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SUSAN DERWIN Orality, Aggression, and Epistemology in Walker Percy's The Second Coming The second coming (1980) has been read as a celebratory affirmation of the restorative powers of love in the modern world. Like all of Percy's protagonists, Will Barrett, hero of both The Last Gentleman (1966) and The Second Coming, is a perennial seeker. But unlike Binx Boiling, Dr. Thomas More, and Lancelot Andrewes Lamar, Will actually discovers the objects of his pursuit. When the novel opens, Will Barrett is experiencing spells ofphysical and psychic dislocation: he inexplicably falls down on golf courses and suffers extended fits of involuntary memory. Recently widowed, Will comes to recognize that he and his wife had been virtual strangers to each other and that he is equally estranged from his only daughter, Leslie, "a dissatisfied nearsighted girl whose good looks were spoiled by a frown which had made a heavy inverted U in her brow."1 While Leslie quells her discontent through "new-style" Christianity, her belief in "giving her life to the Lord through a personal encounter with Him" (152), Will rejects the dogmatic forms of both old and new-style Christianity . Well into middle age, he finds himself detached from family, friends, and God and slowly losing hold of whatever tenuous connections to the world he had hitherto maintained. A second line of narration interwoven with Will's story centers on Allie, a young woman tired of conforming to the demands of her parents and of attempting to achieve socially determined goals. Having Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 2, Summer 1989 Copyright © 1 989 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004- 1 6 1 o 64Susan Derwin made straight As yet "flunked life," Allie has a breakdown and stops using rational discourse (99). She is committed to a mental hospital but eventually escapes with the intention of seeking legal counsel. She takes refuge in an abandoned greenhouse located on a piece ofproperty she has recently inherited. The last thing she expects is that a man—a lawyer—will fall through the roof of her greenhouse. This is precisely what occurs when Will attempts to resolve his existential crisis by proving or disproving the existence ofGod. In order to do this, he descends into a cave that extends into the side of a mountain, where he will await a sign of God. If the sign appears, his reasoning goes, he will possess the certainty that God exists and thereby gain what he feels is necessary to continue living. If no sign is forthcoming, he will die, and others will profit from his death, which will attest to God's absence or at least to his unwillingness to make his existence known. Will's experiment is, however, interrupted by a toothache. Forced by nausea and excruciating pain to abort his plan, he climbs towards the mouth of the cave. On the way he falls through the roof ofAllie's greenhouse, which buttresses the cave. The events that follow certainly seem to suggest that Will and Allie each move from individual alienation to intersubjective union. She nurses her unexpected guest back to health, and they fall in love and plan to marry. While Allie intends to start a small business, a nursery, in her greenhouse, Will plans on returning to the practice of law. They will buy a garden home, have a child, and even employ the itinerant characters who have appeared at various points in the story (a detail that promotes the sense of narrative closure)—Kelso, a fellow patient at the mental hospital, Mr. Ryan, a contractor, and Mr. Arnold, a cabin notcher. The latter two are living in a resthome but are eager and fit enough to be employed. Will and Allie even seem to establish a kind of ideal discourse together; he understands every oblique comment she makes, follows the métonymie associations of her speech, and, because she does not always understand conventional language, promises to fulfill her need for an interpreter. Critics have praised the relationship ofWill and Allie in language verging on the rapturous. Jac Tharpe notes, "In love they are reborn, Allison immanent, Will transcendent, Allison speaking in tongues their holy idiocy, Will listening...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 63-99
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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