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The Crying of Lot 49 | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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The Crying of Lot 49 | Chapter 4 | Summary



Oedipa becomes so enmeshed in following her leads that "everything she saw, smelled, dreamed, remembered, would somehow come to be woven into the Tristero." She decides to take her task as executor more seriously and attends a Yoyodyne stockholders' meeting. The meeting breaks into a songfest, and Oedipa gets lost during a tour of the plant. She comes across Stanley Koteks, who happens to be doodling the muted post horn. Koteks tells her about the inventor John Nefastis, who created a machine containing "an honest-to-God Maxwell's Demon," a "tiny intelligence" that sorts molecules. The machine can only be controlled by "sensitives." Koteks suggests Nefastis might let her try out to be a sensitive. When she pronounces WASTE like a word instead of spelling it out, though, Koteks ignores her further inquiries.

Oedipa returns to The Scope with Metzger, and they talk to Fallopian again. Fallopian muses Koteks must be a part of some underground group of disgruntled inventors. Metzger accuses Fallopian of sounding like a left-leaning "Marxist," and their "typical Southern California dialogue" continues to "degenerate." Oedipa goes to Zapf's, the used bookstore, for Driblette's paperback and buys a copy. She goes to a retirement home, Vesperhaven House, and meets Mr. Thoth. He tells her about his grandfather, who rode for the Pony Express and was once attacked by "false Indians" in black feathers. She goes to see Genghis Cohen, the "eminent philatelist," or stamp expert, who is valuating Pierce's stamp collection. He points out some stamps that are forgeries, symbols of how Tristero's aim is "to mute the Thurn and Taxis post horn."


One of Pynchon's central theses on communication can be found in Metzger's conversation with Fallopian at the bar. Pynchon presents a "typical Southern California dialogue"—that is, a conversation that alludes to big ideas but never explores them in any real depth. Metzger asks Fallopian how he can "be against a corporation that wants a worker to waive his patent rights." In a conversation that seeks depth, this statement might suggest Metzger believes strongly in capitalism and is condemning Fallopian's supposed Marxist, or socialist, rhetoric. However, Pynchon points out Metzger merely "wanted to argue" and that the dialogue "degenerates further." The use of the word "degenerates" clues the reader in that Pynchon is critical of such "dialogue." Such conversations are a staple of The Crying of Lot 49, essentially making the novel itself a long, drawn-out example of seemingly significant dialogue that never leads to any essential truths.

Koteks brings up the idea of Maxwell's demon and suggests Oedipa might try out to be a "sensitive," that is, someone who can order the chaos and control the temperature in the box. As John Nefastis explains in Chapter 5, the entropy of heat-engines can be compared to the entropy of communication theory in the one overlapping point that Maxwell's demon occupies. This makes Maxwell's demon an important metaphor for the entire plot of the novel and what Pynchon is trying to convey with it. Entropy is defined as the universe's tendency toward disorder and degradation. By encoding his story with so many irrelevant, ambiguous, and superfluous details, Pynchon is purposely degrading his information. Neither Oedipa nor the reader can possibly sort the important details from unimportant ones, nor do they have a basis to even begin to do so. When she attempts to control the demon in Chapter 5, she becomes frustrated because she cannot communicate with it. She is unable to "receive that staggering set" of input and discern truth from it.

By pursuing information about the Tristero, Oedipa is attempting to escape the tower of entropy she feels encapsulated by that was mentioned in Chapter 1. She exerts a lot of energy in following leads all over Southern California, but the quality of information she learns does not measure up to this amount of exertion. She is essentially wasting her time, as Driblette predicted in Chapter 3. In fact, the more information she learns about the Tristero, the more confused Oedipa becomes. This is exemplified in Chapter 5, when she can no longer distinguish reality from fantasy. Instead of helping her escape entropy, the process of investigating the Tristero only hastens her descent into it.

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