(I wrote this essay freshmen year in Craig Watson's "Fiction" English 104W)
Through the memories, dreams, and confession of Lancelot Andrews Lamar to his old friend Percival, Walker Percy presents readers with an intriguing case study of a disenchanted southern gentleman who has fallen from grace in the eyes of society. The center of attention, Lancelot, fills the novel with his monologue ranging from surprisingly accurate criticisms of modern man to frighteningly violent visions of revolution. Throughout Lancelot's rantings and ravings, the ever-present and patient Percival simply "Stand[s] by the window"(1) of Lancelot's cell. Though he is silent until the conclusion of the novel, Percival is of major importance because of his effect on Lancelot. His mere presence jogs Lancelot's reluctant memory, and Percival is forcing Lancelot to question his own beliefs. Percival's thoughts and reactions are revealed by Lancelot's language, and over the course of the novel a change can be observed in Percival's beliefs. Percival's strong religious background also influences Lancelot, a vehement non-believer, as he begins to identify Percival with Christ. At first glance a reader might dismiss the value of Percival because of his silence, but without his presence and persistence the reader would be lost without anyone to identify with, and Lancelot would not be capable of recounting his humorous and horrible stories which dominate the novel.
Since lancelot does all of the talking, little is known of Percival, and clues must be found in Lancelot's words. The two characters seem to represent different sides of the same coin: Percival the religous and Lancelot the anti-religous. Lancelot's language reveals the important similarities between the two, which include their confrontation with life's most important questions. Lancelot "recognize[s] a certain kinship of spirit"(3) in Percival and is able to pick up on the problems he is facing in life, love, and profession. percival's profession is initially a mystery, but Lancelot describes him as a "priest-psychiatrist...one of those failed priests who go into social work or 'counseling,' or one of those doctors who suddenlt decides to go to the seminary"(3) - nethier of which is very complimentary. It is apparent that these two old friends, who grew up very similarly, went their separate ways, but now come together when each is going through difficult periods. This is evidenced when Lance states, "It's been years and you've changed a great deal, but I know you all right. When our eyes met, there was a sense of our having gone through a great deal together"(2). In their second meeting, Lance senses that "something is wrong"(7) with Percival, "too." Whatever it is that is "wrong" with Lancelot and Percival cannot be pinpointed, but instead involves a general dissatisfaction with life's routine-ness.
The similarities do not end here, as both Lancelot and Percival do not have a grasp on love. Whenever Lancelot senses "something wrong" with Percival, he asks, "Are you in love?"(4) The same goes for Percival as he constantly asks Lancelot about love. Lancelot's only reply: "why are you always asking me about love?...love...I'm not sure...what the word means"(106, 110). Coincidentally, the "main difference"(119) between the two, Lancelot argues is that Percival makes no "distinctions" and "love[s] everything" because of his "old tolerant Catholic world-wariness."
Ironically, Lancelot, who shows contempt for all religions, addresses Percival as Christ, while, at the same time, continually challenging Percival's faith in "his God." Lancelot's desire to see percival as Christ is revealed in his "Jesus, come in and sit down"(74) introduction and in his admission that "I have a confession to make"(5). Furthermore, this is supported when it is apparent that Lancelot thinks that Percival is "supposed to have the good news"(74). Of course, Jesus, too, was "supposed to have the good news." "Knowing" Percival as Lancelot does, he is able to understand "what ails [him]," and thinks that Percival's "pale[ness] and sad[ness]" is due to the lack of faith in "his God." Lancelot asserts that Percival "believes all right" but is thinking "what's the use?" The speculation on what "ails" Percival continues as Lancelot asks, "has you God turned his back on you?" It is strange that, though Lancelot preaches about the non-existence of God, he often finds himself referring to percival as "Jesus."
The Percy Home with side view
Percival never answers Lancelot's charges, but he allows Lancelot to talk freely because he knows that Lancelot "need[s]"(75) him. Their bond makes it possible for Lancelot to open up, and reveal his innermost thoughts. "Some years ago," Lancelot had "discovered" that he had "nothing to say" so he "stopped talking," until Percival "showed up." Immediately the reader becomes aware of Percival's importance to Lancelot, and how much Lancelot "need[s]" him to get through this part of his life. The fact that Lancelot doesn't "know why" he wants to talk to Percival is unimportant because Lancelot has "discovered" that once he starts talking, his unconscious feelings, memories, and thoughts find their way to the surface. This "need" to talk to Percival becomes stronger as the truth comes nearer, and Lancelot feels that he "[has] to tell [Percival] in order to know what [he] already knows." This ability of Percival to keep Lancelot talking is one of his greatest strengths. Lancelot must first find the words to express his feelings and solve his problems, and by continually talking, finding the language becomes a less painful process.
By encouraging Lancelot to continue talking, Percival also helps him kick-start his unwilling memory and rethink some of his radical ideas. Lance states many times that "there is nothing wrong with [his] memory...it's just that [he doesn't] like to remember"(5). Once Percival begins talking to him, Lance says, "seeing you allowed me to remember"(11). After getting Lancelot to remember, Percival goes one step further by attempting to have him question or rethink his values. In one of Lancelot's tirades, he talks of the third revolution and concludes, "I will not tolerate this age...We will kill it"(146). Percival, obviously stunned by such a drastic thought, asks, "What happened to [you]?" Lancelot immediately becomes defensive and claims, "That's in the past. I don't see what difference it makes...Come back tomorrow"(147). This pattern of Percival asking a question and Lancelot, for some reason, conveniently losing his memory is repeated many times throughout the novel. Though Lancelot obviously doesn't enjoy confronting his problems, especially when they are shoved in his face by Percival, at least he is made aware of them. This awareness is the first step to Lancelot's recovery, and he acknowledges this fact when he states, "The difference between then and now is that now I've been alerted. I am aware..."(95).
Swampy Views from behind Percy Home
Many times, usually following one of Lancelot'a uproars, Lancelot describes Percival's reaction, which gives us a clue as to what he is thinking. Percival is described as "pale as a ghost...stricken...fearful...pacing...silent...[and] vacant"(146,147,165, 232, 239). These reactions are most likely similar to the readers simultaneous reactions. Often Lancelot recognizes that Percival ignores his question, and Percival asks Lancelot how he could say such things, which results in Lancelot retreating as usual. Through the course of the novel, and many of Lancelot's speeches about the non-existence of God, Percival realizes how much help Lancelot needs and experiences a reaffirmation of faith, evidenced by his arrival to Lancelot's cell in his "priest uniform"(148). Earlier, Lancelot could sense that Percival was questioning his faith: "If you're a priest, why don't you wear priest clothes instead of those phony casuals?"(3). After seeing his old friend disillusioned and unable to trust anybody, Percival holds strong to his faith and seems ready to try and reform Lancelot after the final "yes"(241).
While there is a lot left up to speculation after the concluding "yes," it is clear that Percival has decided at least to try to help Lancelot, whether using religion or not. Even after hearing many violent and inane ideas, Percival is determined to get his old friend through these troubled times. It is this persistence and steadfastness which characterizes Percival throughout the entire novel, and makes his role of dire importance to Lancelot. In Percival, Lancelot is able to find someone who can help him to remember painful but necessary memories, to rethink his situation and his goals, and to find alternatives to his ultimate pessimism. The reader is witness to Percival's strengthened belief in God dues to his conversations with Lancelot, and in the end both characters learn much from each other and are ready to begin another search.
Three views of the Author's Study
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