Love in the Ruins

by Walker Percy

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Last Updated on October 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins satirizes many aspects of American society, including religion, the medical profession and sex. In the first two cases, Percy, who was both a Christian and a physician, was criticizing his own tribe.

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The Fusion of Religion and Science

Dr. Thomas More, a descendant of the author of Utopia, has invented the ontological lapsometer to diagnose and treat disorders of the soul. He claims that, since Descartes, man has been separated from his own spirit, and if he could only find the right dosage, he could reunite body and soul to make us complete. Dr. More is a lapsed Catholic and employs a variety of religious oddballs at his clinic, including the priest who operates the bizarre vaginal console and advises patients to "love or die."

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The Medicalization of Human Problems

The medicalization of every problem is Percy's primary target. At the Love Clinic, patients are treated as though every ailment of the soul, from guilt to boredom, can be cured by More's medical methods. There is a great deal of grandiose pseudo-science in More's descriptions of his lapsometer, and it turns out that the instrument is capable of doing as least as much harm as good, exacerbating the ailments it was designed to cure.

The Unintended Consequences of Sexual Liberation

As the name of the Love Clinic (and, for that matter, the novel) suggests, love and sex are major preoccupations. Percy shows how sexual liberation has backfired, reducing sex to a banal biological function and separating it from any sense of mystery and romance, as the soul is separated from the body. The more the doctors study the physical mechanisms of intercourse and masturbation, the further they are from reaching any sane conclusion.

These three objects of satire—religion, medicine, and sex—together with others such as politics and race relations, are fused together in the book: so, for instance, religious or sexual dilemmas are treated as physical ailments for the clinician to cure. Percy also uses these primary themes to explore his major philosophical preoccupations, such as the dislocation and discontent of man in the modern age.

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