Binx Bolling is a mutual funds broker who lives a quiet life in a suburb of New Orleans called Gentilly. He lives in a kind of decayed south, where the vestiges of southern tradition are "the curlicues of iron on the Walgreen drugstore" (page 6). Going to the Garden District of New Orleans, where his aunt and uncle live and where he witnesses "genteel charm," angers him greatly, as he prefers anonymity and blandness. After he visits the Garden District, he falls into a depression. He exists in a post-Korean-War world, where he still has nightmares about the war. His world seems stuck in the past, as the African-American women he sees in New Orleans still sit in the back of the bus, a mark of segregation in the south, and where krewes still gather for Mardi Gras. However, there are signs that things are changing. For example, Mercer, the servant of Binx's aunt, does not call him "Mister Jack," as an African-American servant might have been expected to do in the 1950s or early 1960s. Instead, Mercer is "threading his way between servility and presumption" (page 22). The idea is that the old south is changing and that African-American servants are not as servile as they used to be.
Binx prefers the anonymity of his life in a bland suburb, living in the basement of a bungalow house. Binx is undecided about who he is and lives in a state of existential confusion that he remedies by getting cards, including library cards and identity cards. He says:
"It is a pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one's name on it certifying, so to speak, one's right to exist" (page 7).
Binx's one enthusiasm is to go to out-of-the-way movie theaters. He writes of his former girlfriend, Linda, "She was unhappy for the same reason I was happy--because here we were at a neighborhood theatre out in the sticks without a car" (page 5). Every night, he finds a movie in a remote theatre, and attending these movies seems more real to him than anything he experiences in real life. He is on what he calls "a search" (page 12), but it is difficult for him to define what exactly he is searching for. While he is searching, he attends movies because "movies are on to the search, though they screw it up" (page 12). Movies at least have some element of the existential search that occupies him, even if they haven't yet presented him with the answer.