With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party:
In Company with Flannery OConnor, T.S. Eliot, and Others
by Marion Montgomery
St. Augustines 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 Percys 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 Percys 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 Percys exploration of mans inner confusion about his place in the universe: how the Stoic virtue of honorable endurance proper to Percys 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 Percys 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 OConnor, he concentrates on Percys unique expertise in science and distrust of science as dictated by theory. Montgomery directs our attention to Percys later works, particularly Lost in the Cosmos , divining a nagging uncertainty in Percys 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 partygoers 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 mans uncertainty about the nature of existence. Montgomery brings us to Percys eventual realization that ordinary experience can reveal profound truths”can actually be holy”no less than some more spectacular epiphany, despite modern mans rejection of all but scientific meaning in natural events. Montgomerys analysis of Percys pilgrimage allows the reader to see that even forced attendance at modern lifes Tupperware party may yield spiritual, intellectual, and lasting fruit.
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