The Accidental Tourist

by Anne Tyler

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Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

The Accidental Tourist quickly became a best seller. Many reviewers and critics hailed it as Anne Tyler’s best work, even though its publication occurred just three years after that of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), which had similarly been hailed as her best work. Critics praised Tyler’s handling of point of view in The Accidental Tourist. The point of view is third-person limited: The narration focuses on Macon, but it is not first-person narrative. Tyler carefully controls point of view throughout the novel.

The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award for American fiction, an award given by book reviewers to honor the most distinguished works for each year. In 1988, The Accidental Tourist was made into a movie starring John Hurt. Geena Davis, who played Muriel, won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the movie.

In the book, Tyler demonstrates her ability to re-create in fiction the complexity of the American family. Macon hates change. The biggest change for him is the senseless murder of Ethan. Macon reacts to the murder by becoming more withdrawn and more opposed to change. Macon writes travel books but hates to travel. The logo on Macon’s travel books is an armchair with wings. This logo symbolizes the books’ purpose: They provide a way for someone to travel while giving up none of the security and comfort of home. The logo also stands for Macon himself, who wants to systematize and simplify all things in his life so he can repeat the same actions over and over. He prefers not to travel in any sense of the word but to keep everything static. His attempt to systematize his life ends disastrously when he breaks his leg. While he is in his cast, he wishes it covered his whole body, thus insulating him from the outside world and preventing change. The image he uses for his body’s covering makes it resemble a cocoon, however. Thus, he unconsciously implies his need for change, for the kind of rebirth a cocoon represents.

Macon and his siblings display symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They want everything in its place, and they want life to go smoothly. They want nothing to change, but Rose’s putting ant poison next to allspice indicates the dangers this desire presents. When Macon moves back in with his siblings, he fits right into their pattern of life. The Leary brothers are so upset by change that when Rose cooks the Thanksgiving turkey in a new way, they refuse to eat it, believing it is full of bacteria.

The main disrupter of order in Rose’s house is Edward, who is unruly and, at times, vicious. He interrupts the serene lives of the Learys, but Macon will not even consider getting rid of his dead son’s dog. Because of Edward, Muriel enters Macon’s life, providing him with a chance to begin to grow. At the end of the novel, Macon chooses growth over the stagnant life he lived with Sarah and then with his siblings.

The relationship Macon builds with Muriel paves the way for Rose to build a relationship with Julian. Julian is fairly wild. He is a womanizer and a sailor. Macon thinks Julian is interested in Rose only so that he can laugh at the Learys. Eventually, though, he realizes that Julian truly loves Rose. When Rose leaves Julian to return to her brothers, Julian cannot convince her to return to living with him. A sign of Macon’s growth occurs when he recognizes some of his family’s problems and recommends that Julian win Rose back by asking her to help put his office in order. Macon knows that Rose, with her alphabetized kitchen, will not resist an invitation to make a place more orderly.

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