With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party:
In Company with Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Eliot, and Others
by Marion Montgomery
St. Augustine’s Press, 322 pages, $45
The image of Tupperware rarely evokes philosophy, spirituality, or ethics, much less salvation, yet Marion Montgomery addresses all of these as he explores Walker Percy’s sardonic comment on the plight of the believing Christian writer, who at the end of his artistic quest is more likely to find himself at a Tupperware party than in the presence of the Holy Grail. Montgomery delves into Percy’s evolution as a novelist, educating the reader on Stoicism, Manichaeism, and Modernism; comparing Augustinian and Thomistic approaches; and discussing Melville, Eliot, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
He thus illustrates how these thinkers influenced Percy’s exploration of man’s inner confusion about his place in the universe: how the Stoic virtue of honorable endurance proper to Percy’s Southern upbringing blossomed into the perception of divine intent revealed through the beauty of created things. Indeed, if the Tupperware conceit were applied to the influences in Percy’s intellectual development, his pantry would be stocked with an impressive collection of important philosophers, novelists, and poets.
Although Montgomery refers to the connection between Walker Percy and that other famous Catholic Southern writer, Flannery O’Connor, he concentrates on Percy’s unique expertise in science and distrust of science as dictated by theory. Montgomery directs our attention to Percy’s later works, particularly Lost in the Cosmos, divining a “nagging uncertainty in Percy’s thought about his ‘self’ in the world,” that leads Percy to diagnostic discussions regarding boredom, depression, and the importance of symbols and signs to express reality. Percy conveys the postmodern, post-Christian Tupperware partygoer’s disappointment in the randomness of a world “lacking mystery and substance” as he employs a playful literary technique involving human “looniness” to explore the dilemma of man’s uncertainty about the nature of existence. Montgomery brings us to Percy’s eventual realization that ordinary experience can reveal profound truths—can actually be holy—no less than some more spectacular epiphany, despite modern man’s rejection of all but scientific meaning in natural events. Montgomery’s analysis of Percy’s pilgrimage allows the reader to see that even forced attendance at modern life’s Tupperware party may yield spiritual, intellectual, and lasting fruit.