[percy-l] Percy-L Digest, Vol 78, Issue 5
John E. Riley
jeriley at uark.edu
Tue Oct 12 15:12:56 EDT 2010
I like your reading of the novel and your questions at the end. And I had to chuckle at your comment that
you are "merely a reader." I feel sure that Walker Percy had great respect for his readers--he understood that
every writer needs readers; without readers, a writer's work is unfulfilled, exists in a vacuum.
As to the question of whether The Moviegoer is an existentialist novel or a "Christian morality tale" as you think,
I believe it should be enough to say that it is a novel. The Moviegoer is a well-written novel, certainly, funny in its way, possibly a great novel;
If you connected with it at any level then that is enough, in my opinion. The problem with labels and categories
is that they create pre-conceived ideas in people's minds. Personally, I would stay far away from any novel described as
a "Christian morality tale" and yet the Moviegoer is one of my favorite novels.
Aunt Emily is certainly central to the novel. The reason Binx cannot speak of the search around her is that she
is so settled in, and persuasive about, her own perspective. She does help in keeping Binx grounded, keeps him
from being some Jack Kerouac-like figure constantly roaming the earth. He does not have much in common with Aunt
Emily, however. It may be a generational thing. But remember in the epilogue Binx does say that he is "his mother's son
after all." I interpret that to mean that he has chosen the catholic faith over Aunt Emily's stoic philosophy.
Kate certainly has her problems; she is depressed to the point of being a suicide risk (though she says at one point
that the thought of suicide is what keeps her going). She would probably be diagnosed as bi-polar today. Her
character reminds me of the book's epigraph, that the precise nature of despair is simply this: it is unaware of
being despair (I'm quoting from memory; I believe the saying was Kierkegaard's). Kate is at least self-aware
enough to realize that something is seriously wrong. What she can give to Binx is a "built-in bullshit detector"
(to paraphrase Hemingway; remember Binx says at one point that he believes in "a good kick in the ass"),
while Binx can obviously help Kate with the day-to-day challenges of concrete reality.
The beauty of any marriage relationship is that each person potentially has something to give to the other that helps complete
that person, make him or her a "better person" for lack of a better phrase. So I see their marriage as on solid footing,
though it is obviously an open question regarding their future.
Those are my thoughts. I appreciate the fresh perspective you bring with your comments and questions.
Best of luck to you, Janet!
Reference & Index Arkansas
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
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Subject: Percy-L Digest, Vol 78, Issue 5
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2010 01:48:31 -0700 (PDT)
From: janet cantor <janetcantor37 at yahoo.com>
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: [percy-l] The Moviegoer - Please ignore my previous posts
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I am a 72 year old general reader and have numerous questions after
completing the Moviegoer. Please overlook my earlier posts to the list
as I am new to listservs in general. Please allow me to tell you of my
experience with the book.
I read and reread the book. I led a discussion of it in my book group.
My reading was absolutely different from theirs. This stunned me. I
found the book funny, endearing and uplifting. They found it depressing
I include below two items I?d like to present to the list: 1) a personal
review I wrote about the MG for Amazon, and 2) the questions I still
have after exploring my thoughts about the book in my review. ?I intend
to edit my review after I have reread the book in the future and my
thoughts have become more clear. I am not a scholar, merely a reader.
My overall question concerns that the book was written in the 50's. It
seems to me that it is not correct to read it narrowly from the
perspective of current attitudes. Please forgive any naivete I may bring
to my reading as present in my review. I will come back to the book in
about a year and see if I agree with myself.
Rest assured any help or responses to this post that anyone can give me will be decidedly appreciated.
MY PERSONAL AMAZON REVIEW
A masterpiece, September 25, 2010 ?
SPOILER ALERT. Do not read this review until after you have finished the book and considered it for yourself.
If fifteen people read and reviewed The Moviegoer,
they could create fifteen different descriptions of it. If one person
read it a year later, he could write a completely different review of it
from the one he wrote the year before. It all depends on what is
emphasized, the southernness, New Orleans,
the story of ancestries, the blacks and whites or the relationship of
the story to Kierkegard. There are so many aspects of the novel to
This is a funny book, an endearing book. The writing is gasp inducing gorgeous.
