Oedipa as the Central Figure of The Crying of Lot 49

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Few commentaries on the novel are silent on the subject of Oedipa’s name. Most take for granted that it is significant in a straightforward way: by referring the reader to some extra-textual network of meanings the name appropriates some or all of those meanings for the novel, which thus draws part of its own significance from the resonances they generate. This is the “conventional” response that at least one critic claims is unavoidable. Even if the name is a joke, the only way to determine that fact is by “answering the question ‘Is Oedipa Oedipal?’”. We can call into question the claim that Pynchon’s names are meaningful only in the sense that they expose the dangers of our willingness to read meaning into them. Lacan sees the fact that we are named before we can speak as a symptom of the degree to which we are at the mercy of language itself. Pynchon indicates that he can see how, in various ways, people are subject to the authority of naming. “‘Maas,’” a critic claims, “can be voiced to sound like ‘my ass’; this Oedipa is no Oedipus, or only one at the earnest reader’s peril”.

There are, it would seem, a lot of earnest readers out there. The association of Oedipa with the Sophoclean Oedipus is almost a leitmotif of critical writing on the novel, with Freud coming in a close second. Despite cosmological variances between their worlds, the general pattern of Oedipus’s and Oedipa’s lives is identical: during their investigations, both characters move away from absolute positivism to relative indeterminacy; the ‘crime’ that both find so appalling is that they were so self-absorbed that they never saw the danger of the former position. Other critics made the same point as the name… refers back to the Sophoclean Oedipus who begins his search for the solution of a problem as an almost detached observer, only to discover how deeply implicated he is in what he finds.. She shares Oedipus’s dignity as ‘solver of the riddle’ Freudian associations run the gamut from the relatively complex to the more or less straightforward “The Crying of Lot 49 is an attempt to bring the American consciousness, personified in Oedipa Maas (nothing is more American than Freudianism), to an awareness of all it has repressed. Hite remarks that Oedipa’s name is “initially merely ludicrous” but that it “loses its associations with Freudian trendiness as the quest proceeds, and begins to recall her truth-seeking Sophoclean predecessor”.

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