The American Way and Its Double in The Crying of Lot 49



Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 presents itself as in many ways a detective story, a fact not lost on its critics. Tony Tanner, for example, singles out the Southern California variety, especially those by Ross Macdonald. In a standard Macdonald plot a crime in the very recent past is shown to have been engendered by conflicts a generation old: the past has been, in many if not most of Macdonald's books, a prologue. Similarly, Oedipa Maas, Pynchon's protagonist, searches for the solution to a crime and discovers that it leads not only to herself (one register of her filiation to Sophocles's Oedipus) but also backward to the past generations that have spawned both her and the culprits (another register of that filiation). Lot 49 also presents itself as an anatomy of postwar American consumer society and the legacy it inherits. It has been frequently noted (by more than one critic and by more than one cheated and sullen undergraduate reader) how the novel fails to deliver on the promise implied by the detective story format. However, it is partly through its very failure in this respect that it delivers on the second aspect of its agenda: that of describing the land inherited by Oedipa and her kind. To show how such failure aids such success is my purpose here. To do this requires a detour from the narrative--brief but important--the better to return to the world from which Oedipa sets forth on her quest. This world, never far from the foreground of Oedipa's journey, is of course itself a bellwether of postwar American middle-class culture as a whole: that of the media-soaked Mecca of consumerism that is California.


How to Cite: Conroy, M. (1989) “The American Way and Its Double in The Crying of Lot 49”, Pynchon Notes.(0). doi: