The Crying of Lot 49

Setting (time, place, influence)


Chapter One

In Chapter One, readers are introduced to Oedipa, the main character of the book. In this chapter, Oeddipa has unexpectedly been named executrix of her ex-boyfriend's estate. Baffled as to why she of all people would be chosen to handle the will of her dead ex-lover, Oedipa fruitlessly seeks help and support from her "thin-skinned" radio DJ husband (4), Mucho Maas, and is prompted to follow through with the executing by the family lawyer, Roseman. In this chapter, we learn of Oedipa's paranoia as she refuses to take pills perscribed to her by her shrink, Dr. Hilarious, because she "[doesn't] know what's inside of them" (7). Insight into the way that Oedipa perceives her situation is revealed as well. Oedipa saw herself as locked in a tower (rapunzel style) because of societal, and maybe even personal, constraints. There she waited until some one asked that she let down her hair, this man was Pierce. He "rescued" Oedipa from this state through his shower of materialistic goods and attention. Basically, Chapeter one sees Oedipa discover that she has been named executrix of Pierce's will, unsuccessfully find help from Mucho and Roseman, but give into the notion that executing the will could lead to some kind of self discovery or mystery. (AG-Tagoe)

Chapter Two Chapter two begins as Oedipa rents a car and sets out for San Narciso, where Pierce was from. She checks into a motel called "Echo Courts" where she first meets Miles, the manager, who is a band called the Paranoids and turns out to be slightly paranoid as he assumes Oedipa wants to sleep with him. Later that same night, Metzger, the lawyer in charge of helping Oedipa execute Pierce's estate, arrives at the motel. Coincidently, one of Metzger's movies, "Cashiered," when he was a child moviestar, is on the tv, and the two watch it while they get drunk. They begin to play a strip game than involves guessing what is going to happen and Oedipa wonders (coincidentally?) whether "this were really happening in the same way as, say, her first time with Pierce" (23). Oedipa never really gets more undressed though as she put on every article of clothing she owns. Eventually, they end up drunkenly/ sleepily sleeping with each other. (LL)
Chapter Three

The chapter begins with Oedipa’s revelation with Pierce’s stamp collection, which she believes is going to tell her something important. Oedipa then comments on Mucho’s letter and his habit of statutorily raping seventeen year olds at school dances. Oedipa and Metzger then travel to The Scope, which is a bar near the Yoyodyne plant. Mike Fallopian then introduces himself and points out that his part of the Peter Pinguid Society, which is explained shortly after. Fallopian, Metzger, and Oedipa then start talking about Peter Pinguid, and Oedipa seems intrigued. Oedipa then notices a message on the wall and is finally introduced to WASTE and the post horn symbol, which she first believes to be something sexual. Metzger and Oedipa then run into Paranoids and Manny Di Presso, which finally leads the pair to The Courier’s Tragedy. ZI

Chapter Four

In chapter 4 Oedipa visits Yoyodyne (one of Pierce’s many companies) for a stockholders meeting, and soon wanders off while touring the building. There she meets a man named Stanley Koteks, who was drawing the muted post horn, and is told about the Nefastis Machine, which theoretically violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. For the machine to work, the user must be something called a “sensitive.” Suspecting she is just that, Oedipa travels to Berkeley, where Nefastis lives, to be tested. Also in chapter 4, Oedipa buys a copy of Jacobean Revenge Plays, a book that contains an annotation alluding to a Berkely publisher. While traveling there to investigate she meets Mr. Thoth, and old man who tells her about his Indian killing grandfather (importantly, Thoth has a ring with the muted post horn engraved into it, which that supposedly came from the finger of an Indian). Oedipa talks to Fallopian about these discoveries, trying to make sense of the situation, and is only able to maybe see a connection between the Indian killers and Wells, Fargo and the Pony Express. Next, Oedipa talks to Genghis Cohen (a stamp expert hired to examine Pierce’s collection), who explains that he has hired an Expert Committee to examine confusing stamps in the collection that all share a muted post horn for a watermark. Cohen also shows her old German stamps with the same mark, which makes Oedipa think that some organization is trying to mute the (Thurn and Taxis) postal horn. Chapter 4 ends with Oedipa realizing she may be discovering a large and old conspiracy. (Luke Hedrick)

