Love in the Ruins

by Walker Percy

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Last Updated on August 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604

Comes again the longing, the desire that has no name. Is it for Mrs. Prouty, for a drink, for both: for a party, for youth, for the good times, for dear good drinking and fighting comrades, for football-game girls in the fall with faces like flowers?

Here, Percy satirizes the basic desire for gratification that, in his mind, defined his America of the 1970s. Such desire is overpowering and all-consuming, but what is more, it cannot be explained or tracked to a definite source. The implication is that after desiring, and subsequently satisfying one’s desire enough times, the root and cause of that desire become unclear. One ends up desiring compulsively and thus consuming more and more in the hopes that they will accidentally consume what it is they truly desire.

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Why did God make women so beautiful and man with such a loving heart?

While this rhetorical question has literal relevance for More himself, who finds falling in love very easy, there is also a satirical interpretation of this statement, in particular of the phrase “loving heart.” In a society where “sex” and “love” have become synonymous words, where the “Love Clinic” exists as an institution for sexual experimentation, “loving heart” might just as easily refer to the overindulged sexuality of the men and women who populate Percy’s fictional America.

What does a man live for but to have a girl, use his mind, practice his trade, drink a drink, read a book, and watch the martins wing it for the Amazon and the three-fingered sassafras turn red in October?

More’s musings on the meaning of life reveal again the prevalence of hedonism in his society, how life has come to be measured by the obtaining of fleeting pleasures and satisfactions. However, his reference to the martin and the sassafras suggest an appreciation for “higher” ideals, namely freedom that he cannot find in his city and natural beauty that has been wholly supplanted by the superficial underscores in his society. This statement, therefore, captures the contradiction of Dr. More as a character who is both a hedonist and a dreamer.

I believe in God and the whole business but I love women best, music and science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellowman hardly at all.

For Percy, More is a caricature of the kind of Catholics of whom he was scornful, those who, from time to time, honored the rituals of their religion as it suited them but considered their faith little more than a casual attribute of their identity. Percy’s relegation of the two most important commandments (as illustrated by Jesus in Matthew 22:36–40), first to love your God with all your strength and second to love your neighbor as yourself, illustrates how far such Catholics have strayed from the scriptural roots of their religion.

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What she didn't understand, she being spiritual and seeing religion as spirit, was that it took religion to save me from the spirit world, from orbiting the earth like Lucifer and the angels, that it took nothing less than touching the thread off the misty interstates and eating Christ himself to make me mortal man again and let me inhabit my own flesh and love her in the morning.

Here, Percy creates an interesting dichotomy between religion and spirituality. The implication seems to be that the rituals of Catholicism, the saying of mass and the taking of communion, have become so commonplace in More’s eyes that they remind him more of the sensual, material intuitions that they were intended to diminish than of the spiritual intuitions they were intended to enhance.

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