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The Crying of Lot 49 | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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The Crying of Lot 49 | Chapter 6 | Summary



Back at her hotel in San Narciso, Oedipa finds out Metzger has run off to elope with the girlfriend of Paranoids band member Serge. Serge first tries to tell Oedipa in song, but when she does not get it, the band gives it to her "in prose." She calls Driblette, but only hears that a statement about him will be made the next day. She then calls Bortz and gets an invitation to visit. On her way over, she passes Zapf's Used Books, which is now "a pile of charred rubble." At Bortz's house, his wife, Grace Bortz, takes care of the kids while Bortz holds court with three grad students, and all are "sodden with drink." Oedipa asks about the discrepancies between editions of The Courier's Tragedy regarding the Tristero line, and Bortz reveals there is a pornographic version stored at the Vatican. A grad student also reveals that Driblette "walked into the Pacific" and their gathering is "a wake." Bortz takes Oedipa to his study and has her read an account of a man who traveled the Thurn and Taxis route and was attacked by "black-cloaked riders." The riders killed everyone except the author of the account, who was told to go back to England and tell the king about "the wrath of Trystero."

In the next several days Oedipa learns a few purported historical facts about the Tristero. The founder is said to be Hernando Joaquín de Tristero y Calavera, who fought a rebel war against his cousin, the executor of Thurn and Taxis. He set up the Tristero System as a "campaign of obstruction, terror and depredation along the Thurn and Taxis mail route." Tristero followers wore black. But beyond these early beginnings, Oedipa has to look for "period[s] of instability for Thurn and Taxis" to find Tristero in its shadow, according to Bortz's "mirror-image theory." Oedipa starts "to feel reluctant about following up on anything." She is "anxious that her revelation not expand beyond a certain point." She does, however, go back to The Scope to see Fallopian. He suggests Pierce might have set up the Tristero quest before he died, and it's "all a hoax." He recommends she write down her hard facts and "verify sources." She accuses him of being "different" now and "hating" her. Genghis Cohen shows her a stamp that gives the meaning of WASTE as "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire." The stamp is not listed anywhere except in an addendum to a catalog. Oedipa then realizes "every access route to the Tristero" has something to do with Pierce. She advises "her reflection" in the mirror to change her name and considers four alternatives to what she is experiencing. One: she has stumbled upon a network that underground groups use to communicate away from the shadow of the government. Two: she is hallucinating everything. Three: an expensive, elaborate plot has been mounted against her. Four: she is imagining "some such plot," which means she is crazy. She does not like any of the alternatives, but she hopes she is merely "mentally ill." She spends several days in a terrible state, and, meanwhile, Genghis Cohen comes up with "new goodies" related to Tristero. He also informs her that the Tristero "forgeries" are to be sold in auction as lot 49, and a stranger plans to bid in secret for them.

In a state of desperation, Oedipa calls The Greek Way and speaks to the IA member, identifying herself as Arnold Snarb. She admits that the Tristero has "saturated" her, and she sets him free from continuing his part in the elaborate practical joke. He says it's too late for him and hangs up. Her isolation is now complete. Oedipa ponders the state of America and the importance of the undergrounds she seems to have stumbled upon. "How many shared Tristero's secret, as well as its exile?" she wonders. The day of the auction arrives, and Oedipa attends. Genghis Cohen tells her the secret bidder has decided to show up in person after all. Oedipa contemplates making a scene to expose him. The auctioneer, Loren Passerine, presides over the proceedings "like a puppet-master." Oedipa sits back "to await the crying of lot 49."


At this point, Oedipa has received such an influx of information that she is not even attempting to understand coded messages any longer. This is why the message of "Serge's Song" does not reach her. She gets that they are "trying to tell [her] something," but they have to communicate Metzger's elopement plainly, "in prose." Oedipa has reached her breaking point, and Bortz's harried wife Grace recognizes this. Grace tells Oedipa she has a "certain harassed" look about her she thought "only kids caused," but Oedipa is suffering from something else. The children create such an overload of noise that Grace jokes about "infanticide." Similarly, by the end of the novel, the Tristero has brought such an overload of noise into Oedipa's life that she considers "causing a scene violent enough to bring the cops into it."

Shocked and unsettled by the loss of the men in her life and those surrounding her investigations into the Tristero, Oedipa continues to research Tristero, but not without trepidation. After discovering a few historical facts about them, she is wary of following up on new clues. She is afraid of her "revelation" growing "larger than she" so that it "assume[s] her to itself": that is, she is afraid of it taking over her mind and her identity. When Fallopian insists she consider Pierce might be involving her in a hoax, Oedipa knows she has been "steadfastly refusing to look at that possibility directly." However, when all Tristero leads seem to point back to Pierce, she is forced to examine her own precarious situation. Either the Tristero exists, she is hallucinating that it exists, Pierce created a hoax, or she is imagining a hoax. This is where the nature of reality comes into question, and Oedipa believes her best-case scenario is that she is mentally ill. Therefore, Oedipa inquires after the mystery bidder interested in lot 49, the "Tristero forgeries," with "the courage you find you have when there is nothing more to lose." The men at the auction wear "black mohair," a material that would look a bit like the feathers the Tristero brigands used to dress in. The auctioneer "spread[s] his arms" like "a descending angel," which mirrors the pose of the "figure in deep black, with its arms outstretched" Oedipa sees on the Tristero stamp in Chapter 5. The novel ends with Oedipa waiting for this auctioneer to cry the lots of Pierce's estate. The ending is purposely ambiguous. Pynchon wants the reader to know the essential truth of the story is not to be found at the surface level, or even in the painstaking research of all the clues given along the way. Whether or not Pierce set Oedipa up is not important. The identity of the mystery bidder is not important. The exact configuration of Tristero is not important. But all this does not mean Oedipa's journey was pointless.

If Thurn and Taxis represents the government and recognized society, then the Tristero represents the disenfranchised and the rebels. As a wealthy capitalist and property owner, Pierce is more aligned with Thurn and Taxis, while someone like the exiled revolutionary Arrabal is more aligned with the Tristero. These are two separate worlds, but as Arrabal says in Chapter 5, sometimes there is a "miracle" and the two worlds touch, causing a "cataclysm." At the beginning of the novel Oedipa is a suburban housewife who attends Tupperware parties. Her world is the Thurn and Taxis world, but at several points in the novel, her world touches the Tristero world, causing cataclysms. These cataclysms are represented by sudden plunges into darkness. The first occurs when the Paranoids blow a fuse at the exact second she climaxes with Metzger while cheating on her husband, an act that alienates her from her housewife role. The second occurs when she is at the theater and hears the word Tristero for the first time: "all lights were for a moment cut" and "the word ... hung in the dark." This begins her investigations into the Tristero, a journey that ends up alienating her from all the men in her life. The last is at the end, when the "heavy door" of the auction room is closed on "the lobby windows and the sun." This signals her alienation is complete, and she has surrendered her suburban housewife identity to the darkness of the Tristero. One could argue, however, that Oedipa's alienation is not necessarily a bad thing. Over the course of her journey, Oedipa has been made "sensitive" to the fact that many undergrounds exist away from recognized society. These are the "storm-systems of group suffering" in America, and they are the "true continuity."

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