The Crying of Lot 49 is a postmodernist novel by Thomas Pynchon. Oedipa Maas as the main protagonist of the novel attempts to investigate a centuries-old conflict between the mail distribution companies by opening windows to the world beyond the known sun.
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The narrative method used in The Crying of Lot 49 can be linked to a detective story, full of riddles, attempts to solve them and unexpected plot lines. Using a detective storytelling model was characteristic of postmodern novelists. From the opening episodes of the novel, readers are engaged into a detective-like search for the solution of the main puzzle. Oedipa Maas as the main protagonist of the novel acts as a detective investigating the case of centuries-old worldwide conspiracy.
The main character can be associated with the girl from the picture Encuentro by a Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter Remedios Varo. The girl in the picture is sitting in an empty room with a box on the table. A face similar to her own is looking into the girl’s eyes from the box.
The symbolic meaning of this box can be interpreted as the circumstances hiding the truth and answers to the main question surrounded with mystery. Lost in thoughts, the girl in Remedio Varo’s picture like Oedipa Maas from the Pynchon’s novel under consideration are searching to the answers for the mystery whereas the solution is closer than it might seem.
However, analyzing the role of mystery in the plot of The Crying of Lot 49, it can be stated that the effect of mystery is produced with the structure of the novel and the intersection of the main plot lines I it. There is no strict line between randomness and strict pattern in Pynchon’s novel which intensifies the impression produced upon the readers involved into the process of detective investigation.
Emerged into the investigation conducted by the main protagonist, readers as well as Oedipa herself are frequently unsure whether her findings can be true. Oedipa finds a lot of clues on her way, but frequently doubts their authenticity. As opposed to Varo’s surrealistic picture which does not claim for competing with reality, the plot of the novel under consideration depicts the absurdity of the world and can make readers to believe the author.
Oedipa asks herself: “Shall I project a world?” (Pynchon 82). This rhetoric question reflects the character’s doubts regarding the authenticity of particular clues and evidence she finds in the course of her investigation. This uncertainty is inevitably shared by readers who question authenticity of the plot lines and the story of the conflict between the two mail distribution companies.
Regardless of the fact that the novelist provides detailed explanation on how the WASTE mail system was originated which sounds rather reasonable and realistic, readers are left without clear answers to their questions. Looking for the answer, Oedipa has to consider even more than three traditional dimensions: “Now here was Oedipa, faced with a metaphor of God knew how many parts; more than two anyway.
With coincidences blossoming these days wherever she looked, she had nothing but a sound, a word, Tristero, to hold them toghether” (Pynchon 109). Trying to find the basis for this metaphor, the main character frequently looses her connection with reality and tries to build more sophisticated mental bridges searching for the main answer.
Looking for the solution of the main riddle, the Oedipa tries to extend the limits of her perception to see the hidden worlds and hear the unheard music by opening windows to new dimensions. For instance, meeting a sailor, Oedipa opens a window to a dimension which cannot be expressed in spoken language, but is accessible only in vision.
“She knew that the sailor had seen worlds no other man had seen” (Pynchon 129). In this episode, the reasonable explanation is intersected with imagination and surreality depending upon the interpretation of the unknown worlds. On the one hand, a sailor could visit unknown lands during his traveling all over the world.
On the other hand, from the context, readers can understand that the unknown worlds are not only distanced from them, but also hidden on unusual levels of perception. Oedipa attempts to search for the answers beyond the well-known worlds and even to hear “music made purely of Antarctic loneliness and fright” (Pynchon 129). This metaphor which is based on the mix of traditional senses and perception clearly demonstrates the novelist’s attempts top extend the traditional boundaries of the three-dimensional world.
Despite of all the absurdity of the depicted world, the author provides logical reasoning for the most plot lines no matter how unrealistic they may sound. By preserving a particular pattern within all the chaos and mess of the plot lines and the levels on which they take place, Pynchon appeals to the minds of readers and allows them to draw their own conclusions whether the story is authentic or not.
By combining the elements of a detective narrative pattern and logical reasoning and depicting the absurdity of this world, Pynchon makes readers of his novel The Crying of the Lot 49 to doubt the authenticity of his story and the unknown worlds shown in it.
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Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. Harper Collins, 2009. Print.