Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Gore Vidal, whose literary oeuvre includes plays and poetry, is best known for his novels. His first novel, Williwaw (1946), was written when Vidal was nineteen years old, and his second, In a Yellow Wood, came the next year, 1947. With the publication of his third novel, however, The City and the Pillar (1948, revised and expanded in 1965 with an essay, “Sex and the Law,” and an afterword), Vidal first touched on a subject very important to him, homosexuality.

In this work, which he saw as a study of obsession, Vidal probed the boundaries of society’s sexual tolerance. The novel affected the rest of his career. Some of his readers saw the work as a glorification of homosexuality, for in American fiction until that time gay and lesbian characters had been presented as doomed or bizarre figures. By contrast, the protagonist of The City and the Pillar is an average American male confused by his feelings about gay sex and obsessed with the memory of a weekend encounter with another young man. If the protagonist is doomed, it is only because he is obsessed with this past event, not because he prefers men to women. The protagonist tries to revive the affair later, and when he is rejected, he kills his former lover. Vidal later issued a revised edition in which the protagonist comes to realize the sterility of his obsession.

Vidal considers himself a sexual libertarian. He believes that sex between consenting adults is something to be enjoyed, a gift, and...

(The entire section is 620 words.)