Author: mfmellin

The Crying of Lot 49 and Point of View

The Crying of Lot 49 opens with a disorienting account of Oedipa’s discovery that she has just been named executor for her recently deceased ex-boyfriend, Inverarity. Though the novel is not written in the first person, Pynchon works through Oedipa with a narrative style that is at once extremely evocative and jarring. Take for instance this long, run-on sentence,

“She thought of a hotel room in Mazatlán whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby; a sunrise over the library slop at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west; a dry disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she’d always had the hovering fear it would someday topple on them.” (1)

These are the thoughts that assail Oedipa as she reels from the strange news and all of it is telling and yet the reader has almost no sense of Oedipa as a character at this point. Within the first page of the novel, Pynchon lets the reader into many moments that are important to Oedipa–things worth remembering when she thinks of her ex, and yet there is a distinct lack of any words that might identify how Oedipa might feel about any of these snippets. The hotel door slamming seems to carry some sadness with it or dread with the words “it seemed forever,” but why is this significant to Oedipa–perhaps it is their break-up but there is no real confirmation for the reader here, just a barrage of thoughts that hint at a greater interiority which is kept private from the reader. There is a strong sense of disillusionment and dread throughout this bit of narration and the reader might be led to understand Oedipa as somewhat of a cynical, lost, and disenchanted individual but for how much information Pynchon gives the reader about key points of remembrance for her, he reveals very little of her actual selfhood.

The Rights of Personhood

After the discussion on Monday, I found I really wanted to comment on Bladerunner this week, though it is slightly unorthodox for me to do so as part of the Wednesday group. The group presenting had a final question that the class did not have a chance to address–“Is Deckard a Replicant?”–and I’d like to try to answer it here. This question can be framed in two ways: “Is Deckard a synthetic being?” or “Does Deckard have the same situation and problems of a Replicant?” Given that the first is unprovable by any viewer, the second must be considered. Deckard’s personality–or lack thereof–seems at first an obvious suggestion that he might be a replicant, but none of the humans in this movie are the fully-fleshed out people we associate with fictional representations. Working within the movie alone, Deckard does not actually stand out much from other human characters, whom we learn equally little about. Some might point to Deckard’s taking orders against his will at the start of the movie, but all the concrete examples of replicants in the movie rebel against orders. And so the question becomes, why does Deckard act more like a robot than the actual robots? Because it doesn’t matter for him. The true difference between Deckard and the replicants, which makes me convinced that Deckard is not a replicant, is that replicants are constantly scrutinized and feel the need to justify their humanity. Rachael brings out evidence of herself as a child, Leon safeguards his precious photos, Pris says “I think therefore I am,” and Roy saves Deckard. The last is significant because Roy is appealing to an idealized version of humanity–he safeguards life, therefore he must be human. Deckard never feels the need to do any of these things because he is under no pressure to justify himself–these are rights he possesses innately. Someone pointed out in class that Deckard was eating at the beginning of the movie and seemed aimless. The fact that he’s eating furthers the notion that Deckard is human–he consumes, he is selfish.

Pecola as a Central Character

When I began reading “The Bluest Eye,” I read the foreword, which elucidated many parts of the novel that might have otherwise confused me. What sticks out the most in looking back on this novel is Pecola’s designation as the main character. Morrison writes, “the main character could not stand alone since her passivity made her a narrative void. So I invented friends, classmates” (X). This confession startled me at the time but I proceeded to read with a fixation on any mention of Pecola, knowing she was meant to be the focal point of the plot. And she is the focal point at a distance–a force that whispers through the lifelines of all other characters, connecting their disparate situations, but she seems to belong to the realm of in-between–a character that exists in tension but not on her own. It is an odd situation when the main character cannot bear the weight of the plot. In the end, when Morrison forces her to confront that role and take her place as the primary voice, she crumbles. Pecola’s split personality then seems less like a necessary reaction to traumatic events, and more like a literary device to ease the burden of Pecola’s designation as plot-bearer.

Alison’s Homophobia

One of the things I’ve struggled with in reading Fun Home is Alison’s conditional homophobia. Though gay herself, it seems as though her realization came at least in part from her idolization of masculinity–as in, Alison wanted to take on the role of the man in her house with all that would entail (i.e. dating other women). She laments that her coming out did not separate her from her family as she intended but it seemed destined to be that way. She reviles her father’s femininity, his sexuality, and means to show him how he ought to act through her own life choices. It’s hard for me to reconcile Alison’s clear distaste for gay men with her own sexuality. She detests all of his more feminine characteristics, even when they are not forced upon her and during his funeral scene, she fantasizes about outing him as a “manic-depressive, closeted fag” (129). This hypocrisy does not endear Alison to the reader and I was often struck by a feeling of ‘I want to see what happens, but I’m tired of hearing Alison’s thoughts on things.’ I realized I wanted a different narrator. I don’t know if this is some symptom of an unreliable narrator because I don’t believe Alison is lying but I’ve come to see her as a singularly unhappy person that cannot abide the appearance of wholeness–if she perceives something as broken she wants it to appear broken.

The Narrator’s Subconscious

Chapter nine opens with the narrator walking to deliver his last letter to a man named Mr. Emerson. Along the way he meets Peter Wheatstraw, a fellow Southerner singing a song that the narrator remembers from his childhood. The narrator’s reaction here is two-toned as he struggles with his concept of his own identity. He is not immediately pleased to hear Peter’s song, saying there is “no escaping” (173) these bits of home that emerge from time to time, which is to say that the narrator feels trapped by his past to some extent. Or more accurately, the narrator is somewhat ashamed of where he comes from and has attempted to distance himself from everything that would remind him. However, the narrator struggles to cling to his conviction; he admits, “I wanted to leave him, and yet I found a certain comfort in walking along beside him” (175). The narrator is at war with himself–when he gives in and speaks more amicably with Peter, he finds himself laughing “despite [himself]” (176). The past he claimed to revile when he first heard Peter’s songs is now something he is nostalgic for, but it’s not entirely a matter of rejecting the false world of academia he has dedicated himself to and re-connecting with his roots; the narrator is split. Even if he wanted to go back, he’s already in a state of transition. Peter’s rhymes are familiar and charming, but he doesn’t quite know how to respond to Peter as he might have at one time–“I’d known the stuff from childhood, but had forgotten it; had learned it back of school…” (176). The depth of the narrator’s struggle here, the manner in which his direct desires conflict with the things that actually bring him joy–things he has already half-forgotten after denying himself so long–makes the narrator seem real.