Thomas Pynchon, Entropy

Dali Atomicus, Philippe Halsman

“Since I wrote this story I have kept trying to understand entropy, but my grasp becomes less sure the more I read…” (Pynchon).

Entropy is a quantity, or a measurement, of the heat in a system that is no longer available for mechanical work. It is a concept within the second law of thermodynamics, a law which states that everything moves from order to disorder while entropy inevitably increases. A state of complete entropy is a state of “inert uniformity” and the “absence of form, hierarchy, differentiation…” (qtd. in Seed 136). Pynchon places two opposing worldviews within the context of entropy to illustrate that they are both subject to the laws of nature, and thus, equally meaningless.

Within the narrative’s context, there are two disparate, yet interconnected, worlds stacked atop each other. Meatball’s world is open to incoming energy; partying people come but never go, and chaos increases as more characters are placed into the setting. He hosts several types: intellects, naval officers, a distraught neighbor, and a silent jazz band, each of whom function as synecdoches to represent dissimilar, yet comparable, belief systems. With chaotic and endless buzzing, the tone is one of high energy and disorder. Drugs and alcohol are consumed in perpetuity, and no attention is given to outside conditions. One may interpret this as a hedonistic lifestyle of any sort.

In contrast, Callisto and Aubade live in a self-created Eden. Pynchon references the biblical creation, mentioning that this “Rousseau-like fantasy” took “seven years to build” (3023). In addition, Callisto has been trying to resurrect a dying bird for “three days,” a number that points to the resurrection of Christ (3023). Although the couple exists as a sort of transcendent Adam and Eve, or based on their names, a Greek god and goddess, they are still subject to the inevitable destruction of all distinguishable matter. Outdoors, the world has already reached a state of disorder, deterioration, loss, and although they make an effort to escape the inevitable, they ultimately succumb to the natural order of the universe.

“Entropy” is Pynchon’s commentary on the hopelessness of all belief systems to overcome deterioration and destruction. Although Callisto and Aubade live in a more transcendent state of being than Meatball and the others, they are equally subject to the laws of physics. Pynchon does not seem to communicate that one worldview is superior to another, and although Aubade and Callisto are romanticized with elevated prose, they meet the same end as those who followed and fought for nothing. The point of the juxtaposition is to illustrate that all states of matter are temporary and subject to entropy, and the final line confirms this theme: “…their separate lives should resolve into a tonic of darkness and the final absence of all motion” (3032). The singular fate of humankind is to dissolve and fade into black.

Read “Entropy” by Thomas Pynchon here.


Lauter, Paul. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. E. Boston, Mass.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2014. 3021-3032. Print.

Seed, David. “Order in Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Entropy.’” The Journal of Narrative Technique. Vol. 11, No. 2 (Spring, 1981), pp. 135-153.



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