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Walker Percy (1916-1990) was a Catholic writer whose six novels picture central characters who embark on searches for divine meaning. Rich Gray shows how Percy’s protagonists reject glib secular beliefs and quest toward Christian beliefs. In interviews and essays Percy articulated a theory of the Christian novelist in an agnostic culture, in which the novelist uses priests and dwellings to emblemize the hunt for Christian belief. Percy’s second and fifth novels have the same protagonist, Will Barrett, who avidly searches for satisfying answers to life’s biggest questions. He thus fulfills Percy’s hope of creating a character who would appeal to skeptics of Christianity. Mr. Gray is Professor of English at Montreat College.

How might a deeply committed Christian artist create an artifact for use by the non-Christian world? What strategies could an artist use who takes orthodox Christian doctrines seriously, and senses God’s call to engage broad, pluralistic audience? How can a novel capture God’s reach toward his prodigal children?

These questions were addressed by Walker Percy, whose Catholic faith informed his philosophy of novel-writing. Percy wanted to influence readers to consider the value of a world described from a Christian viewpoint. In Percy’s novels faith themes stand out chiefly through the characterization of priests and the description of dwellings. Percy uses this strategy effectively in his second and fifth novels, The Last Gentleman and The Second Coming, where Percy’s priests and dwellings suggest a world in which God draws people into a relationship with him. Percy’s protagonists search for authenticity, turning their backs on their old, dead lives and opening the possibility that the Christian God is calling them to himself.

Walker Percy (1916-1990) grew up in Mississippi and settled outside New Orleans.1 He earned his bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine from UNC Chapel Hill and his M.D. from Columbia University. During these years of scientific study, he followed the secular beliefs taught him by his guardian, Uncle William Alexander Percy: God did not exist, and science with art would replace divinity. While completing medical school, Walker Percy contracted tuberculosis, yet this seeming setback became a fruitful turning point in his young adulthood. He convalesced a year, then relapsed and convalesced another year at hospitals in the Adirondack Mountains. These two years, summer 1942 to fall 1944,gave him opportunity to read existentialists Søren Kierkegaard and Gabriel Marcel, and to consider his own mortality in the light of religious answers to life’s questions. In 1945, after recovering, he sought Catholic baptism and decided to shift his career from medicine to fiction writing.2

Percy was diffident with interviewers about explaining his conversion. However, he did speak about his faith with a local Covington, Louisiana acquaintance and reader of his books, Rhoda Faust:

I remember asking him something like “Do you really believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and that he came down to save the world, and therefore we are saved?” My emphasis was really on whether Walker believed that Jesus was the son of God. He didn’t give me an unequivocal “yes.” His response was more like a “Well, that’s what I am choosing.” It was enough of a yes. He wasn’t trying to say, “I am certain about it,” but he was saying that “I am choosing to believe in it. I am buying into it. I am going to Mass. It is what I want.”3

Faust also states that reading Percy’s novels and talking with him influenced her return to the Catholic Church.4 To Percy, believing in Catholic Christianity entailed a call to write novels and essays, picturing a world where God drew searchers toward himself.

Percy’s Apprenticeship

Walker Percy’s novelistic apprenticeship was influenced by the success of agnostic Shelby Foote, and Catholics Caroline Gordon and Flannery O’Connor. Throughout this fourteen-year apprenticeship, from 1945 to 1959, Percy corresponded with and visited Shelby Foote, a high school friend who had become a popular writer, having published five novels by 1954.5 The outspoken Foote objected to Percy’s converting to Catholicism; Foote was firmly sticking with secular humanism’s hope that art would answer life’s greatest questions.6 When Percy looked to his flourishing friend for advice on novel writing, Foote replied in a November 19, 1949 letter, “I seriously think that no good practicing Catholic can ever be a great artist.”7 Percy ignored Foote’s admonition to secularize his writing, yet he agreed with Foote that a Catholic novelist had better focus on the broad, non-Christian readership—postmodernists like Foote, who saw no need for God. Rather than standing behind Foote’s ideology, Percy chose to stand in front of Foote, facing him and aiming his novels at secular readers who thought like Foote.

In embarking on his career, Walker Percy struggled for four years with two apprentice novels, The Charterhouse and The Gramercy Winner. After drafting The Charterhouse, Percy contracted fellow adult convert Carolyn Gordon to critique it in 1951. Gordon wrote 20 single-spaced pages of suggestions, dwelling on fictional craft: Percy needed to add detail to scenes, slow the pace, and sharpen characterization. After Percy revised The Charterhouse, Gordon sent it to agents, but the novel failed to attract a publisher; the theological theme was too apparent.8 Although Percy eventually destroyed the novel, Gordon’s instruction must have impacted Percy’s novel-writing later on. He started over again from scratch with TheGramercy Winner in 1953, and again, literary agents turned it down, although this typescript survived. While Foote, Gordon, and O’Connor were publishing novels and stories in the 1950s, Percy switched to publishing scholarly essays on language and philosophy, largely unrecognized. However, in 1958 he gathered his courage, again took up the novelist’s pen, and broke through with TheMoviegoer(1961), a story of a young stockbroker distrusting inauthentic, conventional values, so he can seek significant, perhaps religious, meaning. This narrative of Binx Bolling won the National Book Award in 1962, and Percy’s career as a novelist was finally launched. He eventually produced six thoughtful novels, characterized by philosophical quests.9

During the time of writing The Moviegoer in 1958-59, Percy became aware of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, and of her peculiar literary style which she ascribed to her faith. Percy was struck by the high quality of O’Connor’s stories and novels, and by her Christian approach. Here was a Catholic fiction writer who had set a pace for Percy to match. By 1961, Flannery O’Connor had stopped creative writing and retired to Milledgeville, Georgia, as lupus had sapped her energy. Her work included two novels and two collections of stories. She still wrote letters, though, and congratulated Percy on The Moviegoer’s achievement:“I’m glad … you won the National Book Award. I didn’t think the judges would have that much sense but they surprised me. Regards.”10 In November 1962 O’Connor traveled to Loyola University in New Orleans to speak about her fiction. Percy made a point of driving into the city from suburban Covington to meet the modestly celebrated, fellow Catholic fictionist. Percy later described O’Connor as using crutches to walk to the podium and to stand for her address.11 Afterwards, a reception was held in an upstairs lounge; assistants carried O’Connor up to the waiting guests where the two writers were introduced and conversed. As they met for this solitary interchange, O’Connor’s career as Southern Catholic fiction writer impressed Percy; they both presented a Christian worldview in their writings. O’Connor had run the race marked out for her; in 19 months her life would be completed. Now Percy would continue his task of bearing witness in fiction to the truth of a Christian vision of life. O’Connor’s lecture and publishing example confirmed to Percy the Christian existentialist tenor he would use in his future novels. He commented,

