The Crying of Lot 49


Chapter 3

Summary Chapter 3


Oedipa, having just committed marital infidelity with Metzger, reflects on her perception of herself as a Rapunzel figure. She thinks that the system she will soon come to discover and explore fully will be the thing that ends her captivity in the tower. Starting with his stamp collection, Oedipa begins going through all of Pierce's possessions in an attempt to order his chaotic affairs. She continues her affair with Metzger, although she does receive vapid and meaningless mail from Mucho updating her about what is going on in Kinneret (basically, nothing).

One night, Oedipa and Metzger go to a bar called The Scope, where they meet Mike Fallopian. Mike is a member of the Peter Pinguid Society, an extreme right-wing group that takes its name from the first U.S.-Russia military encounter in history. The ardently pro-American organization is to the right even of the John Birch Society. The three of them chat about the group until Oedipa leaves to go to the bathroom. In a stall, she sees a symbol that she cannot quite distinguish, comprised of a line segment running tangent to a circle, with an isosceles triangle at one end and a small trapezoid attached to the base of the triangle. Although Oedipa does not realize it at first, it is supposed to depict a muted post-horn. Under the picture is written the name "Kirby" and the acronym WASTE, although Oedipa does not know what it represents.

Returning to the table, she discusses the mail service with Mike. He informs her that the Peter Pinguid Society opposes the U.S. mail monopoly and uses its own private system. Fallopian is, in fact, writing a book on the history of the U.S. Postal Service from the time of the Civil War, which saw enormous postal reform.

A few days later, Oedipa and Metzger take a trip out to Fangoso Lagoons to find Lake Inverarity, one of Pierce's major land-holdings. The Paranoids accompany them with their girlfriends and instruments. They meet Manny di Presso, a minor character who is suing Inverarity's estate on behalf of one of his clients. While they speak to di Presso, two goons come running toward them. Di Presso says they are his clients trying to borrow money, and the group quickly gets on a boat to escape. Di Presso explains that his client, Tony Jaguar, stole bones from a place called Beaconsfield and gave them to Inverarity to make a special charcoal. Inverarity, says Jaguar, never paid for the bones--hence, the lawsuit. Jaguar got the bones from Lago di Pieta in Italy, the site of a horrible massacre in World War II, after which the Italians dumped the dead American corpses into the lake. Jaguar recovered the bodies and sent them to Inverarity.

One of the Paranoids comments that di Presso's story is much like the plot of Richard Wharfinger's The Courier's Tragedy, a Jacobean revenge drama. Intrigued, Oedipa and Metzger go later to see a production of the play, directed by Randolph Driblette. The play itself is a complicated tale of mixed up communication, jealousy, and murder. The most important part of the play comes at the end of the fourth act, when one character says the line, "No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow, / Who's once been set his tryst with Trystero." The mention of Trystero freezes Oedipa; it seems significant, but she does not know why yet (Pynchon hints that it will mean much more to her later on).

After the show, Oedipa goes backstage to speak with Driblette about the bones while Metzger waits for her in the car. She gets a script from Driblette, although the two argue over drama and words; Driblette believes that Oedipa reads too much into things. Driblette maintains that he is producing only a simple revenge play. Oedipa decides to call him later to discuss the play more, and, as she leaves, she realizes that she had meant to discuss the bones, but she had ended up discussing the Trystero.


The Crying of Lot 49 is a satirical novel, as well as a mock detective story. Pynchon shows a keen interest in the marginal figures in society and enjoys poking light fun at them. We see a good example of this in the character of Mike Fallopian, the right-wing radical. The group's absurd name is a type of parody of the John Birch Society, and their radical beliefs about mail are right-wing libertarian views taken to the extreme. The radicals are not the only group to fall prey to the cutting satire; the Paranoids are also mocked as the stereotypical pot-smoking band from the 1960s. Later on, Dr. Hilarius will also be mocked as a radical Freudian doctor obsessed with academic psychology. Pynchon often uses his characters as facades to represent in an extreme fashion real-life counterparts in the Californian society of the 1960s.

This is also the chapter that first introduces us to the Tristero, which Oedipa first hears mentioned in the production of The Courier's Tragedy. It is interesting that, as she herself realizes, she comes away from the show thinking not about the bones as she had originally intended but rather about the Tristero. The issue of bones, in fact, along with the character of Manny di Presso, disappears from the novel altogether after chapter three. The bones are yet another red herring in a book that may be all red herring. However, the departure from the bones plot element is in itself satirical. The bone conspiracy taking place is very disturbing, as well as illegal; it is an issue that really ought to be investigated by the law so as to prosecute the wrongdoers who violated the resting places of so many soldiers. Instead, however, Oedipa forgets all about this real crime that needs to be resolved and turns toward the search for a bizarre, mysterious, and perhaps non-existent conspiracy that may not even have any real moral implications. In this chapter, the novel seems to take a deliberate turn toward the absurd.

A word ought to be said at this point about the Tristero. We will eventually learn who exactly Tristero was and why he is important. Oedipa will slowly uncover the fact that Tristero was a disinherited European noble who fought against the Thurn and Taxis postal system that controlled all European mail delivery throughout the medieval era into the Renaissance and the early modern period. Wharfinger, the author of The Courier's Tragedy, was aware of the existence of Tristero and included a throwaway line about him in the play. This single mention will become Oedipa's obsession in subsequent chapters, leading her into the most complex elements of the novel's plot. However, the Wharfinger play, the important parts of which will be further analyzed by Oedipa in greater detail in later chapters, also deals with the problems of communication between the characters. Indeed, a failure to communicate is what drives much of the play's action. In focusing on Tristero, Oedipa, thus, drives forward the story while ignoring the novel's major theme: communication. This is a marvelous move by Pynchon: the theme of miscommunication highlighted not by a recognition of miscommunication but by a moment of actual miscommunication that is highlighted in the intersection of Wharfinger's text and Pynchon's novel, but which is overlooked by Pynchon's characters.

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