While reading Pynchon’s, The Crying of Lot 49, I found myself fascinated with the names of the characters. I tried to analyze them and make them mean something but it seems that Pynchon did not mean for the names to have a specific meaning. This deduction made me think about the satirical nature of the naming of the characters. Which led me to muse on the chaotic nature of the naming. The apparent disdain for the characters by their naming seems to imply that the author is poking fun at the reader and society through the characters.
The first character is Oedipa Maas and the reader cannot help but immediately think of Oedipus the King and the implications of that naming. As I read, I was on the alert for the characteristics of the Oedipus story. Although Oedipa does have a mystery to solve in the novel, I found I really could not relate her to Oedipus in any other way. And what does ‘Maas’ mean? Mass, as in a solid mass? Mass, as in the Catholic rite? Is Oedipa perhaps performing a rite of some kind? These questions plagued me as I read and by the conclusion of the story, I was no wiser.
Then there is Oedipa’s husband, Mucho Maas. What kind of a name is Mucho? It implies, to me at least, that Mucho is somehow superior to his wife. But as the story progresses, Mucho seems to become less and less. Perhaps a comment by Pynchon on the declining status of a husband in American society? Perhaps a satirical jab at the rising state of women’s rights as equal instead of subordinate in a marriage? Whatever it means, the name Mucho didn’t seem to fit the character.
Next we encounter Oedipa’s therapist. His character was bizarre from beginning to end. His name, Dr. Hilarious, worked for me. His name was fitting in many ways. That he goes berserk in the end was a fitting touch in depicting a shrink. His character was ‘hilarious’ in a way. I mean, come on, what therapist actually believes in telepathy?
The absent character in the book, Pierce Inverarity, is a puzzle. The closest definition for Inverarity that I could find in the dictionary was a definition for ‘inveracity’. Inveracity means untruthfulness, which is fitting for the absent Pierce, since we never do discover if the man is actually dead or not. No one seems to be able to figure out why Pierce does (did) the things he does – hence untruthfulness. Then there is his first name, Pierce, which could mean so many things – sexual, homophobic, intelligent, or violent.
The other names of minor characters seem to be just plain satire. Koteks (Kotex, a sanitary pad), Emory Bortz (Emory Board for filing fingernails), Genghis Cohen (Genghis Kahn). The names mean nothing it seems. What they do for the novel seems to be to inject some humor into the reading.
Overall, I found the book amusing and frustrating at the same time. As an English major I have been taught to analyze the text – specifically the meaning of names – but in this novel there does not seem to be any meaning in the naming. Which perhaps is the meaning in itself – that there is no meaning to names, that the act of naming does not define a person, that the chaotic nature of the postmodern world resists naming altogether.
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2004, 2006