Flannery O’Connor … said that for people who can’t see … clearly, you have to draw in caricatures … the so-called Catholic or Christian novelist nowadays has to be very indirect. … He has to practice his art in cunning and in secrecy and achieve his objective by indirect methods.12

Cunning, secrecy, and indirection were used by Percy to construct his novelistic worlds; the search for answers to life’s crucial questions naturally opened consideration of religious themes. Percy sought to write novels that a pluralistic readership would appreciate—characters pondering the issues of purpose, evil, and mortality.

O’Connor validated for Percy the possibility of his writing artistic novels about religious searches. Her success, especially with Wise Blood (1955), and Percy’s own 1961 National Book Award assured him he could fulfill the calling of Christian novelist, writing mainly not to Christians, but to an audience that doubted God’s reality. The concept of alienation from the consumer culture connected his faith with readers’ beliefs, because, claimed Percy in a 1968 interview, “alienation, after all, is nothing more or less than a very ancient, orthodox Christian doctrine. Man is alienated by the nature of his being here.”13 By creating characters that critique the shallow general culture, Percy could appeal to readers of any belief system and, using “cunning,” describe a world where God approaches humanity to draw seekers to himself. When O’Connor’s astounding essays in Mystery and Mannerscame out in 1961, right after The Moviegoer’scompletion, Percy read them. In these essays, O’Connor articulated a bold theory of a Christian author writing for an agnostic audience. In “The Fiction Writer & His Country,” she unfolds what “the Christian writer” ponders in writing for unbelieving readers:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. … You have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.14

Where O’Connor created grotesque characters and plots to arouse her “hostile” readers to reconsider their dismissal of Christianity, Percy created alienated characters groping for religious significance. What Percy got from O’Connor was a novelistic theory of the Christian author and non-Christian reader—how to create a literary world where grace operates on searching characters. O’Connor’s picture of readers as nearly deaf and blind impressed Percy as just the sort of audience he sought: unaware of Christianity’s power to respond to profound issues.

In “Novelist and Believer,” O’Connor explained her approach to novel-writing most thoroughly, positing three types of modern readers. First is the person who “has become his own ultimate concern” and is fully satisfied. Such a secular-focused person is far from Christianity. A second type believes in “a God he can’t approach, a God powerless to approach him.” This reader is similarly complacent and distant from a religious search. The third type is most useful to the novelist with Christian concerns: a person “who searches desperately, feeling about in all experience for the lost God.”15 This reader can appear in fiction as an “unbelieving searcher,” one who gives the story a philosophical theme that appeals to non-Christian readers.

Both O’Connor in “Novelist and Believer” and Percy in “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World” allude to Albert Camus (1913-1960), author of The Plague, The Stranger, and The Myth of Sisyphus, and a religious skeptic who successfully incorporated philosophical searches in his novels.16 Camus’ 1957 Nobel Prize for literature would have caught O’Connor’s and Percy’s attention at the time when they were writing themselves. Camus’ scheme of a protagonist rejecting bland, popular beliefs and cutting a radical path to get at life’s ultimate concern appealed to these two American writers. O’Connor had already pitched her novels and stories with truth-seeking slants, and Camus offered celebrated shoulders for Percy to stand on. Percy and O’Connor were glad that in the publishing world a tradition already existed which they could exploit.

In numerous interviews and essays, Percy embraced O’Connor’s approach—a writer who creates a literary world where grace works to awaken characters to their spiritual predicament. Responding to the question, “Is it hard to be a Catholic and a novelist?” Percy replied,

I guess I’d go back to Flannery O’Connor. She was a militant Catholic. She said, “Everything I do or write is informed by my belief.” We talked about it. We said that being Catholic is an advantage. … Christianity and the Catholic faith are congenial to the vocation of a novelist. … Christianity and the novel are both predicamental. A novel is always about somebody in trouble or incomplete or unfulfilled and their flawed journey through life. … In theological terms, man is fallen. His life is a journey.17

Percy joined O’Connor in seeing humanity as being theologically hard of hearing, lost, shipwrecked, distracted by commercial glitter, inauthentic, suicidal, and living in despair. The post-modern protagonist, thought Percy, suffered from a broken relationship with God. Thus O’Connor’s ideas continued to reinforce Percy throughout his career, long after she died in 1964.When her letters were published in 1979 in A Habit of Being, Percy read them, receiving fresh endorsement from O’Connor, after he had published his first three novels.

In 1971 Percy published two articles and a novel on the theme of catastrophe. “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World” claims that a catastrophic rupture of society can open up people’s thinking about religious faith. Percy’s term for an end-of-the-world novelist, “eschatological novelist,” fits a fellow adult convert to Catholicism, Walter Miller, Jr., who wrote the popular 1960 science fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz.18 In 1971 Percy published a commentary on A Canticle for Leibowitz, in which civilization is devastated, not just once, but twice. To Percy, Canticle’s bizarre plot and characters conceal a “cipher,” a secret message, showing to Percy that Miller had successfully employed indirection and cunning in novel-writing as Percy had worked out. Percy commented on Canticle, either the reader “doesn’t get it or, if he does, he can’t tell,” indicating that a complacent, non-Christian reader will not get Canticle’s point about the church, but a penetrating reader will.19 The cipher could be that God providentially cares for and uses his church, regardless of the turbulence of the world. Additionally in 1971, Percy published his own end-of-world novel, Love in the Ruins, a satiric book that shows how much Percy was gripped by the novel of catastrophe as a way of artistically representing a Christian view of the human condition. Percy’s novel averts desolation, yet from A Canticle for Leibowitz Percy gained further encouragement to create novelistic worlds where God calls out to prodigal humanity.

