The Crying of Lot 49 | Study Guide

Thomas Pynchon

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Crying of Lot 49 Study Guide." Course Hero. 16 Mar. 2018. Web. 27 Sep. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2018, March 16). The Crying of Lot 49 Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)



Course Hero. "The Crying of Lot 49 Study Guide." March 16, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Crying of Lot 49 Study Guide," March 16, 2018, accessed September 27, 2023,

The Crying of Lot 49 | Symbols



A mirror symbolizes identity, and Oedipa has several significant encounters with mirrors over the course of the novel. During Metzger's seduction game in her motel room, Oedipa goes to the bathroom and dresses in so many layers of clothes she looks like a "beach ball with feet." This makes her clumsy enough to shatter the mirror. As the seduction goes on, Oedipa steps again into the bathroom and cannot "find her image" in the broken mirror. This is perhaps a warning that her impending infidelity with Metzger will be the first step in alienating her from her suburban housewife identity.

Later, at a hotel in San Francisco, she fears the mirror across from her bed holds "something," but she can't see what it is. After a turbulent night, she wakes up "staring into the mirror at her own exhausted face." This illustrates how her investigations into the Tristero are breaking down her sense of self. When Oedipa goes over the alternatives of what is going on with the Tristero in Chapter 6, she "advise[s] her reflection in the half-light of that afternoon's vanity mirror" to take on a new identity. She understands the Oedipa she knows is vanishing, or is perhaps already gone.


In The Crying of Lot 49, darkness represents the underground groups, like the Tristero, that only thrive in secrecy away from official channels. Members of the Tristero wear black to symbolize this darkness. Via her investigations into the Tristero, Oedipa comes into contact with this darkness.

From the first chapter, the reader is aware Oedipa is both fascinated and frightened by the void. She can identify with the "frail girls" in the painting by the exiled Spanish artist Remedios Varo (1908–63). They "embroider" a tapestry, "seeking hopelessly to fill the void." In a sense, this is also what Oedipa does with her investigations into Pierce's assets and the Tristero. She seeks purpose and meaning to replace the dark void inside her. But instead of the void being filled, The Tristero plunges her whole identity into the darkness of the void. The reader can trace this process via the sudden plunges into darkness Oedipa experiences.

The first time this happens is when she and Metzger climax together at the same moment the Paranoids blow a fuse. This act of infidelity alienates her from her housewife role. The second incident is at the theater when she first hears the word Tristero spoken: "All lights were for a moment cut" and "the word ... hung in the dark." This jump-starts her investigations into the Tristero, a path that alienates her from all the men in her life. The final occurrence is when the "heavy door" of the auction room closes on "the lobby windows and the sun." Her alienation is complete. She has surrendered her suburban housewife identity to the "darkness" of Tristero.

Muted Post Horn

The muted post horn is symbolic of a "withdrawal" from recognized society, because a mute literally prevents a horn from being heard. The symbol was supposedly created by the Tristero and later adopted by the underground WASTE mail delivery system. Oedipa first encounters the "hieroglyph" in the bathroom of a bar, The Scope, along with a WASTE address, but she does not know what it means until later. The muted post horn is made up of "a loop, triangle and trapezoid." She subsequently sees it on Mr. Thoth's signet ring and catches Stanley Koteks doodling it at Yoyodyne.

As Oedipa learns from Genghis Cohen, the stamp expert, the post horn itself was found in the coat of arms of Thurn and Taxis. Cohen tells her Thurn and Taxis was the official European mail service from 1300 to 1867, and thus the post horn symbolizes official communication. Because the Tristero's objective was to disrupt official communication, they added the "extra little doojigger sort of coming out of the bell" to depict a mute. The mute also represents their silence and secrecy.

Once Oedipa is sensitive to the muted post horn symbol, she begins to see it everywhere. In San Francisco it leads her to discover many underground groups, including Inamorati Anonymous, a group for those addicted to love. She begins to understand there are many such disenfranchised groups of people in America, and perhaps the Tristero is a way to give them a voice and feeling of belonging and meaning.

Questions for Symbols

View all
Lord of the Flies- Chapter 8 Study Questions. What does "Gift for the Darkness" mean in two ways? What is the connection between the beast and the skewered sow's head? What truth has Simon realized th
Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
"Which kind of turnabout is required to make during your road test?" (This would be relating to Driver's Ed.) --Chapter 6 Lesson 1--
Respond: Part 1: In “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe critiques Conrad’s representation of Africa and European imperialism. Discuss Achebe’s ow
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Crying of Lot 49? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!