This is a book of its time, post Becket, the existentialists, and the
absurdists. It follows a half century of the realization of the great
scale of the horror man is capable of perpetrating on his fellow men. Salinger has been writing about teenage angst. Yet, while it is so relevant to the late nineteen fifties, Binx's story finds resonance to this day.
It is ?funny to read how Binx plots to make his secretary fall in love
with him. The descriptions of movies and their use to him and how he
makes a movie house more real are wonderful. Look on page 216 for a line
that gives the reader pause on the subject of the title.
?Binx's elaborate descriptions of the components of his search make up a
good portion of the story. Yet every time he is with Aunt Emily, he
either can't talk about it or it seems to be smaller in importance. And
in the face of Aunt Emily's big rant at him in part five, he understands
that he is finished with his search.
His search, he tells us, is to forestall the everydayness; in his head he criticizes other people who are satisfied with ordinary lives.
All the while he is thinking and working out the details of his search,
he is carrying out normal activity and conversation, and no one having
discourse with him, knows about his interior life. The only one who
knows it all is his fellow mentally discomfited, Kate. In the end, he
will accept everydayness as he takes care of Kate.
It is a great theme in a lot of literature, the concept of coming home. Ulysses, The Wizard of Oz,
Pippin, the musical, where he realizes he is not extraordinary and will
settle as man, woman, child in an every day existence, and Candide, who
after his upsetting adventures will join with his love and just make
his garden grow. And so it is here. The epilogue may be one of the most
gorgeous things I have ever read. Tender, quiet, accepting; Kate and
Binx will make it, I believe.
The book is described as an existential novel. What kind of existential
protagonist loves his job, loves making money, and goes to great lengths
to protect his clients' accounts? What kind of existential character
loves others, his half brother, Lonnie and Aunt Emily? He even has a kind of love for minor characters like Mr. Kinsella and the ladies in ticket booths. And Kate and Binx have a kind of love for each other.
This book doesn't seem to be an existential novel as much as a rebuke to the existentialists. Walker Percy
seems to be saying to them, "Come off it. Get with the program. It's
enough already." ?Aunt Emily as she scolds Binx in Part Five represents
To discuss this book and leave out Aunt Emily is to forget someone
central to it all. For this reader she is most important of all for
Binx. It is his love of her, he even enjoys it when she scolds him, that
keeps him from going off the deep end. And her brilliantly written big
rebuke at the end is what saves him from himself. One is reminded of the
biblical verse that says now I am become a man and must put away childish things.
One is reminded of another biblical verse when the book is over. And now
abideth faith, hope and charity (love) but the greatest of these is
Lonnie's Faith is pure and perfect. The scenes between Lonnie and Binx
are utterly exquisite. Binx couldn't care less about religion, yet his
love of Lonnie makes him happy and interested as Lonnie describes his
faith to him. And when Lonnie tells Binx he is taking his communion for
Binx, that is a spectacular moment.
Hope? Is there hope for Binx? I think so and I think Walker Percy thinks so, too.
And, as has already been noted, love runs throughout the novel.
I don't think this is an existential novel. I think it is a Christian Morality Tale.
MY OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS
Is the book an existential book, contrary to what I thought?
Is Aunt Emily as important to the story as I thought?
Is his half brother as important as I thought and are the scenes with him as gorgeous as I found them?
Is the book meant to be funny and endearing or depressing?
the end meant to be uplifting or are they destined for the divorce
court in a few months as so many have suggested to me? Here's how I read
the end. There was a line in the book when they were in Chicago
and Kate declared that she knew how she could live in a big city - if
Binx told her what to do. So when he is taking care of his siblings (a
repetition of when his aunt comforted him when his brother, Scott, died)
and he needs Kate to do his business for him, he tells her what to do. I
just loved that.
Kate simply a bipolar person? Or did Aunt Emily restrict her freedom
and self expression so much that she became mad? This last was not my
impression. It was what someone suggested to me. I saw no evidence of
that. Is that in the book?
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