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The Crying of Lot 49 | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

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The Crying of Lot 49 | Quotes


All the bits and pieces coated uniformly, like a salad of despair.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Oedipa claims Mucho is "sensitive," a word that takes on a different meaning thanks to John Nefastis and his machine with a Maxwell's demon. Through his work at a used car lot, Mucho was already privy to a look at the lives of the disenfranchised in America. He saw poor people trading in their old cars with debris that created a "salad of despair." Mucho could not handle it, instead retreating into a shallow suburban life.


There had hung the sense of buffering, insulation, she had noticed the absence of an intensity.

Narrator, Chapter 1

As Oedipa contemplates what she might discover in the process of executing Pierce's will, she realizes she feels like an observer of her own life, and the view is "out of focus." She is reacting to the shallowness of her existence as a suburban housewife and how little meaning she derives from it.


What really keeps her where she is is magic ... visited on her from outside.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Oedipa identifies with the painted women in the tower who create the world while being trapped by it. Pynchon argues here that people are both products and captives of their society.


Good guys and bad guys. You never get to any of the underlying truth.

Mike Fallopian, Chapter 3

Fallopian criticizes extreme positions. He tells Metzger he "thinks like a Bircher." (The John Birch Society, unlike the Peter Pinguid Society, is actually a real organization.) By thinking in this binary way—good versus bad—a person does not allow for any nuance and therefore never works toward understanding that truth is much more complex and requires real engagement.


You could waste your life that way and never touch the truth.

Randolph Driblette, Chapter 3

Driblette is warning Oedipa of the high cost associated with researching Tristero. Even with full engagement, Oedipa will likely never find satisfactory answers. Pynchon seems to insinuate that ultimate truth is unknowable and the dogged pursuit of it should not consume one's life.


Everything she saw, smelled, dreamed, remembered, would somehow come to be woven into the Tristero.

Narrator, Chapter 4

This quote points to how obsessively Oedipa pursues answers about Tristero, despite ample warnings that to continue in such a fashion would mean "wasting" her life.


Teamwork is ... a symptom of the gutlessness of the whole society.

Stanley Koteks, Chapter 4

Koteks is part of a disgruntled underground group of inventors. These inventors believe in the right for private citizens to own their own ideas. They are therefore disenfranchised from a society that allows companies to exploit inventors' ideas for their own profit under the guise of the word "teamwork."


The central truth itself ... must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Oedipa's inability to grasp the underlying or central truth is a reoccurring theme. Pynchon reminds the reader of it often to hammer the point home.


She moved ... wanting to feel relevant but knowing how much ... it would take.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Pynchon brings up alternate universes here. This perhaps foreshadows Oedipa's meeting with Arrabal, who tells her about the "miracle" of coexisting worlds that touch at certain points. Oedipa does not feel relevant in the student world of Berkeley, nor in the world of suburbia she has recently occupied. Via the Tristero, she is searching "alternate" worlds, and maybe ultimately she will find where she belongs.


With coincidences ... wherever she looked, she had nothing but ... Trystero, to hold them together.

Narrator, Chapter 5

The sheer number of coincidences Oedipa encounters makes her situation seem like some sort of hallucinogenic trip that cannot be real. The fact that the Tristero (or Trystero, as it is here spelled) is the common denominator lends some credence to the possibility her situation is a hoax with intelligent design, perhaps at Pierce's behest.


Metaphor ... was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Oedipa muses that one can be inside or outside a metaphor, and she no longer knows where she is. To be inside a metaphor is to be safe; that is, if a person is inside, they know the meaning of it. Outside the metaphor, a person is lost because they do not know the meaning.


You're an antenna, sending your pattern out across a million lives a night.

Wendell "Mucho" Maas, Chapter 5

LSD has expanded Mucho's mind, or at least he believes it has. With his new abilities, he believes he can engage in true communication with the "million lives" he reaches with his radio station every night.


Oedipa sat ... wondering whether ... some version of herself hadn't vanished with him.

Narrator, Chapter 6

As Oedipa muses about Driblette's words to her from the shower—that he might "dissolve" down the drain and vanish—she feels lost. This speaks to her alienation from her identity as a suburban housewife. Her investigations into Tristero have made her "sensitive" to the plight of the disenfranchised, and she can never really go back to her shallow life.


For this, oh God, was the void.

Narrator, Chapter 6

After losing the men in her life who defined who she was, Oedipa feels completely untethered to her existence as a suburban housewife. She no longer has a sense of self, and this is the void she'd always feared.


Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth.

Narrator, Chapter 6

This quote points not only to Oedipa's search for meaning but her need for the world to make sense. If there is no greater meaning, then her search, she fears, has been pointless. However, Pynchon suggests true meaning is not found in the end result, but within the journey itself.

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