The Crying of Lot 49 | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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The Crying of Lot 49 | Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Oedipa drives down to San Narciso, a place "less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts," to look into Pierce's affairs. As she arrives in the "vast sprawl," she thinks the buildings might be forming patterns of "concealed meaning" and "intent to communicate." She feels a "revelation" trembling "just past the threshold of her understanding," as if she were "at the center of an odd, religious instant." Unnerved, Oedipa checks into the next motel. The manager, a 16-year-old member of a band called the Paranoids named Miles, sings a song as he guides Oedipa to her room. When she tells him her husband might play his band's song on the radio, he accuses her of trying to sleep with him in a payola ("pay for play") arrangement.

Pierce's lawyer Metzger shows up later. He is so good-looking that Oedipa thinks someone must be playing a joke on her. Metzger and Oedipa get drunk while a movie he starred in as a child, Cashiered, plays on the television. This coincidence makes Oedipa believe Metzger has concocted a plot to seduce her. They make a bet on whether Metzger's child self, Baby Igor, will survive the movie. Oedipa bets he will not. Meanwhile, commercials for Pierce's companies keep interrupting the movie. Metzger proposes a game of "Strip Botticelli," and Oedipa decides to put on all the clothing she brought with her until she is a giant ball of clothes. She knocks over a can of hair spray, sending it careening through the room and shattering the bathroom mirror. The commotion brings Miles and his friends to the room, and they begin to serenade Oedipa and Metzger from outside.

Things become "less and less clear" for Oedipa as the night goes on. She and Metzger make love, and the Paranoids blow a fuse. Baby Igor dies in the movie, and Oedipa realizes she did not need to give into Metzger's seduction because she won the bet. Metzger reveals the one thing Pierce had told him about Oedipa: she "wouldn't be easy." She begins to cry.

Analysis

At the beginning of Chapter 2, Oedipa comes close to experiencing a "religious" revelation, but it remains just out of her reach. The mode of communication of this revelation seems to be a paradox—a pattern of "hieroglyphic" buildings in an "ordered swirl" that hides meaning at the same time that it holds "intent to communicate." Pynchon seems to suggest here a failure of communication because of overcomplication and the assigning of importance to symbols that are essentially meaningless. To be effective, communication must be clear. Time and time again, Oedipa will be stymied by information overload and the circularity of conversations that skim the surface but never lead to any essential truths.

Paranoia and distrust complicate interactions between Oedipa and the other characters. Her good-natured offer to help Miles and his band, aptly named the Paranoids, is misconstrued as a bid for sex. Oedipa is initially so resistant to Metzger's seduction that she tries to guard against it by dressing up in her entire wardrobe. Extensive alcohol use wears down her resistance. She is so lost in a fog that she no longer has a hold on reality and things become "less and less clear." She is terrified when she cannot see herself in the mirror and muses Metzger might well disappear, too. Oedipa's chaotic shattering of the mirror with a flying hair spray bottle during her paranoid episode figuratively mirrors Oedipa's shattering of her former life. Giving in to Metzger's seduction alienates her from her husband Mucho, and she can no longer "see" herself. In Chapter 3 Oedipa will muse that this encounter with Metzger sets the stage for all that follows.

Oedipa also suspects someone is playing an elaborate joke on her, her first clue being how improbably good-looking Metzger is. Indeed, Metzger's seduction of Oedipa hinges on an absurd coincidence: when she turns on the television to shut Metzger down, one of his Baby Igor films is playing. She wonders if "he bribed the engineer over at the local station" as part of a plot. Oedipa's suspicions could be moments of insight—or they could be paranoid delusions.

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