Down the Rabbit Hole and into the Tristero: A Post from ENG-353

From my examination of Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” from my Contemporary American Literature class.

As Oedipa begins her self-imposed quest to unravel the mystery of the Tristero, she enters the proverbial rabbit hole just as Lewis Carroll did in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Whereas Carroll’s protagonist sought to explore a world where nothing makes sense, Thomas Pynchon does the opposite by having Oedipa try to correct and understand the topsy-turvy world her ex-boyfriend Pierce Inverarity left behind. True to both novels, once the quest for knowledge begins and the lead characters enter the rabbit hole, any chance of returning drops exponentially. Prophesizing this self-damning quest for knowledge is Oedipa’s first night with the lawyer Metzger. In a dingy hotel room in Southern California, the weirdness and disassociation from the normal begins. Metzger initiates a game of strip Botticelli over bottles of champagne and tequila with Oedipa. Oedipa refrains from playing at first and only does so after wearing multiple layers of clothing, an attempt at prolonging the amount of time and questions she can ask before the game “ends” and Metzger “wins” the evening with a naked Oedipa. As the night moves forward, “The progressive removal of clothing that would bring her no nearer to nudity,” sends Oedipa deeper into the rabbit hole and yet she has gained nothing from the night besides an oncoming migraine as all of her preconceived notions become less clear than they already were. Her long endeavor failed to give her any real answers other than the realization that Inverarity lays at the center of something much bigger than she imagined.
Alice and Oedipa both possess a childlike wonder and commitment to diving into the unknown. Both characters also live in a fairytale. For Alice it’s her Wonderland and for Oedipa it is her dark tower as Rapunzel. As the book progresses however, Oedipa stops being the helpless Rapunzel and enters into the Wonderland of the Tristero conspiracy to break herself completely from her tower. Perhaps that is the defining motif of the novel. Both characters, Alice and Oedipa have a surprising amount of self-reliance. Very rarely do any creatures in Wonderland offer any useful help to Alice and just as rarely has any boyfriend or lover freed Oedipa from her tower. Taking it upon themselves, both heroines dive deeper and deeper on their own with no plan on how to get out. Eventually, Alice wakes up from her dream just as the madness crescendos around her. Such an easy escape from the rabbit hole does not seem to be in keeping with Pynchon’s style. Soon enough Oedipa’s story will end and Pynchon will have to decide how.

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