A recurring theme that can be found in Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49 is the conception that chaos has a tremendous effect on society. Pynchon engages in a dualistic method of literary technique to engender the realization of the effect that chaos has on the world. Just as the character Oedipa must read through a series of confusing clues to decipher reality, so must the reader work through seemingly impenetrable mysteries to arrive at meaning in the novel. In essence, then, to fully understand the meaning of Pynchon’s novel a reader must do exactly what Pierce Inverarity advises Oedipa to do; namely to keep juggling the massive reception of information in order to stave off entropy while deciphering the meaningful clues from the meaningless ones.
Pynchon’s protagonist, Oedipa Mass, spends the novel engaged in the pursuit of clues or else debating whether she should involve herself in the mysteries that surround her. As coexecutrix of Pierce’s estate, Oedipa takes off on an odyssey through various California towns to unlock the total repercussions involved in Inverarity’s bequest. The novel returns to the idea of Newtonian forces such as action and reaction through the idea that Inverarity still manages to be a moving force despite being in a state of total entropy through the unfortunate outcome of being a corpse. Oedipa’s exploration for the truth is not simply physical, however, as it might be in a mere mystery or detective story, but it is also metaphysical. Oedipa’s rationale in the novel goes beyond merely executing another’s will; she is determined to uncover some sort of overwhelming meaning to a life that seems besieged by the constant attack one humanity’s perceptive abilities by manipulating them with drugs or distracting them with media images. On one level Oedipa’s attempt to untangle this morass of information is analogous to the Demon. The Demon is capable of undoing the law of entropy by manufacturing a “staggering set of energies” that are produced by destroying “massive complex of information” (84 -85). In order for Oedipa to realize Pierce’s advice to “keep it bouncing”, she must learn to do what the Demon does.
Maxwell’s Demon may is the symbol that connects thermodynamics to information flow, but it can act as both a truth and a lie “depending where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost” (105). The lesson Oedipa learns from this machine and her experience in translating the hieroglyphs is that she must somehow create connections in order to keep it all bouncing and avoid giving in to entropy. Oedipa’s quest is therefore not only to make sense of the seemingly senseless world around her, but in doing so arrive at an understanding of herself. The translation of those hieroglyphs acts as another metaphor toward this. When she undertakes this act of translation, Oedipa arrives at an importance understanding of herself; that her obsession with finding meaning is “bringing something of herself” (90) to that activity.
What happens to Oedipa is that she commits a fearless act that few dare try. Rather than mindlessly giving herself over to unquestioned assimilation into the system or taking the route of near-mad solipsistic insistence that everything is a conception of her own consciousness, she confronts the uneasy choice that to keep moving on and avoid entropy requires the effort of constantly deciphering clues and mysteries. Oedipa begins the novel as just another American deadened by the corporate consumption of the soul. Like most others, her existence is one that depends on handing over control of one’s self to the determining powers that be. It is only when confronted with a mystery that burns too brightly within her natural curiosity that she is able to push forward and retrieve enough sense of wonder to do something.
What Inverarity is telling Oedipa when he tells her to “keep it bouncing” is that she must address the influx of information and keep them always in the air as a way to arrive at meaning and understanding. Oedipa’s journey in search of a meaning is therefore meant to be viewed as a metaphysical expedition as well as a more prosaic quest. Oedipa’s pursuit of meaning engages an American society that is revealed to be alienated and confused. The novel portrays America as an heir to an enormously disenfranchised populace that almost welcomes and demands its alienation because it is too lazy to avoid entropy. The narrative the plot that bears a resemblance to a mystery story that focuses on Oedipa’s effort to reshuffle the mysterious details of he will of Pierce Inverarity is served up to juxtapose the element of self-parody.
Chaos and how it affects the assessment of information is a primary theme of The Crying of Lot 49. Many of the difficulties associated with the thematic element of chaos are related to the breakdown in communication. The primary representation of order is Maxwell’s Demon, but it cannot function because it necessitates impossible communication. Communication breaks down even to the level of letters; a mail-delivery group requiring members to dispatch at least one parcel a week regardless of whether they have anything of any importance whatever to say speaks volumes about Pynchon thinks of the stage of emotional communication as well intellectual discourse. Ultimately, it is possible even to question whether that letter that sets the entire chain of events in motion that Oedipa opens at the beginning of the novel could be entirely bogus; nothing more than a bizarre and unexplained prank. Part and parcel to the theme of miscommunication is the concept that interpretation of information is and will always remain subjective. Oedipa’s mission to create a constellation points toward the idea that she is still searching for only a surface meaning and not yet ready to delve into the dark and frightening abodes of genuine meaning. It is important, indeed, to remember that she fails in her attempt to decipher the meaning behind the Tristero. In fact, the book concludes with the possibility there simply is no mystery at to unravel.
The Crying of Lot 49 is overwhelmed by the idea of cultural chaos and utilizes every imaginable element of society to comment upon the concept of how large a role chaos plays. That society in which Oedipa orbits is a world constructed by distractions and illusions built primarily upon the influence of drugs and media influence. By story’s end, however, Oedipa Maas is back where she began, alienated from those around her. Even worse, she has now lost the connection with the world she used to know. And just as she is unable to piece together the puzzle of the Tristero, she is similarly unable to refashion her life after it begins to fall apart. The ambiguity of the ending is completely in keeping with the advice to keep it bouncing. If Pynchon had ended the novel with unconditional answer to all its mysteries it would be tantamount to an abrupt end to the transmission of information. When and if that transmission ever does end, there will simply be no need to keep it all bouncing in the effort to arrive at an acceptable interpretation.