Chapter Five
Chapter Six



Oedipa Maas is the protagonist who is called upon to be the co-executor of her super-rich ex boyfriend who has died and left a large estate. Oedipa becomes involved with the lawyer who helps her with the will, known primarily as Metzger. Oedipa and Metzger have a strange sexual affair in San Narciso, where they stay in a motel that is run by members of the Paranoids. As Pierce's belongings and estate are sorted out, Oedipa finds herself in a complicated and ambiguous wild goose chase to find out the meaning of Trystero and the Thurn and Taxis post horn. Her search leads her to wonder whether Pierce set up the post horn and Trystero symbols to try and tell Oedipa something or if he did it intentionally without any real meaning. (RLucas)


Pierce Inverarity is Oedipa’s wealthy ex boyfriend who dies and leaves the execution of his will to Oedipa. Pierce seems to be involved with the group W.A.S.T.E, which Oedipa is lead to discover while executing his will. Pierce is dead when the book starts so we never get to see or hear from him directly, which adds to his mysterious nature. It is unknown if Pierce’s intention was to lead Oedipa to uncovering the W.A.S.T.E system by having her do his will. It is also a possibility that Pierce made up the whole adventure just confuse Oedipa. Pierce collected stamps which were sold in the 49th slot at the auction of his estate. (MMcG)


As husband to Oedipa, "Mucho" (Wendall Maas) is neglected by his wife as she embarks upon the journey to discover the secrets behind and solve the mystery of the possible postal conspiracy. He is aware of at least one of the affairs his wife has had ("Mucho knew all about her and Pierce: it had ended a year before Mucho married her" 7), yet his lack of concern about his reputation as a man who is able to satisfy his wife is ironic considering his nickname coincidentally sounds a lot like macho. Mucho is, however, said to be too sensitive, obsessive about cleanliness, touchy, perhaps prudent, and thin-skinned, but what describes him most is the way he acts involving his profession (car-salesman) and the way "he could still never accept the way each owner, each shadow, filed in only to exchange a dented, malfunctioning version of himself for another, just as futureless, automotive projection of somebody else's life" (5). This truly shows that behind his quiet demeanor his thoughts dwell on the endless, fruitless search for that specific "something" that humans go through their entire life. (ElizC)

Dr. Hilarius

Dr. Hilarius is Oedipa’s psychiatrist who tries to influence her to partake in a study for the effects of LSD as a “tranquilizer”, a drug which he prescribes to many “suburban housewives.” In the end, Dr. Hilarius’s LSD drugs start or influence the demise of Oedipa’s husband, Mucho, and Dr. Hilarius himself is driven mad as he claims that he was a Nazi and there are people out to get him. The last scene we see of Hilarius is him being disarmed and escorted off the premises of his office by the police. Dr. Hilarius’s downfall is unique as he ends up needing the thing he has built his whole career on:help. (Elyse)


Metzger is an attractive lawyer who was once a child-actor by the name of “Baby Igor.” He is also co-executer of Pierce Inverarity’s estate with Oedipa. He coincidentally shows up at Oedipa’s motel room with liquor and has an affair with her. Metzger’s appearance also sparks many more coincidences, such as the showing of “Cashiered,” a movie he acts in as a child, as well as the numerous TV advertisements of Inverarity’s holdings. Meanwhile, as Metzger and Oedipa get drunk, he seems desperate to have an affair with her, as if he is on a mission, and he even says to Oedipa Pierce said “[she] wouldn’t be easy,” suggesting that perhaps Pierce influenced or even planned Metzger’s seduction of Oedipa (30). Eventually Metzger runs off with a fifteen-year-old. Metzger’s role brings up the similarities between actors and lawyers. Perhaps Metzger’s success as a lawyer is due to his ability to pretend to be someone else, which may even be the reason why Pierce hires him to seduce Oedipa (that is if Pierce’s conspiracy exists). (Tai)

The Paranoids

The Paranoids are a band that Oedipa comes in contact with while she is staying at the hotel. They are an odd bunch that like to walk in on Oedipa and Metzger, play their instruments set up around the pool and have a bunch of girl groupies. They are the ones who first make the connection between the play and the bones at the bottom of the lake, which leads Oedipa to the name Trystero. (Molly Teague)

Stanley Koteks

Stanley Koteks is a Yoyodyne employee whom Oedipa meets while wandering through the Yoyodyne offices. Oedipa comes upon him doodling a muted post horn. He is unhappy with Yoyodyne's policy on patents, which prevents inventors from retaining the patent rights to their inventions. This leads him into a discussion of John Nefastis' Nefastis Machine and the consequent discussion of Maxwells' demon. He also explains to Oedipa that W.A.S.T.E is an acronym. Mike Fallopian thinks that Koteks "is part of some underground" and that he got brainwashed in school, "like all of us, into believing the Myth of the American Inventor" (70). (CBerk)

