Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
John R. May
What has been lacking in the corpus of interpretation of Walker Percy's work is a synthesis of approaches, a reading of the novels that unites the philosophical, psychological, theological, and linguistic insights that have accrued over three decades of criticism, and applies them to the vexing question of sexuality within his novels. In the present work, Percy's four central, non-satiric novels, The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Lancelot and The Second Coming, are analyzed in the light of the Christian allegorical tradition, which employs sexual categories to explicate the meta-physical order, and to inform sexuality with meaning. In each of Percy's novels, the center of consciousness is a male protagonist who has experienced a radical alienation from the feminine--as traditionally conceived in the Christian tradition, to entail both the lower reaches of Dionysian emotion and the highest capacity of the human soul for supernatural faith. This alienation recapitulates the "flight from woman" described by Catholic psychoanalytic writer Karl Stern. Such an alienation is endemic in the post-Cartesian West, subject to ideologies that denigrate the feminine even as they purport to liberate women. The Cartesian cogito severed the mind from the senses, effecting a split in human consciousness whose ramifications are still being felt. Post-Cartesian philosophy has encouraged the rejection, denigration, and denial of the feminine aspects of man--especially the body, the emotions, and religious faith. This rejection found itself repeated in the Southern Stoic philosophy to which Percy was heir through William Alexander Percy. Cartesian and Stoic traditions were major influences for Percy, in response to which he accepted the Catholic faith, largely for its sacramental resistance to dualism. The persistent trouble which Percy's male protagonists encounter when they attempt to form relationships with women is itself an allegorical representation of the Western rejection of the feminine, which can only be healed through the reintegration of the feminine as an active principle within the psyche. We find such a re-integration only in Percy's fifth novel, The Second Coming.
Zmirak, John Patrick Jr, "Walker Percy's Return to the Feminine." (1996). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 6226.