Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Thomas Pynchon

Natalie Cheevers 

The Legacy of De Facto Segregation in Boston

Thomas Pynchon’s Examination of Human Nature in the Face of Loss and Chaos

On the Saturday night before this past Super Bowl, comedian and co-host of Saturday Night Live’s Weekly Update, Michael Che, dubbed Boston the most racist city he had ever visited. Thousands responded angrily, outraged at such an accusation and what it implied about Bostonians. However, the only real issue surrounding his statement was the shock that followed. The groundwork for Boston, like many of our nation’s largest cities, was pieced together by men and women who feared an integrated society. Such prejudice manifested itself into housing and financial discrimination through practices of restrictive covenants and redlining during the early 20th century. Government programs designed to assist communities following the Great Depression had also been specifically designed to separate the races. Irrational fear compelled leaders to make careless choices concerning the lives of the marginalized and most vulnerable. Not only did redlining create the forced busing crisis but it also established a physical racial divide in Boston that would continue to remain prevalent for generations to come.

Just as the busing crisis exposed the insidious, shameful reality of racism in Boston, Thomas Pynchon’s novels examine the “ugly” side of human nature. Often in extreme circumstances, the concern for societal rules and expectations are forgotten, freeing people from fear of judgement and enabling them to act on their most primal desires. In the midst of war for instance, Pynchon’s characters feel free to behave in their most natural state, whether that means living as the most genuine, positive versions of themselves or succumbing to their more primitive, degenerate traits. By relying on this kind of external chaos, his characters avoid confronting their personal conflicts. Pynchon’s works teach us that ultimately, regardless of the effort expended, individuals cannot escape the realities of their true natures.

Major Works Consulted:

“Fair Housing and Equity Assessment for Metropolitan Boston.” Metro Boston Consortium for Sustainable Communities. Accessed February 16, 2017. /default/ files/Full_Fair%20Housing%20and%20Equity%20Assessment%20for%20Met ro%20Boston_0.pdf.
“Metco Program.” Metco Program: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Accessed January 31, 2017.
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Perennial, 1986.
---. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.
Photo Credit: Kachka, Boris. "On the Thomas Pynchon Trail: From the Long Island of His Boyhood to the 'Yupper West Side' of His New Novel." Vulture. N.p., 25 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2017