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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Toni Cade Bambara
- Sandra Cisneros
- Judith Ortiz Cofer
- Leslie Feinberg
- Diane Glancy
- Maxine Hong Kingston
- David Mamet
- Toni Morrison
- Thomas Pynchon
- Alice Walker
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937)

Anti-Communist Poster Showing Russian Soldier and Joseph Stalin Standing over Graves in Foreground; Cannons and People Marching to Siberia in Background
[6241] Anonymous, Anti-Communist Poster Showing Russian Soldier and Joseph Stalin Standing over Graves in Foreground; Cannons and People Marching to Siberia in Background (1953), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-117876].

Thomas Pynchon Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Thomas Pynchon has become famous as the man who does not want to be famous. Little is known about this author's personal life: we know only that Pynchon was born in 1937 on Long Island, New York, and that he graduated from Cornell University in the 1950s, after which he served in the navy. Though he is notoriously reclusive, he reportedly lives somewhere in northern California. Devoted fans track Pynchon sightings much like the Elvis Presley fans who record rumored appearances by "the King." Unlike Elvis, though, Pynchon most certainly is still alive, and because of his insistence on remaining private, he has figured in debates about the importance of biographical information in literary analysis. For critics who believe that an author's life events is essential to understanding his/her writing, Pynchon's silence leaves a frustrating information gap. However, some are less bothered, including critics who believe that an author's biography is immaterial when compared to a text's "cultural" history--that is, the general history of politics, entertainment, social issues, cultural trends, and the like during the years of the text's composition.

Pynchon is known for writing densely detailed, nonlinear narratives that mirror the complexity of the postmodern condition. His plots are complicated, as are his themes, so his texts can be challenging for even the most careful readers. His works are also known for their humor; in Pynchon's short story "Entropy," soldiers crash Meatball's party to find communists but end up joining the fun. Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49 offers a good entrance into his longer fiction, because it combines a complex structure with an engaging wit as it explores the nature of being American: the heroine tries to determine a connection between a mysterious legacy left to her and a similarly mysterious, secret alternative to the U.S. postal service.

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