Moreover in “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World,” Percy proclaims, “What with the present dislocation of man, it is probably an advantage to see man as by his very nature an exile and wanderer rather than … as an organism in an environment.”20 The theme of wandering fits Percy’s protagonists philosophically; they do not depart from civilization for solitary treks over forbidding deserts. Instead they feel alienated from the secular/consumer culture around them and seek religious meaning amidst a society that is deaf to religious questions. In none of Percy’s novels does a non-Christian character roam all the way to conversion; instead the main characters turn toward the Christian God, as if they would embrace him should the story continue. Percy’s main characters doubt secular concepts of humans as only physical, temporal, consuming beings; they realize that human life must have immortal consequence. 

Will Barrett’s Search for Authenticity

Walker Percy’s two novels about Will Barrett, The Last Gentleman (1965) and The Second Coming (1980), reveal Percy’s indirect method of writing for non-believers. In the first novel, Will awakens to the possibility of a search for meaning in Chris-tianity. In the second novel, an older Will searches for God throughout the story, finally coming to the point of commitment when the novel closes. Both novels are narrated by a comic, satiric third person, limited voice. In the first part of both novels, Will Barrett moves from dwellings of alienation, to odd habitations of searching, and arriving at homes of salvation. Also at the end of both novels, Will Barrett encounters priests, who reluctantly explain to Will the Christian Gospel.

At the beginning of Percy’s second published novel, The Last Gentleman, Will Barrett lives in a “congenial cell” in the Manhattan YMCA in New York City. At the novel’s outset, the protagonist’s dwelling reveals his confusion. The playful narrator describes Will as a mentally unstable but likeable young man. Here are Will’s thoughts upon ending his years of psychoanalysis: “I shall engineer the future of my life according to the scientific principles and the self-knowledge I have so arduously gained from five years of analysis.”21 Planning where to aim his life, seeking answers from a psychiatrist, and relying on human scholars to provide guidance constitute Will’s approach at living as the story begins. Will prefers the anonymity of the YMCA dormitory room as his home, and chooses to work at night as a “humidification engineer at Macy’s” and sleep in the day.22 In this way he avoids people. Will dislikes groups, and he takes a telescope to Central Park and spies on people to get bizarre social contact.

His mental problem begins to grow into a religious quest when, at a New York hospital, he meets the Vaught family, whose sixteen-year-old son Jamie is receiving treatment for leukemia. Here Mr. Vaught, thinking he could hire Will to accompany Jamie in his last days, sizes up Will as a normal southerner, stranded in New York:

“Where did you go to college?”
“What’s your religion?”
“Episcopalian,” said the engineer absently, though he had never given the matter a single thought in his entire life.
“Man, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
“No sir.”
But if there is nothing wrong with me, he thought, then there is something wrong with the world. And if there is nothing wrong with the world, then I have wasted my life and that is the worst mistake of all.”23

In truth, both the world and Will have something wrong with them, and figuring out what is wrong with each keeps Will occupied. The emptiness of consumer life is inadvertently exposed by Mr. Vaught: know the right people, get the right job, attend the right college, and join the right religious group, and you have succeeded in life. Will suspects that Mr. Vaught does not ask the important questions, for what brings the Vaughts to turbulent New York, far away from their cocoon in Georgia? Medical help for Jamie’s leukemia. Death, especially of a teenager, seems so unfair, so unexplained by Mr. Vaught’s shallow, success-based belief system that Will cannot ignore mortality. Further, Will knows his own mind is unwell, and he has nagging doubts about life’s purpose. To be a nominal Episcopalian has not given Will any confidence in why he is alive. At this early point in the novel, Will’s search emerges. The agnostic reader can both laugh at Will’s fumbling, and identify with Will’s warm connecting to the Vaught family, especially his bonding with Jamie. When he meets the Vaughts, Will “awakens to ideological life,” according to Michael Kobre.24 Beliefs matter, Will realizes, and he develops sensitivity for false beliefs and authentic ones.

Will agrees to drive the 16-year-old cancer-stricken Jamie away from New York, back to Georgia and then out West in a motor home. This trip is at Jamie’s request, so he can get away from his hovering, grieving parents, and spend time with his sister Val, a Catholic nun in Arkansas, and with his articulate, desperate brother Sutter, a physician in New Mexico. The motor home, a movable dwelling, happily suits the questing Will, as he and Jamie meander to Georgia: “Here surely is a good way to live nowadays … mobile yet at home … in the world yet not of the world.”25 The last phrase derives from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in the upper room, prior to his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. In the Gospel of John 17:16, 18, Jesus prays, “They are not of the world. … I have sent them into the world.” The Gospel passage suggests the metaphor of pilgrims journeying to a permanent home, yet serving their Lord during the pilgrimage. The Last Gentleman narrator here describes all of Walker Percy’s protagonists’ situations: not content with the world’s commercialistic, secular values, they yearn for a more authentic existence, wondering whether life has a transcendent purpose. Percy’s signature essay “The Message in the Bottle” is a clever parable of exploration: “Suppose a man is a castaway on an island.”26 The ocean washes bottles with messages up onto the beach, and the castaway opens the bottles to read the messages. Some messages tell him how to survive on the island, but others tell him where he came from and how he can get back home. Typically, a Percy protagonist feels like a castaway from another land who comes to suspect orthodox Christianity as “news from across the seas.”27 Percy’s main character realizes his life is a charade, and he is “a stranger who is in the world but who is not at home in the world.”28 So the castaway becomes the prototypical Percy protagonist, searching for news from across the sea of mortal life.

