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The Crying of Lot 49 | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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The Crying of Lot 49 | Chapter 5 | Summary



Oedipa leaves Metzger behind and drives north to Berkeley. She stays at a hotel hosting a deaf-mute conference. She has a "nightmare about something in the mirror." When she tracks down the publisher of the book she bought at Zapf's, they send her to their warehouse to get it. The Tristero line from Driblette's play does not appear in this version, and a preface by Emory Bortz does nothing to clarify the issue. When she goes to find Bortz, she discovers he now teaches in San Narciso. She feels out of place and "unsure" among the university students. She goes to visit John Nefastis, who invites her to test if she's a "sensitive" with Maxwell's demon. While she stares at Maxwell's picture, Nefastis watches cartoons. Try as she might, she cannot communicate with the demon: she merely sees "a retinal twitch, a misfired nerve cell." She muses that Nefastis must be a "nut," and that to be a true sensitive one must "share in the man's hallucinations." When she admits to Nefastis she cannot communicate, he offers to have sex with her, and she flees.

Maybe the Tristero exists, or maybe it is only "presumed, perhaps fantasied by Oedipa." She decides to "drift ... at random, and watch nothing happen" to convince herself it is "purely [a] nervous" problem of her own. However, after "no more than an hour" she sees another muted post horn. A man puts a name badge on her that reads "Hi! My name is Arnold Snarb," and she is herded into a bar called The Greek Way with a group of tourists. Inside, she collides with a man wearing a lapel pin in the shape of the muted post horn. She tells him what she knows of the Tristero, and he tells her he is an IA member: part of an underground group called Inamorati Anonymous, people addicted to love. IA was founded by a Yoyodyne executive, and members keep in touch using Tristero's WASTE system. Oedipa drifts out of the bar and into the night, finding the Tristero muted post horn everywhere. She finds it on a sidewalk and discusses it with a group of children in Golden Gate Park who insist they are dreaming the gathering. She meets a man from her past with Pierce, Jesús Arrabal, who is now in exile because of his involvement with a Mexican revolutionary group. Pierce represented "too exactly and without flaw the thing" his revolution fights, and, therefore, Arrabal considers him a "miracle." She sees the symbol all night, everywhere, and in the morning she gives "herself up to a fatalism rare for her." She had once believed she merely needed "grit ... to solve any great mystery," but this is not the case. She realizes there are too many underground groups using WASTE as an alternative to the U.S. mail, "a calculated withdrawal."

Oedipa is given a letter to mail by WASTE, "under the freeway." The letter has a stamp depicting a "figure in deep black, with its arms outstretched" on top of the Capitol dome. She goes to the underpass and sees a "young wino" taking letters out of a can marked "W.A.S.T.E." She trails him all over Oakland as he drops off letters. The next day, she decides to see Dr. Hilarius because she wants him to tell her she is fantasizing everything to do with the Tristero. When she goes for an appointment, however, she is informed he has gone crazy with paranoia that someone is after him. He has locked himself in his office with a rifle. Oedipa goes in to talk to him and becomes his hostage. Dr. Hilarius admits he worked on "experimentally-induced insanity" during his time as an intern at the concentration camp Buchenwald in Germany during World War II (1939–45). When she asks him to talk her out of her fantasy, he tells her to "cherish it," for if she does not, she may "begin to cease to be." The police peaceably take Dr. Hilarius, and Oedipa encounters Mucho outside in his mobile radio van. He interviews her. Later they go to the station and Mucho's boss, Caesar Funch, tells Oedipa (while mistakenly calling her Edna) that Mucho is "losing his identity." Oedipa sees this for herself when she talks to Mucho. He tells her he knows about her affair with Metzger because of how her voice sounds. He claims to be able to "listen to anything and take it apart again" as a side effect of the LSD he had begun taking for Dr. Hilarius's study. She realizes she had "seen Mucho for the last time" when she left him at home on the day she set off for San Narciso.


As Oedipa explores more deeply into the matter of the Tristero, Pynchon's writing becomes even more hallucinogenic. In Oedipa's fevered night in San Francisco, she weaves in and out of bars, buses, and alleyways, encountering strange undergrounds of all types, all displaying the muted post horn symbol. Oedipa can no longer distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. Pynchon makes this abundantly clear in this chapter, especially when Oedipa questions the nature of reality in relation to the children she comes across in Golden Gate Park. The children tell her they are not really physically there and are merely "dreaming the gathering." When their jump rope song corrupts "Thurn and Taxis" into "turning taxi," Oedipa becomes upset and "stop[s] believing in them."

Arrabal defines what a miracle is to Oedipa: "another world's intrusion into this one." Pierce was the miracle "to reassure him" of the justness of his revolution, and without Pierce, Oedipa wonders if Arrabal might not now be in exile. Pierce is Oedipa's "miracle" as well. Without Pierce naming her executor of his will, she never would have investigated the "intrusion" of the Tristero's world in hers, and she would not end up in exile from her own life at the end of the novel. Oedipa recognizes this chance encounter with Arrabal for "a coded warning," but she fails to grasp the magnitude of the effect the Tristero is already having on her and those around her.

The first major casualty is Dr. Hilarius. Oedipa relies on him as a man of science to convince her she must be delusional when it comes to seeing the Tristero everywhere. But in his complete mental breakdown, he only advises her to "hold" on to her fantasy, or else she might "go over by that much to the others" and "begin to cease to be." In an example of situational irony, she soon finds out Dr. Hilarius gave her husband LSD, and, because of this, Mucho's sense of self has lost its "sharp edges." Mucho has delusions of grandeur, believing himself to be "an antenna" connected to "a million lives a night" that are his lives, too. He is no longer the Mucho she knows and can depend on. In a sense, both men have become literal embodiments of their jobs. Dr. Hilarius has gone from studying hysteria to becoming hysterical himself. Mucho's transformation into "an antenna" is an extreme progression of his radio personality. Oedipa has lost both men, and these are giant blows to her.

Perhaps Oedipa can already sense how she is losing herself, too. When Mucho and Funch call her "Edna," this is the second time in the chapter she has been called by a different name. The first is at the bar The Greek Way when the IA member calls her "Arnold Snarb." It is significant that she does not protest to either case of incorrect address. It is as if she is subconsciously accepting the gradual dissipation of her identity. This dissipation is also foreshadowed by her encounters with mirrors, first in Chapter 2 and then again at the start of this chapter. As a mirror is a symbol of identity, it is telling that Oedipa destroys one immediately prior to her infidelity with Metzger in Chapter 2, while in this chapter she fears the mirror across from her hotel bed holds "something," but she can't see what it is. When she finally wakes, she stares "into the mirror at her own exhausted face." Her quest to understand the Tristero will break her down. In fact, in Chapter 6, she advises her "reflection" in the mirror to take on a new identity, understanding the Oedipa she knew is gone.

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