Blue in Vineland

The Color Blue in Vineland

From an excellent article by Jonathan Rosenbaum (1990)

The key images that organize the narration are mainly emotional and associative rather than strictly analytical, which means they often carry a great deal of ambiguity. Chief among these is Frenesi's blue eyes, which are mentioned at least a dozen times over the novel's 385 pages; the fact that Prairie has blue eyes as well only adds to our uncertainty about what blue eyes and the color blue can suggest, from predatory cops to the clearest of skies. Other linked images are birds and airborne predators like drug-bust helicopters that remind us of Brock Vond; a Japanese gumshoe, Takeshi Fumimota, and a female ninja named DL Chastain who was once Frenesi's best friend and is now Prairie's chief guru-characters whose romance and movements often seem to parallel Vond's and Frenesi's (with an implied rhyme scheme involving trajectories up and down California and Japan and across the Pacific in both directions); at least five electrical storms that shake up the atmosphere with apocalyptic portent; and various other totems ranging from figs and cucumbers to TV screens and shopping malls.

There is also the significance of Prairie and Zoyd's dog, Desmond, and the crucial way he links up with some of these other images. After an epigram from one Johnny Copeland ("Every dog has its day, / and a good dog / just might have two days"), the novel opens with Zoyd being woken up in his home in the fictional northern California town of Vineland — a haven and retreat for lost hippie tribes-"by a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof" — blue jays that are scavengers, stealing all the food from Desmond's dish. At the book's end, some 380 pages later, after Brock and his federal scavengers have confiscated the Wheeler home in the midst of a Bush-style drug raid, sending both Zoyd and Prairie into hiding, Prairie, who has returned to Vineland for a family reunion and slept that night in the woods, is woken by the tongue of Desmond, whose face is "full of blue jay feathers."

Desmond's "second day," in other words, suggests both a fresh beginning and a renewed continuity; the closest Pynchon comes to giving this a metaphysical dimension is in a passage from Emerson quoted by Prairie's great-grandfather at a climactic family reunion: "Secret retributions are always restoring the level, when disturbed, of the divine justice. It is impossible to tilt the beam. All the tyrants and proprietors and monopolists of the world in vain set their shoulders to heave the bar. Settles forever more the ponderous equator to its line, and man and mote, and star and sun, must range to it, or be pulverized by the recoil." Whether Desmond's secret retribution against the blue jays is individually willed or part of some larger process is a moot point, but it is implied, at least, that Prairie, unlike Pynchon's earlier searchers, has arrived at a place where she can act. The movement between the blue jays as predators and the blue jays as victims is the distance she has traveled in her own education.

Between these two points, the blue eyes of Frenesi and Prairie are repeatedly evoked by other items and images: Brock's "hard, blued body" and his "sky-blue suit"; "pale blue" drug-bust planes, Prairie's blue overalls, Superman, blue haze, TV screens, contact lenses, spaces, shadows, and dwelling units; a lake, a river, the Pacific, and even such things as baby blues, an automotive bluebook, and a 12-bar blues. Beautiful and impenetrable, Frenesi's blue eyes are not so much a mystery that can finally be solved as a site to be considered and contemplated.

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