Vineland, a novel by Thomas Pynchon, tells the story of a tumultuous p

eriod in American history and how it affected a small group of people and those around them.

It discusses the themes of paranoia, conspiracy, and the life of the counterculture, and how they were symbolic of the 60s and the way of life that pervaded society at that time. Pynchon’s use of off-beat characters and eccentric situations provide the reader with an overwhelming sense of chaos and confusion that can cause two very different feelings to arise in the heart of the reader. These characters symbolize every aspect of 60s society from those who set the norm, to those who rebelled against the norm, by acting as their parents and grandparents wished. The novel opens and introduces Zoyd and Prairie Wheeler, two regular 60s inhabitants who live in Vineland, a northern California town, and mind their own business, in general, with one exception, of course. Once a year, in an effort to prove his insanity, so that he can continue to receive his disability check, Zoyd jumps through a plate glass storefront window, on television, for the world to see. The novels is written as a flashback novel.

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The actual story begins in 1984 with Brock Vond coming to find the lover whom he has lost in the 60s, in the house of her ex-husband. It flashbacks to the time in the early 60s where Zoyd met and fell in love with his ex-wife Frenesi, a time that all of the leftover hippies and activists are just now remembering when they were allowed to think. This all proves somewhat ironic as 1984 was a time when these people thought it would be the last time they would ever be allowed to express anything, with Ronald Reagan in office, “conservatizing” the country and attempting to make people think like he does. The Wheeler’s act exactly as one would picture people in northern California to act, in a very laid back, calm manner. That all changes when Zoyd’s enemy, Brock Vond, the man who broke up Zoyd’s marriage, and an FBI agent, suddenly pops into the picture.

Brock is searching for Frenesi Gates, Zoyd’s ex-wife, and his love, who had been under the witness protection program’s protection. Due to cutbacks, Frenesi and her new family, have been taken off protection, and have suddenly disappeared. Brock believes that Zoyd must have some knowledge of where the mother of his daughter is, and comes to Zoyd for help in finding her and getting her back. Confused, already? So are most readers when they attempt to sort through the myriad of characters that Pynchon attempted to pack into this novel. Realize, that the characters that I gave you, represent only the character in the main family, the characters of the primary story line, and not those who carry on additional story lines within the book, or even those who take part in the main story line, but to lesser degrees. Pynchon’s method of using such a complicate story-line, accompanied by his attempt to cover every part of society within one story lead to one story line that can almost be considered chaotic. However, rather than chaos carrying the negative connotation that it would usually have, the chaos in Pynchon’s story serves a bigger better, obviously intentional purpose. It served to draw people into the story.

In his presentation of character’s, events, references and ideas, Pynchon attempted to create something for each of us. He wanted to give each and every single reader, something that he could identify with, something that he could understand, and something that would push him to want to continue to read the book. Pynchon wanted the reader to attempt to sort out the story and the read it again and again, each time searching for a way to identify with a new character. Though initially it may seem so, none of Pynchon’s characters can’t exactly be said to serve stereotypically as representative of one part of society. Each character is so complex, that when one searches deeply enough and actually thinks, one discovers that within each character lies a whole world, for each character represents a microcosm of the entire 60s society. The question is, then, does this “chaos” serve to benefit the book and the reader, or does it just confuse and frustrate the reader beyond comprehension? Does the chaos in the book make the reader more interested, due to the variety that it provides, or does it just cause the reader to feel mystified and therefore make him just skim through the book in order to finish his classroom assignment? In my experience, I have found that the so-called chaos can serve, as either of those purposes, or as one of many in the gray area in between. It all depends on how you read the book, what your outlook on the book is, before you begin it, and whether or not you allow the book to have an affect on you.

The way that the book effects you, is based solely on how you approach it, and how you allow it to approach you. As a well read person, one who has ready several of Pynchon’s other novels, including my favorite, Gravity’s Rainbow, I came into the novel with the intention of enjoying the book. I intended to read the book, and love it for its absurdity, just as one must enjoy any other Pynchon novel, or any other good novel about that 60s, if the novel attempted top create a full picture. As I got deeper into the novel I began to realize that Pynchon’s usual edge seemed to have been abandoned. In his abandonment of his usual sharpness, what in Gravity’s Rainbow, was a controlled chaos, in Vineland, turned into what could be misinterpreted, by the simple reader, as utter confusion and a lack of sense. However, to a reader who is determined, both to find something positive about every book and to find something redeemable in a book by one of her favorite authors, a reader who is even willing to reread the book several times, something different is seen. If a reader is willing to reread, if that’s what’s necessary to make sense out of the book, Vineland book can easily be seen at what it really is- true brilliance.

In my eyes Pynchon’s use of chaos serves to add an additional symbolism to the book. Pynchon attempted to create a society within a book. He attempted to explain to us exactly what the 60s were like by forcing us to feel like we are indeed in the 60s. Pynchon floods us with ideas and stories and concepts and forces us to feel as flooded by emotions as anyone who lived in the 60s would have felt while experiencing it. Almost front the second that we jump onto page ne of the novel- we feel like we are inside the book. The incredible barrage of feelings and ideas, some of whom are recognizable to the masses, some just to those who lived in the 60s and some just to the super cultural, force us to feel surrounded by the story line that is almost unfolding around us.

Pynchon’s use of chaos, drew me into the novel. I’ll admit that when I first read the novel, I, too, had no idea what was going on. When I realized the brilliance of its complexity, as I mentally began to unravel the story and figure out whom was whom the chaos’ positive effect began to take place. I began to realize that because of the chaos, I was forced to read and reread and reread the book, each time understanding it a bit more and each time discovering a new undiscovered nuance in the novel. Pynchons’ use of the concept of chaos represents two extreme opposites of a scale. Chaos is both representative of freedom and destruction, depending on how you let it effect you. If you use your chaos to accomplish- if you use the chaos in order to discover new useful ideas, then it can serve as freedom, freedom to allow you to grow and develop and form your own ideas. One can, however, you use his chaos as a means by which to escape.

If he looks at the chaos and uses it as an excuse not to understand the book, or on a broader sense, if he choose not to rule chaos but allow chaos to rule him, chaos will ultimately serve as his destruction. In this novel Pynchon does something that he had never attempted in any of his previous novels. He addresses current political development. He bashes the abolishment of a radical tradition, a belief that’s it is allowed and even expected that in every generation there will be someone who goes against the mainstream.

He acknowledges the necessity of who believes that it is not at all wrong to make some decisions on your own rather than hanging around and waiting for the to be made for you. He takes what Reagan has attempted to do- take the values of the 60s and warp them into an all evil concept- and shows how very wrong it. Pynchon displays a full understanding of both halves of society by showing us little details of each, that cause one almost to look again, almost not believing that such obscure details are remembered from dozens of years ago. Rather than taking one society and pitting it against another, Pynchon takes each generation and bashes it for what it did wrong and attempts to instruct us in how we can make sure not to do the same if we are presented with similar chance in the future. Therefore, until the very end we can’t really see which society will win out, which society Pynchon views as the lesser of the two evils. As the story ends and Zoyd is driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, we see Pynchon make his decision. The 60s society prevails as Zoyd sails over from reality, back into his past, to dwell on his memories rather then create a new future.