The Crying of Lot 49: Summary, Style and the Main Theme

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer


Thomas Pynchon, born 1937, is an American postmodern novelist. He gained the recognition for his intense and complex novels. His fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a broad array of genres and themes. One of the novels for which he is best known is, published in 1966, “The Crying of Lot 49”.


The protagonist of the novel is Oedipa Maas, a housewife. She is married to Wendell “Mucho” Maas; they lead a regular, mundane life in California until one day she receives a letter from a law firm informing her that her former lover, Pierce Inverarity, has passed out and he named her the executrix of his estate. It emerges that Pierce had died a year before his testament was found. Oedipa decides to fulfill her duty. She travels to the deceased’s hometown San Narcisco in order to meet the lawyer, Metzger, and fulfill the formalities. They meet to sort out Inverarity’s tangled financial issues, meanwhile starting an affair. Over all the process to in which Oedipa involves herself to find out more about Inverarity, she discovers covering the whole country long-lasting conspiracy. Oedipa Maas starts to struggle with revelations or versions of events that cannot be verified from the outside. The events disturb her sense of reality and in consequence lead up to her paranoia.


Thomas Pynchon writes in a unique style that sets him apart from other authors who wrote in contemporary time. He was innovative in his willingness to put female characters as protagonists and at the same time he neither romanticized nor sexualized them. His focus is confined to the experience of a single figure. The main character of The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas, is the best example of very innovative approach toward the representation of women at these times.

Thomas Pynchon writes in a manner that disorients a reader. In his novels he shows us a world which we consider familiar but in point of fact it is by no means coherent with the reality. The narrator of The Crying of Lot 49 is unknown and omniscient. Due to that the events are described objectively, however the reader follows the protagonist and sees the story from her point of view. One of the purposes of the novel is to create doubt in the reader’s mind and make them question whether theprotagonist’s experiences are authentic or delusional, therefore the use of this kind of narration is essential. By this measure the reader stays within the confines of the narrator’s perspective what simulates the isolation of the character who gets into paranoiac delusion. The narration makes the main theme of the novel – paranoia- explorable.According to dictionaries paranoia is a mental condition leading to delusions of persecution and conspiracy or feeling unwarranted emotions such as fear or anxiety. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, drug abuse, or of a serious mental illness. Paranoia is one of the most recognizable themes in postmodern literature.

Paranoia plays a paramount role in The Crying of Lot 49. Paranoia is the most pervasive theme of the novel as it influences the most important actions of the main character. The author concentrates on a specific interpretation of signs. However in the novel the paranoia is presented as a specific “regime of signs” rather than as a mental aberration. The “regime of signs” is a basic type of organization of signs in which the semiotic or signifying potential is dominant. The fundamental assumption of semiotics is that signs refer to other signs. Less important is what a given sign signifies; what matters is what this sign refer to. However the process of signification must be started off by a certain event or an object. The initiator must detach itself from indistinct background and begin to appear as a meaningful sign suppressing its actual meaning.

Delusional and paranoid thinking do not work entirely against Oedipa. Actually she starts to feel safe in a world she begins to live in. She supports the delusion by deliberately placing herself in paranoid situations – she feeds her derangement. Oedipa Maas is seeking meaning in a confusing world she is to live in. Against all the odds she strives to remodel the world into a meaning and structure. Oedipa is an example of a character who accepts the ambiguity of her reality. She fails to find the meaning and purpose of her world but she never comes to the conclusion that there is no meaning. She is aware and observant and her paranoia comes as a result.

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