Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Love in the Ruins is a devastating satire of many of the social, political, religious, and scientific shibboleths of the modern world. Percy steps on so many toes that even the offended may laugh at discomfort shared so equitably with opponents. Percy is not only a Christian satirizing Christians but also a physician exposing his own profession as often absurd and misguided.

The Love Clinic is an outrageous commentary on behavioral research and on modern sexual mores, which have managed simultaneously to liberate sex and to reduce it to its lowest common denominator. In the clinic, doctors study the physical and emotional mechanisms of sexual intercourse and masturbation through two-way mirrors, seeking to remedy impotence among the bored. A dissident Catholic priest operates the vaginal console with its orgasm button, while casually reading Commonweal, a Catholic layman’s magazine which has published articles by Percy. The priest is the clinic chaplain, who advises patients to love or die. This is more obvious irony than Geoffrey Chaucer’s ambiguous motto, “Love Conquers All,” on the worldly prioress’ brooch, but it is of the same general order.

The doctor’s lapsometer, with its fusion of metaphysical concepts and scientific measurement, is the perfect symbol for the existential preoccupation with the alienation of modern man from self, nature, God, and his fellowman. One of the implications may be that neither science nor religion nor humanistic philosophy offers an entirely convincing explanation of human nature. Dr. More himself calls his lapsometer “the first caliper of the soul and the first hope of bridging the dread chasm that has rent the soul of Western man ever since the famous philosopher Descartes ripped body loose from mind and turned the very soul into a ghost that haunts its own house.”