At the Vaught home outside Atlanta, Will meets Sutter Vaught, Jamie’s older brother, a failed husband, failed suicide, and nearly failed physician. Sutter interrogates Will to assure himself that Will is a suitable companion for Jamie:

“Do you believe in God?” [Sutter]
The Engineer frowned. “I suppose so. Why do you ask?”
“My sister [Kitty] was just here. She said God loves us. Do you believe that?”
“I don’t know.” He stirred impatiently.
“Do you believe that God entered history?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it.”29

Sutter’s probing indicates interest in faith questions, and Will’s bland responses show his lack of interest. But with Jamie approaching death, Will begins to see the value of religious faith. Sutter’s asking him about God recalls a memory Will has of his father, walking in the summer evening up and down the sidewalk. Ed Barrett suddenly stated to the teenage Will, “Don’t ever be frightened by priests.”30 How could his father be frightened by priests, Will wonders. Ed Barrett may have been so frightened, perhaps by a priest challenging his opposition to faith in God. Now, 10 years after this incident, Sutter seems like Will’s father—ambivalent toward God—drawn to faith, but predisposed against it. At this point Sutter’s talk of God lights a candle of curiosity in Will as to whether God is real.

A crisis occurs in the middle of The Last Gentleman when Sutter scoops up Jamie in Georgia so they can end Jamie’s days together in New Mexico. Will follows a few days later, stopping in Arkansas to meet Jamie’s sister Val Vaught, a Catholic nun who runs a school for mute children. Val is the religious member of the family, but also the hardest to get along with, a character who represents Christianity, yet does not seem transformed by it. As a devoted Christian, Val promotes orthodox Christian belief, yet she struggles to understand what being a nun means for her. Val confesses to Will, “Christ is my lord and I love him but I’m a good hater. … I still hope my enemies fry in hell. What to do about that? Will God forgive me?”31 Val’s insight into her hypocrisy redeems her as a realistic character. She is mad at the Church leaders who neglect her school, and at the general public who avoids her impaired students. When she and Will part, she asks, “Will you pray for me to receive sufficient grace in order not to hate the guts of some people, however much they deserve it?”32 Will has never prayed for anybody, so this request pushes him once again to examine his belief system. He cannot figure Val; he respects her intense faith, yet her brusque conversation repels him. Sutter and Val bring biblical themes into focus, by triangulating Christianity from outside it: Sutter appreciates Christianity but cannot believe it, and Val believes in the Faith but cannot live it. Thus skeptical readers are led to consider a Christian viewpoint, yet without any character being a model Christian.

Will continues to New Mexico and finds Jamie and Sutter at a hospital, Jamie too sick to live outside of full-time medical care. Sutter has been physician at Sangre de Cristo dude ranch, “Blood of Christ” being an ironic name, considering Sutter’s open skepticism of Christianity. Before departing Atlanta with Jamie, Sutter had left behind a journal, intending that Will find it. As Will journeys to New Mexico, he reads Sutter’s jottings in snatches, much like Percy’s metaphorical castaway reads notes from washed up bottles. Sutter rants in his journal,

Christ should leave us. He is too much with us and I don’t like his friends. We have no hope of recovering Christ until Christ leaves us. … My “suicide” followed the breakdown of the sexual as a mode of reentry from the posture of transcendence. … I went to the ranch, shot myself, missed the brain, carried away the cheek. … I won’t miss the next time.33

Christianity attracts Sutter, yet he cannot bring himself to believe, citing Christians’ hypocrisy as a reason for holding back from faith. For Sutter the alternative to faith is casual sexuality and then suicide, which he attempted in the past, and survived. He remains in an ontological no-man’s-land, as he might give himself to God or to death at any moment. To Sutter’s dislike, Will clings to him as one who has contemplated the options for a life path, and can advise Will. But Sutter is too depressed at Jamie’s decline and unsure about which option is viable to guide Will. Sutter is close to taking his life successfully this time, and he does not want to push Will into that irrevocable direction. 

Jamie Vaught’s Baptism

The climax of the novel comes in New Mexico when Jamie finally dies. The death scene incorporates the theme of Christian salvation, presented indirectly through a priest. Will and Sutter maintain their skepticism, yet the Gospel message disturbs them. They wonder: could Christianity be true? As he sinks toward death, Jamie asks Will to phone Val in Arkansas. In the telephone conversation Val directs Will to be sure that Jamie is baptized. Will retorts,

“It’s really none of my business, Sister.” [Will]
“It’s my responsibility but I am giving it to you until I get there. You can call a priest, can’t you?” [Val]
“I am not of your faith, Sister.”34

Val insists that, in spite of Will’s reluctance, he fulfill her request to ask a priest to baptize Jamie, while he is yet alive. So Will asks hospital chaplain Father Boomer to baptize the dying Jaime at Val’s telephoned order. Father Boomer complies reluctantly, since the Vaught family is unknown to him, and Jaime’s strength has declined so far he cannot coherently answer the priest’s questions about his faith: “Do you accept the truth that God exists and that He made you and loves you and that He made the world so that you might enjoy its beauty and that He himself is your final end and happiness, that He loved you so much that He sent His only Son to die for you…?”35 Boomer is routine and unable to comprehend the skepticism in the hospital room. Yet his dumbness gives him an asset as a character—he engages Will, Sutter, and Jaime symbolically through baptism, rather than rationally. Lewis A. Lawson sees Father Boomer as a third, and finally suitable, father figure to Will, who “offers Will a way of avoiding the subject/object split, spirit/flesh dualism personified by father Barrett[and] ‘father’ [Sutter] Vaught: the Christian doctrine of incarnation.”36 Will’s father and Sutter cannot bridge from themselves in the physical world to a world of eternal subjectivity, ideals and spirit. As a result, Ed Barrett killed himself and Sutter tried to take his life. In both cases, lack of a coherent belief system contributed to their dejection. Offering an alternative, Father Boomer bears witness to the good news from across the sea, informing Will and the skeptical reader that the time has come for a search for Christian answers to life’s questions.

