Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This ironic story of mental and emotional regeneration from the edge of insanity has psychological, philosophical, and religious overtones. It is full of ambiguous symbols, yet they are never obtrusive. Even Will’s symbolic death and rebirth, covered with the slime of cave clay, has a concreteness of detail that gives it a comic plausibility. Similarly, Allie’s ingenious recovery of a huge, nineteenth century cookstove from an old burned-out house on her property is perfectly natural, yet almost a miracle. The stove had fallen through the floor into the basement and thus was saved from destruction in a fire long ago. She takes it apart piece by piece, cleaning each part as she goes, lifts the heavy pieces with block and tackle, moves them on creepers borrowed from an auto store, and reassembles the huge wood and coal stove in her greenhouse to provide heat in the winter. The stove is almost brand new, waiting to be reclaimed from the rubbish of the past. It, too, becomes a symbol of regeneration, and the two marginally sane people fall in love in the genial warmth of its presence.

One of the implications of this story, even though it seems to satirize religious believers, is that there is a saving kernel of truth in the Christian message. Will ironically combines some of the qualities of an absurd, blundering Christ and a modern Job, harried by a disembodied devil-father until he demands an audience with the Lord. Will complains that there are only two classes of people: those who believe anything, indiscriminately but frivolously, and those like his father who believe nothing. He questions both extremes.

Will is surrounded by Episcopalian do-gooders, born-again...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

The Second Coming Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The title of this novel is, of course, a reference to the prophesied second coming of Jesus Christ; Will wonders if the last days are on him as he considers whether the movement of the Jews is a possible sign. Part of the theme of salvation are the changes both major characters undergo. Will spends the majority of the book contemplating Christianity. He cannot decide whether he finds it more difficult to relate to the faithful or the unfaithful, but he certainly cannot place himself in either camp. The answers he receives, whether from his traditionally Christian wife, his evangelical daughter, his atheist friend, his death-loving father, or his chaplain, seemingly embarrassed by religion, are not good enough.

Though Will sees his test as a failure, one he never gets to complete, Percy seems to be suggesting that Will does get an answer. It is not as black and white, perhaps, as the manifestation of God Will may have hoped for in the cave or the personal relationship with Christ attested to by his daughter, but it is his climbing into the cave, his testing, his timely toothache, and his inability to find his way that bring him literally crashing into his salvation. It is through Allie that he is, in a very real way, reborn. His final divesting himself of his father’s legacy, both the guns and the urge for suicide, are the signs that he has in fact chosen life. For Allie, as well, the story is one of rebirth. It is literally her second coming into the world, as she finds herself relearning, or learning in some cases, how to communicate, how to work, how to love, and how to live.

Will is, like many of Percy’s characters, a searcher who has not yet found what he is looking for. At the end of The Second Coming, however, Will has actually found something. Although he did not have a personal encounter with God, the end of the novel is filled with a sense of hope that through working on the land, loving truly, and searching without cynicism, he will find meaning, peace, and possibly even religion.

The Second Coming Themes

Love — both human and divine — is a constant theme in Percy's novels, but in The Second Coming, Percy provides his most thorough...

(The entire section is 345 words.)