The Crying of Lot 49


Names in The Crying of Lot 49

Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 is a very deep, complex, and demanding novel, requiring the wide breadth of knowledge. One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is Pynchon's choice -- or rather, invention -- of the names he gives the characters and organizations described in the novel. These names function as metaphors for the people and things they represent, thus enabling us to understand the hidden meaning of the novel.
The protagonist of The Crying of Lot 49 is a woman named Oedipa Maas. Oedipa's first name, obviously, derives from Oedipus, the hero of Sophocles' famous play. According to the legend, Oedipus' parents found out that he was fated to kill his father and marry his mother. Therefore, they arranged for the child's death. However, he was rescued and grew to adulthood in another kingdom. As an adult, Oedipus meets a strange man on the road and kills him, never knowing that he is actually his father. When he reaches the next kingdom, he learns that the king has mysteriously died, and Oedipus himself becomes king, marrying the former king's wife, who of course is his mother. When Oedipus finds out what he has done, he blinds himself and becomes a wandering beggar.
Sigmund Freud took the legend of Oedipus as a metaphor for the wish of every small boy to get his father out of the way so he could have his mother all to himself. Most men resolve this dilemma by the time they reach adulthood; some do not, and are therefore unable to cope with the stresses of adult life. Men do not want to recognize this tendency in themselves, but -- like Oedipus -- once they are aware of this, it intrudes itself on their consciousness at every move, until they begin to doubt their own sanity. This is very much the case with Oedipa as well. Once she begins to pick up on the difference appearances of the existence of Tristero, it seems to be everywhere, and its pervasiveness seems impossible. She has other ties to Oedipus as well. Like him, she originally belonged to the society of which she claims to be a part -- in Oedipus' case, Thebes; in Oedipa's, twentieth-century America. But her discovery makes her an alien, and she comes to doubt her own sanity like Freud's conflicted men.