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Walker Percy: A Southern Wayfarer


William Rodney Allen

— A valuable and informative study of Percy's five novels in the context of his southern and American literary sources and his tragic personal history

Though Walker Percy has emphasized his European existential influences, denying that his fiction is "southern" or even "American," his novels nevertheless are highly allusive. They are permeated with echoes of his tragic early years in the South, his ambivalent relationship with his adoptive father William Alexander Percy, and his awareness of such writers as Twain, Hemingway, and Warren. In Walker Percy: A Southern Wayfarer, William Rodney Allen brings to focus such notable influences on Percy's work and examines his five novels in terms of Percy's southern and American literary sources and his tragic personal history.

Allen's admirably perceptive study looks at Percy's novels in the light of psychoanalytic theory, philosophy, and literary analysis.

Having suffered the traumas of his father's suicide, his mother's death in an automobile accident, and his own fight with tuberculosis, Percy resisted his resultant tendency toward severe depression by rejecting William Alexander Percy's fatalistic stoicism, by converting to Catholicism, and by dedicating himself to the craft of fiction.

Beginning with his suicidal father, Percy had to turn away from a series of flawed "fathers" in order to escape the seductions of melancholy and discover his own way. He rejected William Alexander Percy as a role model because he found his kinsman's stoicism despairing at the core. He rejected Freud (after three years of analysis) for much the same reason. Moreover, he rejected Faulkner as his literary precursor in favor of Kierkegaard because Faulkner was intimidating and because Faulkner espoused stoicism over Christianity.

Throughout Percy's fiction, Allen finds this autobiographical series of rejections. He views the fiction also as Percy's turning away from several "death dealing" philosophies and toward the Kierkegaardian alternative of Christian existentialism. Ultimately, Allen concludes that Percy's fiction has been shaped as much by what Percy rejected as by what he embraced.

"William Rodney Allen's book is admirable first of all for its good taste. It respects Walker Percy's privacy. At the same time, Allen's book is a very wise book. It recognizes that any attempt to do justice to Walker Percy's canon must deal with the biographical. But Allen's book is a balanced book. It does not reduce the mystery of literature to the problem of biography. Finally, Allen's book is commendably humble before the text. It offers fair readings, generous readings, and ultimately, new and rewarding readings." — Lewis A. Lawson

William Rodney Allen teaches English at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts.

Publication Date: September 1986