Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer is in many ways the first important novel of the New South. The setting is not agricultural; the characters are not grotesques, larger-than-life figureheads, “rednecks,” or symbols. The plot does not hinge upon treasure buried in the backyard. Rather, it is a world in which air conditioners, fast living, color televisions, and movies have replaced mint juleps and moss trees.
In this New South, existentialism has arrived. The main character, Binx Bolling, views himself as a character in a film. He is alienated from nature, society, family, culture, and God. Only films, those impersonal images on the screen, seem to offer him any vision into the purpose and meaning of his own life. He possesses attention only for his own self as a character. Watching movies becomes, for Binx Bolling, watching life, and watching life becomes living life; or, at least, watching life is a substitute for living it. It is as close as he can get. Binx cannot live life: He cannot go to medical school as his aunt would have it. He cannot fall in love with one of his secretaries, although like characters in a movie, he can have sex with them. He cannot go to church; he cannot even go to Chicago for the week in any meaningful way. He is trapped like a character in a film—unable to control the script, the action, or the projector.
In the opening chapter of the novel, Binx realizes that all the people around him are “dead.” They are far more lifeless and immobile than characters on the screen. He is attracted to and repulsed by the Elysian Fields, the nearby suburb of New Orleans. It is a place with a significant name but no substance. It is the new landscape of the South and America.
Much of Binx’s efforts center on some sort of self-announced search that he is on. The author toys with this as a literary scheme and device. On one hand, Binx’s search is for the meaning of life, the...
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