Walker Percy Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How did Walker Percy’s linguistic studies enrich his fiction?

Does Percy, a consciously southern writer, repudiate values—such as tradition, the family, and religious conservatism—often considered distinctively southern ones?

Is Binx Bolling of The Moviegoer an authentic Everyman?

How does Percy’s existentialist fiction differ from that of earlier writers in this mode, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus?

Is Percy more Christian apologist than artist?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

As a writer of imaginative literature, Walker Percy devoted himself exclusively to the novel. However, he also wrote more than fifty reviews and essays on many of the same topics that inform his novels: existential philosophy, language theory, modern scientific method, contemporary American culture, the South, and literature. With one or two exceptions, the most important of these essays are collected in The Message in the Bottle (1975), which has as its peculiarly Percyean subtitle How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other. An indispensable book, The Message in the Bottle not only clarifies the author’s major concerns as well as his commitment to that most basic philosophical question, “What is man?” but also details the formidable intellectual foundation on which his fiction so unpretentiously rests. That unpretentiousness is especially evident in Lost in the Cosmos (1983), ironically subtitled The Last Self-Help Book, in which Percy employs satire and semiotics in an effort to clarify the human being’s social and more especially spiritual predicament as a uniquely “lost” creature needing the good news of the gospels but all too often willing to settle for the insights of scientists and talk-show hosts.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Walker Percy is perhaps most easily described as a Catholic-existentialist-American-southern novelist, a baggy phrase that at least has the virtue of identifying the various currents that are blended together in his distinctive works. In Percy’s fiction, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn from the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Antoine Roquentin from the play Nausea (1938) meet in a single character adrift in a world where, despite the formless sprawl of mass society, the possibility of grace still exists. Percy’s fiction is readily identifiable by its distinctive narrative voice. That voice—laconic yet disarmingly honest and filled with wonder—gained for Percy both critical respect and a dedicated readership. Percy received the National Book Award for The Moviegoer, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for The Second Coming, and the St. Louis Literary Award for Lost in the Cosmos. Among his other literary honors were memberships in the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Allen, William Rodney. Walker Percy: A Southern Wayfarer. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986. Allen reads Percy as a distinctly American, particularly Southern writer, claiming that the formative event in Percy’s life was his father’s suicide, not his reading of existentialist writers or conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Coles, Robert. Walker Percy: An American Search. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978. An early but always intelligent and certainly sensitive reading of Percy’s essays and novels by a leading psychiatrist whose main contention is that Percy’s work speaks directly to modern humanity.

Desmond, John F. At the Crossroads: Ethical and Religious Themes in the Writings of Walker Percy. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1997. A useful, accessible introduction to Percy’s background in theology and philosophy.

Dupuy, Edward J. Autobiography in Walker Percy: Repetition, Recovery, and Redemption. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Discusses Percy’s autobiographical novels as psychological fiction. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Hardy, John Edward. The Fiction of Walker Percy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. The originality of this book derives from Hardy’s choosing to read the novels in terms of internal formal...

(The entire section is 449 words.)