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Paranoia and the Search for Meaning in the Crying of Lot 49

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Introduction

Paranoia and the Search for Meaning in The Crying of Lot 49 Mark Sinclair Contemporary Fiction Honors A December 19, 2008 Paranoia, at its most basic state, is classified as a mental disorder characterized by delusions backed by apparent logic. However, in another context, it is also described as a tendency to look for hidden meaning, even when no meaning is intended. As John Johnston illustrates it, paranoia can be considered "less as a mental aberration than as a specific 'regime of signs'...in which the semiotic or signifying potential is dominant" (O'Donnell 47). This classification suits Thomas Pynchon's heroine, Oedipa Maas, from The Crying of Lot 49. Enveloped by delusional over-thinking, a conspiratorial postal system, and a penchant for following clues, Oedipa quickly finds herself flung headfirst into a situation filled with a complex blend of fact and fiction. She continually searches for more information, a revelation, or a "cry that might abolish the night" (Pynchon 95). Oedipa's sole purpose is, like the fictional Maxwell's Demon, to sort useful facts from useless ones. However, neither she nor the reader will ever arrive at a conclusive end. Therefore, Pynchon uses the protagonist Oedipa Maas to communicate the concept of paranoia and the search for meaning in everyday life by demonstrating the importance of individual interpretation over the real answer. ...read more.

Middle

Paranoia sets in, and the two (Oedipa and the reader) are forced to make a choice: to call it madness, or to follow it blindly. Oedipa's paranoia stems from the desire to solve the mystery, and to reach a definable endpoint. She wants to find the single element that will connect everything in order to create meaning. "Paranoia is a mode of perception that notes the connectedness between things in a hyperbolic metonymizing of reality" (O'Donnell 182). Paranoids, like Oedipa, and indeed the reader, are looking for an easy way out, but Pynchon is reluctant to provide an escape. He throws out signs, now devoid of meaning, but at the same time these signs "deflect us toward another sign" (Johnston 50). Oedipa, in her delusional state near the end of the book, ends up seeing the muted post horn everywhere she goes, and believes that the conspiracy is all around her. The truly paranoid can find a hidden meaning for everything, and if he/she looks hard enough, he/she will find an answer. Pynchon allows this paranoid search for meaning to take place in order to demonstrate a much larger concept. The interpretation and the understanding of the individual is much more important than the final conclusion because it permits a coexistence of multiple answers, all seemingly valid. ...read more.

Conclusion

(Lyotard 81) Oedipa finds that the form is familiar and identifiable, and because of this, she follows the clues wherever they lead. In some cases, she makes up her own signs to follow, as is a common tendency in the paranoid mentality, and works on an explanation. She expects to see a resolution, and have all of her questions answered. However, Pynchon stops just short, and both Oedipa and the reader are "awaiting" the conclusion. People suffering from paranoia experience events differently than normal people. They find hidden meanings everywhere they look, and they have a propensity to overanalyze signs and symbols. This might be because they desire a conclusion or answer so strongly that they look for any connection to justify these paranoid actions. They are constantly flooded with signs devoid of relevance and meaning, and yet they handle this "information overload" like scientists. Oedipa Maas and the reader quickly become Maxwell's Demon in the search for meaning, sorting unsuccessfully to separate fact from fiction. Pynchon uses this metaphor so as to make a statement about the quest to find meaning. Although the end will never be attainable, the answer will always lie within the mind of the interpreter. ...read more.

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