Oedipa’s Search Of Tristero In Crying Of Lot 49 By Thomas Pynchon Thomas Pynchon is an American novelist known for his experimental writing techniques. His works involve extremely complicated plots and themes, and mix black humor with imagination and fantasy to describe human isolation and alienation in a chaotic society. Among his books, The Crying of Lot 49, is the most commonly read, in either literature courses or simply for pleasure. As the reading progresses, the definite and symbolic meaning of the Tristero, and an understanding of the historical and political background of America in the 60fs is needed to better understand. When I first started reading The Crying of Lot 49, there appeared to be some complicated riddles. When put it in perspective with the history of the times, a clearer image and more detailed context of the text came to me.
Many historical events in the era are indirectly and metaphorically incorporated in the text. Looking at a book of history, then it can be seen that Americans opposed the centralization of administrative power, and rejected the threats of being surrounded and controlled by it. The Tristero represents their feelings, volitions and wishes. Itfs a symbol of free will. In order to find out what the Tristero is, itfs very helpful to understand what the American counter-culture was about.
As for American history, the 1960s was an exciting, revolutionary and turbulent time of great social, political, cultural and technological change in America. The movement away from the conservatism of the 1950s was continuous and eventually resulted in those aforementioned changes. The following are some events influencing this book in each of the four changes in this decade. This period from a social standpoint witnessed the expansion of the welfare state, the emergence of numerous movements for social change, and experienced civil rights, and gay and womenfs liberation. In terms of political changes in this era, there were some major events which occurred influencing the world; the Americanization of the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and the assassinations of not only two great African American leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., but also John F.
Kennedy. Taking up the Vietnam War as one example, the government kept secrets about what was really going on there, and lied to its citizens; therefore, the citizens felt uneasy about it and suspicious of it. Adumbrating these political changes of the 1960s John F. Kennedy won the presidential election. g We stand today on the verge on a new frontier- the frontier of the 1960fs, a frontier of unknown opportunities and peril- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.h In 1964 President Johnson who campaigned on a platform of continued social program and a limited involvement in Vietnam won by a landslide. In 1968 Richard Nixon entered the Republican convention, and stated g When the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in a war in Vietnam with no end in sight, when the richest nation with the great tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented racial violence, when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad, or to any major city at home, then its time for new leadership for the United States.h The Democrats went through a tough primary campaign, and couldnft stop a Nixon victory. When looking at cultural changes, some remarkable happenings are the growth of the counterculture, unforgettable fashion, new musical styles, flower power, great TV and film, and sexual freedom.
Thomas Pynchon incorporates some of the social trends in The Crying of Lot 49. Lastly in technological changes in 60s, needless to say, the most memorable event is the first manned landing on the moon Also this period was the age of youth, as millions of children from the post-war baby boom became teenagers and young adults. These young people wanted change. The changes would come and would in turn affect education, values, lifestyles, laws and entertainment. Thomas Pynchon uses the private mail delivery system, W.A.S.T.E. system, in the story, to compare with the mail delivery system that is a government monopoly.
The poster of Uncle Sam on a wall of the post office symbolizes the watchdog of the government. (Pynchon 10) He always watches and supervises people in front of the post office where most citizens go. Thomas Pynchon challenges this by using a private mail delivery system. The government is no longer able to monopolize. Its perfect authority collapses.
The system is the Tristero or a part of it. Anyways W.A.S.T.E. is just one form of the Tristero. There are many other phenomena which are akin to the Tristero. The Shadow mentioned by Pierce in Chapter 1 is one of those.
(Pynchon 6) The Shadow is an American radio show in the late 1930fs to 1940fs, about a gsuperheroh who can influence peoplefs minds. This reflects the behavior of the Tristero. People are convinced to be a part of the Tristero, and defy the system. A circle of children in their nightclothes in Chapter 5, whom Oedipa saw in Golden Gate Park, is also another phenomenon similar to the Tristero. (Pynchon 81) The children are supposed to be home and ready to go to bed.
Itfs a kind of tacit regulation. Instead Thomas Pynchon uses the children playing outside at night, to create repulsion towards systematic world such as the Government. Itfs clear that Oedipa isnft happy or satisfied with her life. The reason why she starts to try to find the Tristero is to find happiness and satisfaction. The Tristero is something, which can help her realize it. Either that or the Tristero is a self-generated fiction of her image of the world, which all people may have in their mind. Sometimes the image turns into reality.
Oedipa like many other people feels encapsulated. This encapsulation is the society under government control. The solution is the Tristero. The Tristero is the way to break the wall of self-encapsulation. Oedipafs values change over the course of the novel.
There is a change from living in a local sense to a global sense. Her young Republican viewpoint changes, too. The Republican Party is supported by people with large incomes and farmers who are kind of conservative. Her viewpoint becomes progressive instead. Mentioned in the beginning, people moved away from the conservatism in the 1950s. The same thing happens to her in the plot of the Tristero while getting into it. The Tristero is a vague entity and as a result, we may find ourselves making a lot of vague associations with this group that gseemsh right, though there may not be hard textual evidence for it.
The Tristero is unpredictable and undefinable. However since the private mail delivery system is talked about, this secret underground organization is a secret society in Pynchonfs mind, which opposes the U.S. Government. And this organization will be able to relate to other organizations or systems. This is some kind of a revolutionary tendency. Each man has a different perspective of things.
The Tristero isnft the same to each man. It has different values to every individual. Oedipafs attitude toward the Tristero reflects Pynchonfs. Thomas Pynchon expresses sympathy for people in a capitalistic society, production imperatives, regime, etc. He makes a fictitious organization, the Tristero, to let them escape from confinement. Ultimately the Tristero basically wonft exist without the reality of America in postmodern times. The Tristero canft be imagined without the political, economical and cultural situation and historical events in the 60fs.
Because people wanted to get out of where they were, the Tristero is a medium created by Thomas Pynchon to disobey and to rebel against the American system. The Tristero fights against America whose leaders distort and manipulate facts for their own interests. Itfs not necessary to say that an existing or original system is always right. Since everything in books is creation of the authors, anything can be an original creation. The Tristero exists beneath the mainstream of American society. Bibliography Pynchon, Thomas.
The Crying of Lot 49. London, UK: Random House UK Ltd., 1996. Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. Translated by Masao Shimura. Tokyo, Japan: Tsukumashobo. 1992.
An Outline of American History. The United States Information Agency. May 1994 http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/history/ toc.htm Book Reports.