Day 233: The Moviegoer

Cover for The MoviegoerWalker Percy’s classic novel The Moviegoer is a novel about alienation. Binx Bolling is an idle young man living in New Orleans during the late 1950’s. His experiences in the Korean War seem to have cast him adrift, or perhaps he has always been adrift. He spends his time chasing women and going to the movies. He cares for his cultured and prominent family, yet he seems strangely indifferent to them at the same time. He claims to be on a search, but it is not clear what he is searching for–perhaps a purpose, but his search is strangely aimless. Although he has a job as a stockbroker, he doesn’t devote much time or attention to it.

Kate, his cousin, is mentally ill in an undefined way. She and Binx seem to understand each other, and he genuinely cares what happens to her. From drifting for quite awhile in the same waters, the story finally moves forward when Kate insists on coming with Binx to attend a convention in Chicago, where he has an important work assignment.

New Orleans features as a colorful setting, but in some ways the city’s possibilities are neglected. Some of the most interesting scenes are set in a small house over a bayou, where Binx goes to visit his mother and younger siblings.

This is an existentialist novel that is supposedly heavily influenced by the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. Although Jack Kerouac’s On the Road reflects the alienation experienced by some young men following World War II, The Moviegoer shows that this alienation was still felt by young men following the Korean War, ten years later. Essentially, these two novels examine the same themes, only Binx’s explorations are followed in more socially acceptable ways.

I have to admit that these themes don’t personally strike any chords with me. For most of the novel I wasn’t that interested in Binx’s search or in the things that he finds interesting. However, I liked the ending of the book, when he finally accepts responsibility for something.

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