Themes and Meanings
Thomas Pynchon’s continuing concern with the restrictions placed on the individual by society provides the main intention of Vineland: to show the dangers of excessive government control of individual lives and, specifically, to criticize the measures taken during the Reagan years to inhibit independent political activities and the use of drugs such as marijuana, which Pynchon presents as relatively harmless. The police and other enforcement agencies in the novel use powers given to them by recent laws to seize the homes of people suspected of marijuana trafficking: they disrupt lives and ruthlessly invade the privacy of innocents.
Brock Vond is used to give a face and specific qualities to these dangers. His relationship with Frenesi Gates is intended to make clear the extent to which individuals can be corrupted and seduced by uncontrolled power. The fact that Vond is a prosecutor indicates that the law, which ought to be a shield for individuals, is instead being used to intimidate and corrupt them, for no purpose other than to exert control. Vond also makes use of detention camps constructed to house suspect persons in case of a national emergency; for Pynchon, these are no more or less than potential concentration camps.
Nevertheless, Vineland is less bleak than Pynchon’s other fictions in the suggestions it carries about the possibility of meaningful lives for its characters. Zoyd and Prairie do survive, Frenesi is given a kind of peace, though not necessarily redemption, and the villain is disposed of before he can corrupt Prairie. America toward the end of the century is far from ideal, but it is not entirely a wasteland.