Starting with the names of the characters and continuing with many of the events in the novel, he is ironically picturing a consumer society that needs to rely on certainties in order to secure its present and avoid alienation, which is why the entire conspiracy theory is developed: to provide explanations.
The manner in which the novel is written provides a surrealistic picture which alludes to realities of the 1960s and, from this perspective, the book is very well-anchored in the present. Just a few examples are worth mentioning here. One of these is the allusion to the Beatles, one of the anchor elements of the 1960s culture. One of the songs in the novel is called "I want to Kiss Your Feet," a play on the famous Beatles song "I want to Hold Your Hand." Other references to the Beatles are much more subtle: the Volkswagens remind of the best known German car, the Beetle.
Even more interesting is the manner in which elements seem to be connected throughout Pynchon's novel. For example, Sick Dick could be linked to the author of the play within the plot, Richard Wharfinger (Kerry, 1994), although the author never points out clearly towards this, but rather alludes to it and encourages the imagination of the reader to form such connections. Any potential interruptions of the temporal connections are thus supported and sustained by other types of interrelations, such as, most importantly, the symbolist ones.
As previously mentioned, Vonnegut's novel follows a rather distorted development of the story and this is perhaps the main difference in form from Pynchon's work. The main parts of the book are based on Billy's different experiences in life, notably in the Second World War and in the period before and after the war. The most important effect of this type of approach is that the character cannot learn from his experience and his development as a human being is not done by building on different experiences, but rather as treating these separately.
Some of the techniques used, however, are quite similar in both novels. This paper has already discussed Pynchon's approach with allusion as one of his preferred techniques. Vonnegut also alludes to some of the events occurring in society during the 1960s, such as the Vietnam War, and some of his characters have also been present in some of his other books. Vonnegut relies to a greater degree than Pynchon to some of his characters in order to build the story and support some of the perceptions of Billy Pilgrim. Rather than use Billy for some of his beliefs on life, time or other perspective, Vonnegut prefers the intermediary Tralfamadorians.
The names of the characters inspire allusions and, especially in Pynchon's case, an ironic, parody approach. In Vonnegut's work, the main character is called Billy Pilgrim, which is a likely allusion to the fact that Billy travels through time, in diverse phases of his life and encounters, through his experiences, a large number of different characters, passing through different events. Other characters bear names closer to the science-fiction names of other planets, such as Kilgore Trout.
The names of the characters are more allusive and ironical in "The Crying of Lot 49" and they have different roles. First of all, they simply sound surrealistic and contribute in a funny manner to the success of the story. Starting with the two distribution companies (Thum und Taxis and Trystero), many of the names are just ironic because of the way they sound. On the other hand, many of them have intrinsic meanings and allude to different things.
One of the great merits of the author is that he greatly encourages the reader to interpret the names in any manner he wants to. There is nothing pointing out strictly towards a sense for a name, but rather an invitation to discover more than one sense.
The name of the main character, Oedipa Maas, is clearly a play on Oedipus, the famous tragic Greek character. The relationship between the two, the common denominator, is given by the fact that they both encounter mysteries they need to solve in their journey: Oedipus solves the famous riddle that the Sphinx confronts him with, while the entire novel of Pynchon's work is a mystery broken down into smaller mysteries that Oedipa has to solve. Her last name is also interesting, but also funny, since it could be a play on the Spanish word for "more," while her husband is also "mucho maas," that is, much more.
Some of the names used in Pynchon's novel allude to historical characters, although they do not necessarily share common traits with these. Such an example is Genghis Cohen, a potential play on Genghis Khan, although Pynchon's character is not the vicious warrior Genghis Khan was. Dr. Hilarius is also an instrument of satire, especially if one considers the story of his life.
From this perspective, both Vonnegut and Pynchon clearly represent the postmodernist current in their works. One of the common traits of the postmodernist current in literature is the inclusion of irony and black humor throughout the postmodern literary works. As seen previously, the play on words and their meanings is used as a significant manner of expression in "The Crying of Lot 49," while black humor is more often encountered in Vonnegut's "Slaughter-House Five."
In Vonnegut's case, as previously mentioned, there is also an underlying nostalgic feel beneath the ironic approach. Perhaps much more than in Pynchon's novel, "Slaughter-House Five" brings forward fundamental questions of existentialism and of the instruments that humanity has in terms of its capacity to make choices.
The reader can detach himself from Pynchon's underlying questions and philosophical discussion and simply enjoy the story line, as well as the characters and the ironic subplots. In Vonnegut's novel, this is difficult, because the essential question as to whether the individual human being can make choices and have free will or their decisions are already made by external contextual factors, always appears. Pynchon's philosophical line of life as a quest and of the need for certitudes is better hidden behind the plot of the novel and the ironic allusions.
As shown, Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" and Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughter-House Five" have many similar elements, starting with those common to the literary current to which they belong (postmodernist) and including the means of expression, temporal distortions or, partially, some of the literary instruments used.
As postmodern works, alienation and loneliness is a common theme in both novels, although the way that the two author refer to this theme is somewhat different: Vonnegut has a certain nostalgic approach to an alienation that is caused by the questions arising from the notion of free will and where it exists or not; while Pynchon has a more ironic, playful approach to the postmodern human condition.
On the other hand, in a microanalysis, the two literary works are fundamentally different. The main instrument of expression in Vonengut's case is the temporal distortion, which leads to his capacity of enumerating events and facts in a manner that does not follow temporal rules and sequences. This also means that these events become part of the life experience of the main character, who benefits from all these individually. In Pynchon's case, it is more of an ironic approach and playful allusions, which do not necessarily have the nostalgic impact of Vonnegut's work.
1. Grant, J. Kerry. A Companion to the Crying of Lot 49 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994)
2. Merrill, Robert, Scholl Peter a.. Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five: The Requirements of Chaos. Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring,…