John Desmond sees the priest’s hold on Jamie’s finger during Jamie’s expiration as “an incarnate sign of grace,” a moment when God speaks to Jamie through the words of Father Boomer’s prayer, and Jamie responds by squeezing Father Boomer’s hand just before dying.37

Percy believed that when one discovers one’s predicament, one can act authentically. Percy’s novels are propelled by that philosophical paradigm: emblems of grace nudging characters to come to themselves. Percy once insisted that faith,

is not a leap into the absurd, it is an act … which is a form of knowledge … A knowledge that God exists and that man is created in His image. … [Man] has this extraordinary capacity to know things, a certain freedom, and he can find himself in a predicament. … Ordinary epistemology does not take account of news as a form of knowing.38

Percy’s essays explain that life’s predicaments can yield faith as knowledge. In “The Message in the Bottle,” because the castaway recognizes that the message speaks to his quandary, he trusts it.39 The castaway learns that knowledge about how to live on the island must be differentiated from news from across the sea. Percy’s protagonists grow to realize the difference between knowledge for consumption and news for their predicament in existence. The Last Gentleman is about Will Barrett recognizing these two kinds of messages, one on how to be a consumer, and the other on the purposes of his life. Lawson explains that “Jamie hears the good news, though the content does not register in Will’s consciousness. … He is unprepared to accept the sign of Jamie’s salvation.”40 Should Will believe in Christianity? Where is Will likely to end up? The reader must conjecture: To suicide with Sutter? To submerse himself back in the consumer culture? Or to yield to Christ? The novel closes with enormous equivocation as to Will’s choice, as a skeptical reader might appreciate.

Priests and Dwellings as Emblems
If clergy point to orthodox Christian belief in Percy’s fiction, then why are stalwart clergy not much in evidence? Percy’s priests resemble Graham Green’s whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory (1940) and Flannery O’Connor’s stern, backwoods preacher, old Mason Tarwater, in The Violent Bear it Away (1955). Although these clerics aspire to be model Christians, they crumble into hypocrisy and ineptitude, more a common person than a religious hero, and thus retain realism with religiously skeptical readers.

But Percy’s priests also bring an expectation of grace to each novel, illuminating the protagonist’s search for the biblical God. As the leading characters’ explorations show a movement from skepticism toward religious belief, so leading characters’ interactions with priests mark that transition on the road to faith. With their prayers for the sick, baptisms, and hearing of confessions, priests fit the settings where they appear, amplifying the theme of religious belief. Rather than showing a champion of faith, the novels show clumsy priests: Father Boomer, who struggles to explain Christian baptism to Jamie, Will, and Sutter; John/Percival, a priest who retrained as a mental health therapist in Lancelot (1977); Father Weatherby, a retired missionary in a rest home in The Second Coming (1980); and Father Rinaldo Smith, a senile, discouraged priest in The Thanatos Syndrome (1987)who retreats to a fire tower and refuses to come down. 

In addition to priests as emblems in Percy’s novels, dwellings often reveal the pull of providence on a character. A dwelling is a place where one feels familiar, secure, and comfortable. People adapt their dwellings to suit their taste—a platform rocker, mauve bedroom walls, indoor plants, and family pictures. People express their whole selves, including the values that sustain them in life, in their dwellings. In literature characters are often defined through their dwellings—Odysseus’ anger that the suitors had taken over his house, Lear raging in the wilderness without a home, Thoreau’s pride in building his hut, Hester and Pearl’s lonely cottage on the outskirts of town, and Huck and Jim’s raft. Similarly, scriptural dwellings carry important denotations: Abraham entertaining angels in his tent, the Temple as a dwelling for worship of God, Bethlehem’s stable, the Father’s heavenly mansion with many rooms, and the empty tomb. In Percy’s novels, dwellings illuminate the search-theme: the protagonist repudiates his current house with its life of pointless consumerism, and hunts for an authentic house and its implication of belief in the Christian God.

Percy’s characters’ original dwellings usually act as emblems of their occupant’s anxiety about life’s purpose. A protagonist’s apartment, dormitory room, or house represents the character’s problems—romantic love, illusions, suicide, or despair. The protagonist leaves this problematic house and moves on to a beneficial house, which emblemizes a Christian answer to the initial philosophical problems. Getting outside the house of illusion means escape from confinement of unbelief, and embarking on a pilgrimage to a house of religious faith. Most notable is Lance Lamar in Lancelot (1977), who actually blows up his Louisianan, antebellum mansion in order to break off his artificial life there. Similarly, Binx Bolling in TheMoviegoer (1961) mocks his nifty apartment as conformist; then later at his mother’s fishing cabin, when trying to sleep on an uncomfortable cot on the screened porch, he commits to a search for higher meaning, writing in a notebook, “Abraham saw signs of God and believed. Now the only sign is that all the signs in the world make no difference. Is this God’s ironic revenge? But I am onto him.”41 The fishing camp setting turns Binx’s thinking away from taking a hedonistic path, and toward pursuing God.

Will Barrett’s Descent

In The Second Coming (1980), Percy’s fifth novel and a sequel to The Last Gentleman, Will Barrett continues his pilgrimage for religious faith. Worthy of consideration as Percy’s best novel, The Second Coming is appreciated by many readers for its clever, coherent plot. Here priest and dwelling emblems amplify the story of a middle-aged Will Barrett and a new character, Allison Huger. In the two decades since The Last Gentleman, Will has succeeded in corporate law and in marriage. But he has come a second time to an ontological crisis—a predicament of being—first, because his only child Leslie is getting married; second, since he retired from work early in life; and third, after his wife Marion died from chronic health problems. Marion had led the family, pulling the bashful Will out into stimulating social life and bringing the family to worship at the local Episcopal flock in their North Carolina mountain resort town of Linwood. However, Will says he never joined the congregation or professed Christian belief. Even though Will earned a high salary as a Wall Street lawyer, the principal family financial assets came from Marion, whose parents left her millions. So as Marion’s death grieves Will, he is left directionless and thrown back twenty years to his desperate search for significance. He had never resolved the questions of purpose that bothered him at the end of The Last Gentleman, depending instead on Marion’s vigorous Episcopal worship experience to compensate for his own need for faith. Will simply became a nominal Christian, deferring faith questions to the decisive Marion. Now that she is gone, Will resumes his dire hunt for a sustaining religious faith.

As in The Last Gentleman, Will contemplates ending his life, and he hatches a grandiose plan to prove whether God exists and cares for him—or to commit suicide. Says Will, “I aim to settle the question of God once and for all,” a brash overstatement, but a genuine effort to approach God, if he cares. Will’s plan aims directly at the question of God’s immanence—if “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” as Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins has claimed, then a quest for purpose has hope.42 If the world is not penetrated by God’s gracious call to the lost, then taking one’s life must be considered as a suitable response; suicide becomes a decisive act in an indecisive world. Will reasons, “my death, if it occurs, shall occur not by my own hand but by the hand of God. Or rather the handlessness or inaction of God.”43 So Will believes he has devised a means to force God to reveal himself to Will—or prove that no biblical God exists. Foolish, even childish, yet the plan has a germ of faith.

