Imposing Meaning Upon Chaos
The journey itself is a metaphor for human existence—the suggestion that our place as humans on earth is purely by chance, and we seek to find things to take as “signs” in order to validate that humans are purposed individuals and not accidental products of random science. An example of how Pynchon’s representation of the way in which people impose interpretation on the meaningless is a way to force order into an environment that is unequivocally disordered.
Oedipa is faced with all sorts of information and all sorts of imaginings, but she cannot easily determine what is real and what she should dismiss as the product of an overactive imagination. She is desperate for any sign of confirmation that there is a purpose for where she is in life. Pynchon displays her desperation as Oedipa goes to the ladies’ room during intermission—“she looked idly around for the symbol she’d seen the other night…but all the walls, surprisingly, were blank.
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She could not say why, exactly, but felt threatened by this absence of even the marginal try at communication latrines are known for” (Pynchon 53). The mention of “marginal communication” is indicative of Oedipa’s frustration with the lack thereof in her own life, and obsessive search for more information on the Trystero. The way Oedipa wants to turn the mystery of the Trystero into a “constellation,” relates to the problem of communication theme.
The real problem to Oedipa is why Driblette referred to the Trystero in his production of The Courier’s Tragedy, but once again, his death acts as a breaking down of communication, which prevents her from ever finding out. Her labeling the Trystero as a constellation is a feeble attempt—it does not hold up as truly ordered. Oedipa’s quest to construct a constellation seems to indicate that she is only looking for a superficial system. Indeed, she never succeeds in figuring out the meaning behind the Trystero, and, further, the novel ends with the very strong likelihood that the mystery may hold no mystery at all.
And just as she is unable to piece together the puzzle of the Trystero, she is similarly unable to refashion her life after it begins to fall apart. Oedipa has placed all of her time and effort into finding an answer for her mystery quest that it becomes her hope for placing meaning in her own life—“the Trystero [could] bring an end to her encapsulation in her tower” (Pynchon 31). Pynchon also uses the concepts of entropy and the possibility of meaning to emphasize the huge gaps between theory and understanding that theory, which is something Oedipa will perpetually struggle with.
Entropy being the tendency of things to disorder themselves over time into chaos is a perfect symbol of what Oedipa is threatening to become as she becomes more and more frustrated with lack of communication, as well as becoming less and less sure of what is or is not reality: “she had only to drift…at random, and watch nothing happen, to be convinced it was purely nervous, a little something for her shrink to fix” (Pynchon 88). The Nefastis Machine, supposedly working against entropy, is a model for the themes of order and disorder through the novel.
Like the machine, interpretation is an effort to impose order on disorder, but also like the machine, that interpretation is itself founded upon disorder. The entire ordering structure is called into question; Oedipa turns out not to be a “sensitive,” and she is never able to solve the story of the Trystero. Ultimately, Pynchon’s ability to use communication as a basis for something that should create order, instead ironically creating disorder—makes it nearly impossible to distinguish between the two, which leads characters such as Oedipa and Dr.
Hilarius to attempt to translating order and meaning out of random things, not ever entirely sure whether or not they are hallucinating. Oedipa, in the end does not even attempt to deny that she is committed to attach meaning to things that may not coincide with what she believes—“Nothing…could touch her. Nothing did. The repetition of symbols was to be enough…she tested it, shivering: ‘I am meant to remember. Each clue that comes is supposed to have its own clarity, its fine chances for permanence’ ” (Pynchon 95). Dr. Hilarius, in a sense, is used to help Oedipa temporarily see communication as potentially workable—Dr.
Hilarius gets to finish his sentences and convey his opinions to her, raving or otherwise. By telling her to “cherish it,” it adds to the theme of attaching meaning to chaos where possible, “to hold it dear, for when you lose it, you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be” (Pynchon 113). Although Oedipa still begins to lose herself through isolation resulting from being unable to make sense of the Trystero, it is clear that it is an almighty struggle to let go of the compulsion to make sense of nonsense.
Finally, Pynchon is careful to highlight the fact that Oedipa becomes increasingly isolated from other people. The most striking image of this isolation comes early in chapter five, when Pynchon writes, “Oedipa sat, feeling as alone as she ever had, now the only woman,” she cannot even relieve her boredom and isolation by engaging in sex (Pynchon 94). She has distanced herself from her husband, her physician, and even her lover. Her social world is disintegrating along with the culture in which she lives.
This part is useful in explaining how her obsession is obviously intertwined with finding meaning in a perceived conspiracy, because if it is not, the fact that these things in her life are completely meaningless will become her personal hell, which she cannot face. This is why the end of the novel shows Oedipa clinging to the hope that the crier of Lot 49 will be a link to her theory. The Crying of Lot 49 displays a fragmented world in which there are always winding distractions, in which information leads to more of the same, rather than to answers.
In the face of such an onslaught of information communication breakdowns, Oedipa feels compelled to impose interpretations that might not fit for the simple reason that she needs a “constellation,” recognizable, to hold on to. In trying to create order, Oedipa alienates herself from the very world she is trying to organize. As the novel demonstrates, in the Trystero conspiracy Oedipa, in vain, tries to solve, in the ending that is not really an ending at all, reality can be constructed as a way to validate importance in individuals’ existences.