Tag: subconscious mind

Disintegration of character and controversy in The Crying of Lot 49

“Now here was Oedipa, faced with a metaphor of God knew how many parts; more than two, anyway. WIth coincidences blossoming these days wherever she looked, she had nothing but a sound, a word, Trystero, to hold them together.” (87)

I found this passage very interesting to think about in terms of how the broader narrative of The Crying of Lot 49 and Oedipa herself, as a character, are constructed. Oedipa has traveled to so many strange places (from her home in Kinneret to universities, strip malls, strange theaters, and gay bars, among others) and had so many strange encounters with strange people (Dr. Hilarius and his “bridge,” Metzger and his Strip Botticelli, Nefstasis and his demon), and the only thing to “hold them together” (87) not only for her, but for us, as readers of the novella, is “nothing but a sound, a word, Trystero.” (87) We touched on this in class on Monday when we talked about how we experience the same coincidences and are led into the same controversies as Oedipa, but I think this concept can be further examined in terms of Oedipa as a character.

The same passage later continues:

“Here in San Francisco, away from all tangible assets of that estate, there might still be a chance of getting the whole thing to go away and disintegrate quietly. She had only to drift tonight, at random, and watch nothing happen, to be convinced it was entirely nervous, a little something for her shrink to fix.” (88)

There is an interesting parallel between the word disintegrate, which refers to Trystero, and the phrase drift … at random, which refers to Oedipa. If Trystero, as it increasingly seems, is “perhaps fantasied by Oedipa,” (88) then it is not Trystero that holds Oedipa and more broadly the narrative together, but rather Oedipa herself. The parallel then connects the disintegration of Trystero to the disintegration of Oedipa as the character she has been — a return to the “nervous” housewife she was before anything had happened. A later exchange with Mike Fallopian reflects the tension  that then arises from this tenuous characterization. “Has it every occurred to you, Oedipa, that somebody’s been putting you on? It had occurred to her. But like the thought that someday she would have to die, Oedipa had been steadfastly refusing to look at that possibility directly, or in any but the most accidental of lights.” (138) The “somebody” putting her on is herself, and so Oedipa is hesitant to realize that possibility, in the same way that we avoid thinking of death — for the fear that our lives are meaningless. Her hesitation could perhaps reflect on the reader as well, in that we are also reluctant to dismiss the Trystero controversy and the narrative we have become invested in.

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.