Will’s luxurious home becomes an emblem of despair—with Marion dead and Leslie moving away after the wedding, the house’s chief task has become to hold Will’s father’s shotgun and Lugar—appliances for killing himself. Will’s father, Ed Barrett, took his life with the Greener shotgun that Will treasures in his bedroom closet. Will was a high schooler then, and powerful memories of his melancholy father intrude on Will’s thinking. One scene a few weeks before Ed Barrett died has become critical for Will to interpret, and the images are so strong that Will imagines his father’s spirit hounding him to copy the terminal act. In a climatic, father-son bonding scene, Ed Barrett took Will quail hunting in the Georgia woods. As the hunters step through the strands of a barbed wire fence, Ed Barrett mysteriously cautions Will, “You have to trust me now. … I’m going to see to it that you’re not going to have to go through what I am going through.”44 Ed Barrett’s melancholia seems different from depression; he is discouraged over finding little enduring purpose in life. A few moments after the admonition at the wire fence, he instructs Will, “You’re like me. We are two of a kind. … You’re one of us, I’m afraid. You already know too much. … You’d be better off if you were one of them. … The ignorant armies that clash by night.”45 The allusion to Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” clarifies Ed Barrett’s despondent thinking. Arnold’s dramatic monolog places its narrator on a bluff overlooking the crashing surf below, while the poem’s persona broods about the difficulty of finding import in a dark, troubled world, amplified by the thundering waves. The fifth, final stanza reads:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.46

To Ed Barrett, shallow, thoughtless people regard the world as a rosy “land of dreams,” while he and Will view the world as tangled in a moral battle. While to glib, self-satisfied people, the world is “so beautiful,” yet to the thoughtful skeptic, the world has no joy, love, light, certitude, peace nor help—essentially no value to a human.

Shortly after this admonition, as they hunt on two sides of a thicket, a double shotgun blast is fired toward Will, followed by a single firing over where his father was standing. Will discovers he has minor injury to his face, but Mr. Barrett has been hit full in his side. A scrupulously safe hunter, Ed Barrett claims he accidently shot near Will, and then accidently shot himself. They find help from a local family, living out in the woods in a cabin. The mother comforts Will theologically, “Ain’t nothing wrong the good Lord cain’t fix.”47 Her statement affirms God’s love and runs directly counter to Ed Barrett’s philosophy of cosmic loneliness and despair. A generation later, Will remembers the kerosene odor and the newspapers covering the walls of the cabin. For the humble family living there, the cabin emblemizes God’s providence: when you run into trouble, turn to the God who cares and stays near. Both Ed and Will recovered from their wounds, but later at home, alone in the attic, Ed Barrett pointed the two barrels of the Greener at his body, and made his house an emblem of desolation. 

Over the course of the novel, Will has nine mental flashbacks to that hunting scene from 30 years ago; he is now 45, his father’s approximate age when the incident happened. Will imagines his father’s voice droning for suicide as a rejection of the confused civilization and hollow universe. The voice in Will’s head asks: “What other end if you don’t make the end? … Close it out. At least you can do that, not only not lose but win, with one last splendid gesture defeat the whole foul feckless world.”48 Will decides the shooting incident was not a hunting accident, nor even a botched murder-suicide. The shooting was Ed Barrett’s way of communicating to Will that life had no purpose, other than ending it. Yet Will believes he can pursue the question of purpose more vigorously than his father had.

So Will Barrett flees his home—a dwelling of despair—and enters Lost Cove Cave to vanquish his unbelief through a ludicrous, yet sincere test of God’s goodness. The cave houses Will’s pursuit of God, even though his scheme is smug. A human does not demand action from God, yet Will could be counting on Scripture’s bright declaration, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”49 Will descends through the cave with the idea of staying deep inside it until either God reveals himself or starvation ends his life. In this fashion, the cave is a dwelling, emblemizing Will’s desperate search for God. Will wonders, as he clambers down the tunnels, shall God come for an ardent child, eager to return to the Father? He says to himself, “Speak, God, or be silent. And if you’re silent, I’ll understand that.”50 Essentially, Will prays here, calling on God to respond to him. The unique characteristics of the cave—the quiet, darkness, and aloneness—stir Will to reach out toward God mentally.

Meanwhile, in fascinating parallel chapters, Allie Huger, daughter of Kitty Vaught, Will Barrett’s girlfriend long ago in The Last Gentleman, is confined to a mental hospital in Will’s town of Linwood. Allie is genuinely sick, withdrawn from social life and speaking almost nothing. Her psychiatric hospital room suggests paralysis over her fear of singing publicly—her college major was vocal performance—and, consequently, the hospital internment reveals Allie’s fear of living her own life. Years before Allie had befriended an elderly woman in Linwood who then bequeathed Allie her dilapidated home with a greenhouse, as well as a valuable island off the Georgia coast. When Allie escapes the hospital by hiding in a delivery truck, her walk to the greenhouse marks her growth from weakness toward capability. Once free from the hospital, Allie relearns how to speak to strangers, not letting herself be worked for an advantage, as had happened to her during her college years and in the hospital. Her first task is a haircut, and Allie strives to converse with the hairdresser:

“You from around here?” [hairdresser]
“No, I’m from—” She stopped.
“Oh, by the way, what is today?” [Allie]
”She didn’t dare ask the year51

Allie’s innocent vulnerability elevates her winsomeness, like Huck Finn’s in deciding to protect Jim from slave chasers. We want Allie to succeed, and we feel her precariousness as she moves out into the stressful, wider world. She began her getaway at the electroshock recovery room, and the “buzzing” temporarily blunted her memory and language skill. To guide herself during the fragile hours right after buzzing when Allie leaped right into the outside world, she had written a journal. The confident journal tone contrasts sharply with Allie’s halting conversations with townspeople:

You remember nothing now, do you? … I, that is, you, but for the present as I write this, I—am scheduled to be buzzed early Wednesday morning. … You will be conscious but still paralyzed from the Anectine (curare), lying there bright-eyed and still, like a parrot shot by the poisoned arrow of a pygmy’s blowgun (which you have been).52

The assured, capable journal-voice strains to recommence adulthood. For a depressed, mute mental patient, the journal writer seems healed. The point is that inside Allie’s self lives a hopeful, eager woman, and she relishes the chance to test her recovery by living in the outside world again. As Allie cleans and provisions the greenhouse, it becomes a dwelling of independence, healing, and even religion, since some of the windows are stained glass.

