastain is invested with superhuman powers—the supernatural has never been entirely excluded from Pynchon’s fictional world. If it is less encyclopedic than Pynchon’s most famous novel, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), Vineland is also more accessible.