The Thanatos Syndrome Essay - Critical Essays

Walker Percy


It is not incidental that Walker Percy names his protagonist Dr. Thomas More and has him claim Sir Thomas More, the sixteenth century English statesman, Catholic martyr, and author of Utopia (1516) as his ancestor. Like Sir Thomas More, Percy writes of the need for social reform by satirizing the corruption of his times and creating a fantasized (yet still imperfect) world for his hero. Furthermore, Percy places his protagonist in a Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, context of martyrdom similar to that experienced by More’s ancestor, Sir Thomas More.

In essays in The Message in the Bottle (1954), Percy connects himself with other twentieth century American Catholic authors, such as Flannery O’Connor, who use comic devices to awaken modern secular readers to the spiritual dilemmas of their times. In one such comic episode in The Thanatos Syndrome, titled “Father Smith’s Confession,” More listens to his “insane” friend Father Smith recall a visit to Germany prior to World War II and his acquaintance with members of the Reich Commission for the Scientific Registration of Hereditary and Constitutional Disorders. Father Smith may be unfit for human society himself, alone in his remote fire tower watching for brushfires, yet he makes important links in the novel between the past and the present, Nazi Germany and late twentieth century America, ordinary human weakness and its “demoniac” consequences, and...

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