While Allie vaults into self-governed living, Will cowers deep in the cave for over a week, drinking cave water and taking sleeping pills. Then unexpectedly, an abscessed tooth forces him to alter his plan to die or make God reveal himself. Unable to stand the pain, he tries to get out, but, weakened from his hunger strike, he loses his way, falls down a shaft, and bruises himself dangerously. Eventually he crawls up a tunnel and tumbles through a vent aperture into Allie’s greenhouse in an amazing birthing image. Sue Mitchell Crowley has noted a parallel between Will’s emergence from Lost Cove Cave and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.53 In both, the cave represents deceptive appearances, while emergence into daylight represents acquiring knowledge of the eternal good. And in both stories, climbing to the surface demands a huge mental struggle, which is richly rewarded by a reborn, second life. 

Will had met Allie several times in preceding weeks when his golf drive sliced into the woods by her greenhouse, even once breaking a glass pane. Now Allie nurses Will back to strength, and they grow in love, making plans for marriage in the health-giving greenhouse. To heat her greenhouse for winter living, Allie had moved a large wood-burning cook stove into it. The warm stove, the stained glass, and the building’s plant-nurturing purpose blend the greenhouse into an emblem of spiritual renewal. The two have run away from parasitic friends and family members; they seize the chance to start adulthood over again.

Will asks, “How would you like to begin your life?”
Allie replies, “It is time. How would you like to begin yours?”54

Here, near the novel’s close, Will and Allie exult in their happiness, after having been lifeless and anesthetized for so long. Other people managed them; Will and Allie did not pursue authentic existence because they had sold themselves to the highest cultural bidders, and quit thinking about where their lives were headed. At the novel’s end, Will stops to ask, has God given him a sign of his existence by saving Will and restarting his life? Is romantic love that culminates in marriage a sign of God’s love to Will and Allie? Will is inclined to say, yes.

Priest Emblems in The Second Coming

In The Second Coming the theme of authenticity through faith in God is clarified by priest emblems as two Episcopal priests are contrasted: Jack Curl, the shallow, officious chaplain of St. Mark’s Convalescent Home; and Father Weatherby, the retired missionary and a resident of the Home. Father Jack is modernist in his theology and approach to ministry; he sees God in friendships, frequently travels to ecumenical conferences, and has little use for traditional doctrines. When Will asks Father Jack why he believes in God, Jack cannot explain why, and lamely shifts the topic to Will’s church attendance. Jack drones, “Don’t you think you belong here in the church? With your own people?”55 Jack’s non-committal response to Will’s probe leaves Will doubtful that Jack understands how to know God. Jack is most eager that Will contribute funds to building a flashy retirement community campus and attend an ecumenical retreat. But Jack mentions nothing about believing orthodox Christian teachings, heeding the Bible, or prayer. Father Jack Curl amounts to a false emblem of Christianity; one would think he would promote faith in Christ, but he cannot. In this sense Jack indirectly helps Will—by causing Will to deduce that simply joining a local Christian congregation will not fulfill his search. 

However, the elderly Father Weatherby models a strong Christian faith, albeit from a disengaged setting in the retirement home. When Will approaches Father Weatherby to perform his and Allie’s wedding ceremony, the priest at first backpedals since he is no longer active in ministry, and attempts to send Will back to Jack Curl: “Are you a member of St. John’s congregation?” Will snaps, “I am not a believer and do not wish to enter the church.”56 Weatherby responds that Americans like Will profit from a high standard of living, yet often are “restless.” By contrast, in Mindanao where he served as a missionary, poor Philippine Christians “believed the Gospel whole and entire, and the teachings of the church.”57 Weatherby still adheres to conventional Christian beliefs; he could be considered an older Father Boomer from The Last Gentleman. Even though Father Weatherby struggles to explain the Gospel to the jumpy, irreverent Will, Weatherby’s eager heart and orthodox ideas appeal to Will. While Will stumbles to understand orthodox Christianity, he is sure Weatherby has what he needs. This witness of basic Christian Gospel impresses Will, who seems ready to accept it. Weatherby is a weak evangelist and Will is a reluctant convert—just the pairing of characters that fit Percy’s indirect approach.

The novel ends with Will wondering if God has answered Will’s test that he, God, does exist, does love Will, and does want to bless him. Finding himself able to lift Allie up from despondency, and thinking how Allie has enriched his life more than any person had before, Will asks, “is she a gift and therefore a sign of a giver? … Am I crazy to want both, her and Him?”58 This scene is the closest any Percy character gets to becoming a believer in Christianity. Percy still keeps the door of skepticism open, especially in Will’s statement to Father Weatherby that he is not a believer. Will may not yet be a Christian, but he is not far from becoming one, as Will has realized that the world must be favored by God. How else could he and Allie be such a great blessing to each other? “Could it be that the Lord is here?” Will asks, leading himself to affirm that, yes, God is welcoming Will into his plans for a fruitful existence in his kingdom.59 Both Will and Allie were disabled by their personal problems. But now they support each other, and find themselves strong enough to create a genuine marriage attachment. The notion of God’s providence appeals to Will, disclosing to him the biblical God seeking him through his escape from the cave and relationship with Allie.

