Pynchon's Entropy

Bluffton University’s Cara Echols writes about “Pynchon’s Entropy and Conflicting Science”

Thomas Pynchon’s short story "Entropy" is rich with conflict in every sense of the word. This confusing, dazzling piece of scientific fiction presents a mastery display of chaos and calamity that all boils down into one thing: conflict. But what is the conflict? Well, one may think of “Entropy” housing a collection of conflicting points brought on by the scientific element known as equilibrium.

The scientific term entropy breaks down to the basic idea that chaos within a system must disperse to create a sense of order (described in the second law of thermodynamics). An unequal balance in a system will eventually equal out and create that state of equilibrium. Pynchon uses this scientific idea of chaos transforming into order to create the conflict within his story.

The story offers the reader the system – an apartment complex – and the unequal states within the system – Meatball Mulligan’s out of control lease-breaking party and Callisto’s symbiotically perfected greenhouse. Each character focuses on lessening the tension within their conflicting situations.

Meatball Mulligan seeks out solace from the chaos of the party guests, “The way he figured, there were only about two ways he could cope: (a) lock himself in the closet and maybe eventually they would all go away, or (b) try to calm everybody down, one by one.” Similarly Callisto tries to dismiss the conflict within, brought on by the baby bird’s death, by having Aubade break the window, inviting a new element of the environment into the controlled greenhouse. “…Before Callisto could speak; [she] tore away the drapes and smashed out the glass with two exquisite hands […], and turned to face the man on the bed and wait with him until the moment of equilibrium was reached….”

In both instances, the characters look to dispel the tension and conflict within their environments to create that state of equilibrium. One character bounces from chaos to order and the other invites chaos in to the order. So, for this writing prompt, I would like to focus on building a sense of conflict within our setting and characters that needs to reach a state of equilibrium. For this prompt, it is not so much about finding that equilibrium but building the conflict up to the point where it drives the characters to action.

Begin by thinking about your conflict as you set out to do some world building. Consider the area of your conflict and ask yourself how tension will be able to arise in a certain place. Reflect on the environment in which you place your characters and develop how its position and the things within the setting add to the conflict. Is the setting one of order or one of chaos? How will equilibrium need to be achieved?

Continue to build your setting by thinking about the individuals within your story and how they connect to the conflict. What kind of back and forth dilemma do these characters bring to the table? How might these characters relate or distance themselves from one another and what does that do to your setting? Consider how in “Entropy” Pynchon uses the idea of chaos and order between the two apartment tenants and how they relate to each other and to their separate surroundings.

Of course, it is essential to define what your conflict within your characters is. That could be either separately, against one another, or against the setting that you have placed.

Next, continue to allow that point of tension to grow within the characters and bring forth their motivation. What drives each of the characters individually and as a whole? How might the tension that you draw from your characters motivate them to action?  For instance, Meatball Mulligan desires peace from the lease-breaking party that has gone on for too long and has escalated into mass chaos. He therefore desires to dispel his party guests to find some peace and quiet. On the other end, Callisto drives his motivation from keeping the little bird alive in the greenhouse. Once the bird dies, he finds no need to keep the temperature regulated as it appears useless to his cause.