Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49: An Alternative View of Mass Culture
Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 was published in 1965, three years after the Cuban missile crisis, twenty-four years after the first atomic bombs hit Japan, and during the Cold War period that sent America into a “red scare.” American foreign policy called for a system of containment, aimed at spreading Democracy and expelling Communism, while propagating a state of mass consumption on the home front. Yet, this means of containment moved to American soil once McCarthyism struck and the nation was sent into a state of panic based on suspicion of the “other.”
Though this time in history has been viewed as a time of prosperity, the disintegration that occurred between fellow citizens due to a lack of trust led to an exacerbated state of disorganization and intense paranoia. In the years proceeding this novella, American culture was overwrought with Vietnam reportage and the Watergate scandal–signifying the original story we had been told about America had completely fallen apart, and it was time to reflect on alternative stories of culture to find meaning.
Embedded within the novella are the themes of communication, language, and semiotics. For example, the name of the protagonist, Oedipa, can be divided into two widely known systems of language: OED: The Oxford English Dictionary filled with the etymologies and various meanings of words, and IPA:The International Phonetic Alphabet comprised of symbols representative of the sounds of oral language.
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