[percy-l] Some Thoughts on The Moviegoer

chaslow53 at aol.com chaslow53 at aol.com
Sun Jul 31 19:39:22 EDT 2005

I shall see to it, by making you all read the thoughts set out below, that no one ever again complains about inactivity on this list!
As I mentioned in a previous posting, I first read The Movieoer at the age of fifty-two (I have shoes and neckties older than some people on this list), and it changed my life.  Without going into any detail about how it changed my life--as Justice Rhenquist fanously said, that's for me to know and you to find out--I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about the book, and I would be grateful for any reactions, either to the list or privately, about the views I am formulating but which are far from complete.
I'm not sure that novels, good ones anyway, have a message that is intended by the author and more or less automatically picked up by astute readers.  One of the interesting things about literature, in fact, is how authors change their minds about their own books over the years and how readers can come to startlingly different conclusions about books.
With those prefatory remarks, I have come to see an element in The Moviegoer that is clearer and clearer to me with each rereading.  There is a strong message in the book about happiness: it is in most cases impossible to grasp, both as a concept and as a reality.  Further, it is largely irrelevant.  To be alert, engaged, aware, these states of being are more important, and more real, than to be happy.  And finally, there is only the most accidental relationship between our plans and actions and what we hope will be our happines.
Let us take Kate as our first example.  Binx, by the end of the book, is pleased to marry her, even though they both realize that there is virtually no chance that she will ever attain a measure of happiness, and even in daily life she will be a constant and inevitable burden to Binx.
Not only is Binx's mother not a candidate for happiness, it is specifically disavowed on her behalf.  She employs all her resources, including religion, in the "canny management of the shocks of life."  
Aunt Emily is so wrapped up in her Stoic philosophy, with its "lost cause-Southern" tint, that she positively embraces failure in its historic dimension.
Binx himself sets the terms of his search in such a way that happines cannot possibly be the result.  Instead, it is an engaged awareness that is his goal.  <<She asks, What are you going to do?  I shrug.  There is only one thing to do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways on the dark journey and be handed along, all for good and selfish reasons.>>
The two difficulties to be dealt with before declaring this attitude to be comprehensive are Uncle Jules (He is an exemplary Catholic, but it is hard to know why he takes the trouble.  For the world he lives in, the City of Man, is so pleasant that the City of God must hold little in store for him.) and Mercer.
All things considered, I wonder if we can say that WP hides an important clue for us in an off-hand thought by Binx on his way home from the Gulf with Sharon:
Joy and sadness come by turns, I know now.  Beauty and bravery make you sad, and victory breaks your heart.  But life goes on, and on we go...
I plan on expanding these thoughts into a full-blown essay one day, but any thoughts, criticisms (I have a wife and two daughters, aged twenty-one and seventeen, so do not think that you can say anything to offend me) or suggestions you have are welcome.
Chuck Lowry
Brooklyn, New York
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