Genghis Cohen

Genghis Cohen is the stamp expert who appraises Pierce’s stamp collection. According to Oedipa, he is the most “eminent philatelist” in LA. He gives clues to the nature of the Trystero and Pierce’s connection with it by discovering that many of Pierce’s stamps contain a watermark of the muted post horn. At the end of the novel, Cohen also tells Oedipa that there is a secret bidder for Pierce’s stamp collection at the auction, but he will not divulge his identity before the auction. So the novel ends as Oedipa waits to discover the identity of the mysterious bidder. (Aash)


The director of the play that Oedipa goes to. He explains how his mind is the projector through which the world can be seen and, because of this, the stage is a projection of his mind. He chooses to use the line with "Tristero" on the night that Oedipa attends by chance and dies later. Oedipa wonders if his death is linked to tristero or if it is just the fabrication of her own insanity. He plays a key role in her investigation of tristero and leads her to the book store, which is later burned down, where she finds a copy of the play. (ECL)

Themes/Meanings of the Work

The confused connectivity in Lot 49 reaches an almost absurd level: everything is somehow connected in the most seemingly coincidental of ways, though to relate all the random elements, from muted horns to bone-charcoal ink, would be to give them relevance or meaning that they may not have. Pynchon toys with the unprovable possibilities that reality might be solvable, traceable, and connectable or totally given to absurdity, emotionality, and senselessness. Oedipa's increasing paranoia is driven by the fact that she is not satisfied with reality's answerlessness (<—not an actual word, I know), much in the same way that the open-ended nature of this book drives some of us crazy. (Peter B.)


Maxwell's Demon: A thought experiment developed by James Clerk Maxwell, the demon works like this: serving as a sorter of molecules, the demon expends little to no energy separating hot and cold molecules into two partitioned sections of a container, establishing a heat differential between the two sides. Nature tends towards entropy(disorder); therefore, once the demon is deactivated, the two sections begin to intermingle in a process that releases energy. Such a device would violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always flows from warmer bodies to cooler bodies unless energy is added to a system. Maxwell's theory has recently been disproved by experimentation because the sorting ability of the demon requires much energy in order to create a heat differential. Thematically, Maxwell's Demon represents an ideal of communication, a perfect body of order, which Oedipa searches for in the novel manifested by her neurotic search for the mythical Trystero. This flawless ideal of perpetual motion and endless energy contrasts deeply with the life that Oedipa lives in the novel. (BMITT)

The mysterious history of Trystero: The mention of "Trystero" is really what starts Oedipa's absurd journey, and throughout it we learn much more about its significance (or lack there of), history, and relevance. The secular Trystero, in accordance with the old courier service, began somewhat underground in 1577 during the time of William of Orange while Thurn and Taxis attained a monopoly on the business. With the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, Trystero gained influence, and the rivalry between said two companies was compounded. This explains why Trystero's muted horn is a "silenced" version of the symbol of Thurn and Taxis' famous crest, and yet another symbol of Trystero, the dead badger, has its roots with the Italian word "tasso". Then there's a bunch of stuff about the "pornagraphic version" of the play, The Courier, in which Trystero is mentioned. This edition is somehow the Vatican edition, thus presenting us with yet another conspiracy idea that may or may not be significant. Good luck understanding it. (WHolt)

DTs/dt: Delirium tremens (DTs) are associated with alcoholics as they have trouble making sense of their memories and thoughts when not drinking. Their chronological memories become furrowed and jumbled together as they cannot make sense of their past, jumping from memory or memory. With the DTs, ones mind deteriorates into disorder, following the law of entropy. Oedipa associates the DTs of a sailor with dt in calculus, randomly jumping from the present to the past. Dt in calculus represents the velocity at a certain point, an individual rate of change. Instead of following the curve to find values, you can use derivatives to find the rate of change at a retain point. Oedipa connects this to the DTs, letting calculus represent a parallel to delirium tremens. Rates of change in terms of memories means that people are able to jump from memory to memory quickly, disregarding chronological order. (CarolineKelly)

