Thomas Pynchon's The Crying Lot 49

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Peter Barry says of the cultural materialist approach to literature that “it is difficult to know how to ‘place’ writing of this kind” (189). By “writing” Barry refers to cultural materialist criticism itself—not the work being criticized—but it is probably safe to assume that the analysis properly reflects the analyzed in this respect. It is certainly arguable that Thomas Pynchon’s THE CRYING OF LOT 49 qualifies as “difficult to place,” and this may be its only legitimate connection offered to a cultural materialist reading. Yet similarities arise between the text and the theory that suggest, at least on some level, a harmonious ideal. Of course, should such a comparison exist, it is only by the theory’s compatibility to the text, it being the work critiqued and, besides that, having originated much earlier than the theory. But there is value in contrasting the two as if they are more than just analysis and analyzed, but two products of a literary history whose similarities point toward or influence ongoing likenesses. Such a likeness is their contribution to an overall theme of almost fairy tale-style escapism.

A fundamental start is to examine the use of Shakespeare in both situations. This may seem odd without an understanding of its intrinsic contribution to both the novel and the theory. In LOT 49, Oedipa Maas encounters a number of eccentrics and organizations that all hint at involvement in some sort of mail system conspiracy, not the least of which is a Jacobean play called THE COURIER’S TRAGEDY by Richard Wharfinger. The play and playwright are of course fictional, but what’s more, they are blatantly—caustically—related to Shakespeare’s HAMLET. “Oedipa found herself after five minutes sucked utterly...

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... structure to which they belong. This structure, in its very essence, seeks to “project” in a variety of ways new worlds by which to interpret reality.

Works Cited

Baldick, Chris. “Structuralism.” OXFORD CONCISE DICTIONARY OF

LITERARY TERMS. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University

Press, 2001.

Barry, Peter. “Structuralism.” BEGINNING THEORY: AN INTRODUCTION

TO LITERARY AND CULTURAL THEORY. 2nd edition. Manchester:

Manchester University Press, 2002.

Pynchon, Thomas. THE CRYING OF LOT 49. Perennial Classics

edition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Scott, Sir Walter. IVANHOE. World Classics paperback edition.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.


THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2002.
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