Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Percy’s primary intent in The Thanatos Syndrome is to question the thinking behind programs of social control. He asks whether controlling socially undesirable behavior and killing children with genetic defects will destroy society. He presents his side convincingly, arguing through More and Father Smith that people should be left to behave according to their own free will and that all people are entitled to life. Percy allows his version of good to triumph over evil. The heavy sodium experiment is abandoned by the end of the novel, and Father Smith’s hospice is receiving government funding and taking in patients who formerly would have been sent to the Qualitarian centers promoted by Comeaux, with euthanasia as their fate.

The theme of alienation is important in this work. More returns from federal prison unsure if society has changed or if, instead, he has lost touch as a result of his years in prison. His alienation and status as an outsider allow him to ask questions that no one else cares to. Father Smith, declared mentally unsound by More, appears to have a firmer grasp on morality than does society, as represented by Comeaux and Van Dorn.

Although the novel is in some ways structured as a thriller, the reader never gets the impression that More is in serious danger. The threats against him are subtle: implied loss of his favored parole status, arrests for trespassing, and a cable television van that appears to be following...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

The Thanatos Syndrome Themes

The most common criticism of Walker Percy's novels is that they are repetitive. Although The Thanatos Syndrome is different from any...

(The entire section is 807 words.)