The Courier's Tragedy: Yes, I know that the play on its own is not a "symbol," per say, but the events and characters in the Courier's Tragedy present Oedipa with one unsettling coincidence after another. Oedipa cannot help but notice the similarity between her own discoveries surrounding the estate of Pierce Inverarity and the events of the performance. Some of the most important of these connections are the mysterious dissapearance of the Lost Guard of Faggio, the reference to digging up bones and turning them into ink (Angelo's "magical ink"), the conflicts surrounding the mail carrying company (Thurn and Taxis), the unexplained allusion to Trystero, and the surprising appearance of assasins in black (who kill Niccolo). Perhaps the most noteworthy of the connections, however, is how the characters seem to trace every misfortune back to Angelo (the disappearance of the Lost Guard and the murders of the Duke of Squa and Niccolo). This realization plays a hugely influential role in increasing Oedipa's paranoia…she soon seems to find that the details of the conspiracy (or whatever it is that she is chasing) all lead back to Pierce. Did Pierce intentionally leave this behind for her to sort through? Is this some sort of game in which Oedipa has been set up? Does Pierce have some awfully twisted sense of humor, even in death? Is this real life? (KWatts)

Drugs- Be it marijuana or LSD, drugs consistently appear as a motif throughout the novel. We first see a reference to drugs when Dr. Hilarious asks Oedipa to participate in an experiment in which subjects consume LSD. Though Oedipa refuses, the concept of delirium as a result of drug consumption presents a possible tie to Oedipa’s rapid change into “insanity.” Additionally, we see the Paranoids, an ironically appropriate band name, continually reference smoking marijuana cigarettes. This factor may also contribute to the time period of the book as the psychedelic 1960’s were highly drug induced. The novel also follows a pattern of madness, insanity, and paranoia which are commonly associated with drug usage. (TMott)

Reality versus Insanity- The motif of insanity or being crazy reoccurs several times. Oedipa hopes that she is insane because that is the most plausible explanation for the mysteriously connected events she uncovers, because if not the reality is to hard to comprehend and too upsetting to accept. It is possible that the entire puzzle was fabricated by Pierce since everyone she encounters is somehow connected back to her ex-boyfriend. This coincidence challenges the reader to question what is reality and what she just perceived to be true. Oedipa is advised to right down all the facts and her assumptions, but when readers try to do this the line between what is reality and what is assumption is difficult to draw. (SarahB)

Significance of Opening Scene
The novel opens with its main character, Mrs. Oedipa Maas, returning from a Tupper-ware social gathering, learning she is the executor of her former lover, Pierce Inverarity’s will, and standing idly, perhaps dumbfounded, in her living room. This scene, including the ominous “greenish dead eye of the TV tube,” introduces a social atmosphere plagued by consumerism and materialism taken to the extreme (1). The Tupper-ware party, “whose hostess has put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue” emphasizes the carelessness associated with a purely materialistic mentality, a point further validated by Oedipa’s immobile state upon her return as if the life had been drained from her (1). Oedipa represents and upholds the cult of domesticity, but simultaneously feels oppressed and caged away from the real world as is expressed in her emotional reaction to Remedios Varo’s painting of the dainty women embroidering tapestries. Oedipa realizes that Pierce Inverarity, supremely wealthy real-estate mogul, who represents the epitome of consumerism ideology, had pushed her deeper into a narrow-minded, frivolous society, which she, “a captive maiden,” now desires to escape from (11). In this sense, Oedipa endlessly grapples with not only finding the significance in reappearing symbols but also struggles in determining individual identity. (CChiaroni)

Significance of Closing Scene

The novel concludes with the crying of Lot 49, meaning that Lot 49, or the collection of Pierce's stamps that are "forgeries" with the muted horn symbol, is being auctioned off. The novel abruptly ends when Oedipa is at the auction waiting to see who will bid on the stamps, believing this outsider will undoubtedly have some connection to the Tristero. Yet while it appears that she may be approaching some resolution, we are unable to see the conclusion of this auction, which could indicate that the loose ends will never be tied up and the Tristero mystery will keep expanding and producing more unsolvable leads. We are then left to wonder, as Oedipa does, the rationality behind this Tristero pursuit. She could have stumbled upon "a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life," (141) she could be hallucinating the whole ordeal while tripping on drugs, she could be the victim of an elaborate plot by Pierce, or she could be simply imagining the entire scheme. As the novel simply terminates without any indication as to which one of the four possibilities is correct, we are intended to feel the same angst, confusion, and frustration as Oedipa. We are supposed to experience similar emotions so that we can comprehend how this initial inquiry developed into an obsession that has left her compulsive and alone. (Gaustin)

Fun Stuff

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