A Call from God to Write

Walker Percy believed he had a call from God to write novels that artistically engaged non-religious readers by creating a believable, fictional world in which the grace of God is evident amid a culture that ignores God. Fully realizing this readership would not want to be preached at, Percy still felt compelled to show the mass audience novelistically that Christian belief is necessary. Biographer Jay Tolson believes that “Percy’s art … implies that the only way out of this deathtrap is the mysterious workings of grace.”60 Tolson sees that Percy’s novels corner characters with only one way out—faith in the biblical God. The novel ends with the protagonist considering that solitary option. Percy has stated,

I’ve often thought—it’ll probably happen after I’m dead and gone—some guy will come along, like they always do, and say, “If this fella hadn’t been a Catholic he’d have been a pretty good writer!” In truth it’s the other way around … my Catholicism is not only a hindrance but a help in my work … it’s a way of seeing the world.61

Percy’s Catholic Christian viewpoint gave him insight into what was wrong with the world and what could be done to fix it: craft novels aimed at arousing agnostic readers’ interest in life’s principal questions and in Christianity’s answers. With humor, satire, and emblematic settings and clergy, these novels picture a castaway combing the beach for clues as to where he came from and what his destiny is. A biblical source for Percy’s metaphor of the castaway is Christ’s parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. In six places in his writings, Percy used Christ’s phrase about the prodigal, “came to himself,” to describe a contemporary person who realizes life has become superficial and he must search for answers to life’s questions through a relationship with God, much like a shipwrecked survivor would search the beach for messages in bottles from across the sea.62 These are novels which our civilization needs to keep reading.

Cite this article
Rich Gray, “Walker Percy’s Appeal to Searchers: The Last Gentleman and The Second Coming”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 41:1 , 15-34


  1. Jay Tolson, Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).
  2. In choosing Catholicism as his version of Christianity, Percy may have been influenced by stories of Uncle Will Alexander Percy, who had been raised as a Catholic, and by Uncle Will’s father, a lifelong Catholic. As an adult, Uncle Will rejected all religion, and became a model in Percy’s work of the Southern stoic. See Walker Percy, “The Southern Stoic,” in Signposts in a Strange Land, ed. Patrick Samway, S. J. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991), 83-88 (originally published in 1956). See also in Signposts “Uncle Will,” 53-62.
  3. David Horace Harwell, Walker Percy Remembered: A Portrait in the Words of Those Who Knew Him(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 110. Harwell interviewed Walker Percy’s brothers Leroy and Phin, whose comments about Walker Percy appear in book form for the first time. He also interviewed Percy’s lifelong friend and fellow Southern novelist, Shelby Foote as well as ten other protégés of Percy.
  4. Ibid., 92-95.
  5. Foote (1916-2005) is best known for his contributions to Ken Burns’ PBS series The Civil War(1990).
  6. Rich Gray, “‘A Way of Seeing the World’: Synthesizing Art and Belief in Walker Percy’s Novels,” Christian Scholar’s Review
  7. Jay Tolson, ed. The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997), 20.
  8. Tolson, Pilgrim, 219-221
  9. Listed in order of publication, Percy’s novels are The Moviegoer (New York: Knopf, 1961); The Last Gentleman (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965); Love in the Ruins (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971); Lancelot (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977); The Second Coming (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980); and The Thanatos Syndrome (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987).
  10. Flannery O’Connor, A Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 470.
  11. Lewis Lawson and Victor Kramer, eds., More Conversations with Walker Percy (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1993), 205-206. Evidently, Percy and O’Connor did not exchange further letters or phone calls.
  12. Lewis Lawson and Victor Kramer, eds., Conversations with Walker Percy (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1985), 41.
  13. Ibid., 28-29.
  14. Flannery O’Connor, “The Fiction Writer and His Country,” in Mystery and Manners, eds. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1961), 35-36.
  15. Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer,” in Ibid., 159.
  16. Ibid., 161; Walker Percy, “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World,” in The Message in the Bottle (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975), 103.
  17. Lewis Lawson and Victor Kramer, eds. More Conversations with Walker Percy (Jackson: Uni-versity Press of Mississippi, 1993), 122-123.
  18. Walter Miller, Jr. (1923-1996) and Percy never met and do not appear to have corresponded.
  19. Walker Percy, “Rediscovering A Canticle for Leibowitz,” in Signposts in a Strange Land, 227-233.
  20. Walker Percy, “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World,” 111.
  21. Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman, 41.
  22. Ibid., 18.
  23. Ibid., 78-79.
  24. Michael Kobre, Walker Percy’s Voices (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000), 106.
  25. Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman, 153.
  26. Walker Percy, Message, 119.
  27. Ibid., 144.
  28. Ibid., 142.
  29. Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman, 221.
  30. Ibid., 224-24.
  31. Ibid., 301.
  32. Ibid., 303.
  33. Ibid., 372-73.
  34. Ibid., 393.
  35. Ibid., 403.
  36. Lewis A. Lawson, Still Following Percy (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996), 138.
  37. John Desmond, Walker Percy’s Search for Community (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 115.
  38. 8Lawson, Conversations, 204-205.
  39. Percy, Message, 125-139.
  40. Lawson, Still Following Percy, 138.
  41. Percy, The Moviegoer, 118-119.
  42. Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” in Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2, 8th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 1516.
  43. Second Coming, 186.
  44. Ibid., 53.
  45. Ibid., 55.
  46. Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach,” in Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2, 8th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 1368-1369.
  47. Percy, Second Coming, 166.
  48. Ibid., 337.
  49. John 6:37, New International Version.
  50. Percy, The Second Coming, 212.
  51. Ibid., 26.
  52. Ibid., 27.
  53. Sue Mitchell Crowley, “Walker Percy’s Wager: The Second Coming,” in Critical Essays on Walker Percy, (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989), 236.
  54. 4Percy, The Second Coming, 331.
  55. Ibid., 137.
  56. Ibid., 357.
  57. Ibid., 359.
  58. Ibid., 360.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Tolson, 333.
  61. Lawson, Conversations, 88.
  62. The parable of the prodigal son occurs in Luke 15:13-20. The Percean references to “came to himself” (1) occur in “From Facts to Fiction,” [1966], in Signposts in a Strange Land, ed. Patrick Samway (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991), 190; (2) in The Moviegoer, 15; (3) in The Message in the Bottle, “The Man on the Train,” 99, (4, 5) in “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World,” 109, 113; and (6) in The Second Coming, 124.

Rich Gray

Mr. Gray is Professor of English at Montreat College.