Thomas Pynchon


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Entropy Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 24-page guide for the short story “Entropy” by Thomas Pynchon includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Shadow of War and Mass Destruction and Closed Systems and Communication Breakdown.

“Entropy” is a short story by Thomas Pynchon. It is a part of his collection Slow Learner, and was originally published in the Kenyon Review in 1960, while Pynchon was still an undergraduate. In his introduction to the collection, Pynchon refers to “Entropy” as the work of a “beginning writer” (12).

“Entropy” takes place in Washington, DC, in the spring of 1957. The first of the two settings is the apartment of a young man named Meatball Mulligan, at which a large, raucous party is taking place. The second occurs at the apartment directly above Mulligan’s, belonging to Callisto, a middle-aged Italian intellectual, and Aubade, his waifish young French-Annamese girlfriend. Callisto’s apartment has been transformed into a greenhouse and aviary, a self-contained, self-regulating space that Callisto and Aubade almost never leave: “Hermetically sealed, it was a tiny enclave of regularity within the city’s chaos, alien to the vagaries of the weather, of national politics, of any civil disorder” (83-84).

At the story’s opening, Mulligan’s party has been underway for almost two days and “seem Don Giovannism” (86), and a jazz quartet who call themselves the Duke di Angelis quartet. As the party continues, late guests continue to arrive, both invited and uninvited. A group of US Navy men show up, under the impression that Mulligan’s apartment is a bordello. Three female undergraduates from nearby George Washington University arrive and are immediately taken up by Sandor Rojas. Mulligan’s friend Saul also appears, by climbing up on to the fire escape outside of the kitchen. Saul has recently had a fight with his wife Miriam, and he believes that they are now on the verge of divorcing. He describes the fight to Mulligan as concerning “communication theory” (89).

Meanwhile, Aubade and Callisto strive to maintain their equilibrium in their upstairs apartment, from where they can hear the distracting noises of Mulligan’s party. They lie together on Callisto’s bed, Callisto alternately nursing a wounded bird and dictating his memoirs to Aubade. These memoirs concern his discovery of the concept of entropy—a state of simultaneous chaos and stasis—and its application to modern life:

He was forced, in the sad dying fall of middle age, to a radical reevaluation of everything he had learned up to then; all of the cities and seasons and casual passions of his days had now to be looked at in a new and elusive light. He did not know if he was equal to the task (87).

Callisto also periodically sends Aubade to the apartment window, to check on the outside temperature, which has remained at 37 degrees Fahrenheit for the past three days. Callisto finds this sameness ominous, an “ome of apocalypse” (85).

Mulligan’s party gradually winds down, while Callisto and Aubade’s vigil culminates suddenly and violently. After observing the Duke di Angeles quartet mime playing music—even while his other guests grow louder and more disorderly—Mulligan decides to “try and keep his lease-breaking party from deteriorating into total chaos” (97). He placates Saul, breaks up fights, and calls a repairman to…

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Story Analysis