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The Moviegoer

December 6, 2011

Last week, while enjoying lunch with my friend Teresa, I talked about reading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and about how I was surprised to read similar language there to what I had studied and knew of Ralph Waldo Emerson. A philosophy enthusiast, Teresa was intrigued as well, and immediately mentioned how Walker Percy talks about Marcus a lot in his writing.The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Given my penchant for connecting the dots between the books I read and how one thought leads to the next book I select, I found myself pulling The Moviegoer off the shelf in the room of still-to-be-read books. Now that I’ve finished reading it (it’s a short novel), I find that Teresa was quite right, maybe more so than she thought.

The Moviegoer is Binx Bollinger, a rather aimless young man in mid-20th century New Orleans. The standard Southern listlessness, on-the-brink craziness, and ruin appear amid polite and contented friends going about their lives. Although he appears successful professionally (he’s a stockbroker for his uncle’s firm), he isn’t capable of pursuing his own dreams but instead finds ways to deflect the good intentions of his mother and his aunt. He struggles against what he calls “being Anyone Anywhere,” because he wants very much to be “Someone Somewhere.” His family project a nobility on him that he deflects with stoicism and acceptance.

The novel’s tension arises when he embarks on a search—for what it’s never quite clear—that goes horribly awry. His passions are often at war with his defense mechanisms in dealing with his family. That struggle Percy illustrates nicely near the end, when Binx travels to Chicago with his drug-addicted and suicidal cousin Kate. On the bus ride home Binx has revealing conversations with a college student in thrall to literature and romance, as well as a no-nonsense salesman who plies his trade without worrying about whether he’s doing good. Percy also wraps up the dichotomy nicely in the novel’s last pages, in a scene where Binx ponders the inner motivations of a Negro attending Mass on Ash Wednesday:

It is impossible to say why he is here. Is it part and parcel of the complex business of coming up in the world? Or is it because he believes that God himself is present here? . . . Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace, coming for the one, and receiving the other as God’s own importunate bonus? It’s impossible to say.

I get the sense that, like Marcus, who apparently struggled to practice what he preached to himself, particularly in suffering fools, Percy found the Stoic’s mantra to be a good man, to speak the truth, to tolerate others, to be purposeful harder to put into practice than to believe.

What do you think?

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2 Comments
  1. A fascinating blog. I’m looking forward to exploring it more fully! Dingo is going to love it, I know!

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