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 Bluest Eyes and narrative shifts
The Bluest Eyes keeps shifting the point of view of the narration, through various mechanisms, either through a different narrator or a change in the focalization. If the first part kept mostly to Claudia and an omniscient narrator’s perspective, the second part of the novel is less sparse in using these kinds of devices, as we are made aware of both of Pecola’s parents’ stories – Polly through a first-person narrative like a journal, intertwined with the omniscient narrator’s account, and Cholly through his own internal focalization. We are even invited into Pecola’s mind, in a strange dialogue with an unnamed “friend” (who might be understood as a form of Pecola’s subconscious). In a novel that questions the subjective view of beauty, showing multiple accounts and perspective serves to create and question a previously fixed understanding of what beauty can contain. There is no clear and definite perspective on beauty, and it translates in the form of a wavering identity; there is a clear vocabulary of stripping oneself of everything once the self is viewed through the lens of beauty: Polly experiences it both when she take on the standard of beauty for herself – “in equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap” (122) – and when she gives it up – “Everything went. Look like I just didn’t care no more after that.” The clear dichotomy between “after” and “before” (196) getting blue eyes – or, the equivalent of becoming beautiful – is soon blurred by the unnamed voice who plants seeds of doubts in Pecola’s mind, forcing her to continue her quest – until the last image of her, “searching the garbage” (206).
In the airport scene, Oedipa is described as “playing the voyeur and listener” (100), observing an array of strange and unusual characters walking by her. Describing the people she sees, the narrative, somehow takes on an omniscient point of view through her eyes, as for example she knows a Negro woman “kept going through rituals of miscarriage each for a different reason”. Contradicting these strange omniscient descriptions, is Oedipa’s own doubts as to how many times she saw the post horn, as “perhaps she did not see it quite as often as she later was to remember seeing it”. Oedipa’s focalization wavers often between internal, subjective, and something more omniscient, never quite reconciling its ambiguity (as when, on page 28, she manages to take off three different earrings). Perhaps the answer can be found in this same description on page 100, where Oedipa sees a double of herself, another voyeur whose consciousness, for some reason, she can’t access, as she doesn’t know what he or she is looking for (“searching for who knows what specific image”).