Reading Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer while being in its setting proved to be a similar experience to reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening while being in Grande Isle. Like the first location and book of this Maymester, I was reading the story in a place that I could find nothing but appreciation for. Grand Isle had been beautiful, relaxing, and welcoming. New Orleans was colorful, lively, and exciting. I thoroughly loved both places. And yet, on both occasions, I was surprised to find myself reading a story about a person who had been terribly depressed in those places.
The protagonist of The Moviegoer, “Binx,” establishes fairly early on in the novel that he intends on dedicating his life to a “search,” the essential goal of which would be to find the meaning of life. Binx lives in constant fear of succumbing to “everydayness.” He is unhappy in the repetitive simplicity of his life in Gentilly, with his constant visits to his aunt and cousin in their Garden District mansion. Binx sets about trying to find something better—his life’s purpose.
While this exposition excited in me the most hopeful expectations of having the meaning of life revealed to me in a single novel, I found that as the book went on, Binx was getting no closer to succeeding in his search. Instead, the burden he struggled with only seemed to get heavier and heavier, as his cousin Kate’s depression was added on to his own. There was no drastic change in Binx’s life at the end of the novel; no solution to life’s mystery. The change was only a small one. Binx becomes codependent with his cousin Kate, who also suffers from a depressive feeling of a lack of purpose in life. The two realize that there isn’t really any hope in the searches that they wage on life. They can scour for answers and meaning for all of their lives, and still come up empty-handed, or they can accept that all that they really have in life is one another. They settle for the latter, and they live their simple lives together, the knowledge that each loves the other being their only crutch to keep moving forward.
This ending saddened me a bit, especially since I had formed such high expectations for the ending when I had first started the book. I felt deeply for Binx and his cousin Kate, whose struggles I had come to form an understanding for after having read the story of Edna in The Awakening during our stay at Grand Isle. But rather than settling at the conclusion that people hurt on the inside regardless of their seemingly enjoyable environments, I took the outcome of The Moviegoer and used it as a lens to look through at my own life. The result was an immense gratefulness.
There is much to say that I am grateful for in my life—in fact, there is far too much. So I will narrow it down, simply to this Maymester alone. Binx lived in discontentment, and fear of the everydayness. But despite his devotion to his search, he is left only with the small consolation that he loves his cousin Kate and that she loves him too. Even in just the short few weeks that I have been on this trip, I realize that my life contains so much more than that.
I don’t have just one Kate. After knowing my fellow Bookpackers for only three weeks, I know that I have at least twelve Kates of my own. Everyone here cares for me, and I for them, and already I know that I have twelve times the reason to carry on than Binx did. And within these short few weeks, I have ran out onto the beach at five am, to watch the sunset with these people. I have sat in cafés with them, and had playfully heated discussions about which Disney movie is better: The Lion King or Tarzan. I’ve sat in hotel rooms with them in the middle of the night laughing until there were tears in my eyes. I’ve experienced the nightlife of the French Quarter with them for the first time in my life—an outing I will never forget. I’ve gotten to know their favorite riddles, their tastes in television shows, and their dancing styles. I’ve made twelve good friends.
And while my heart hurts no less for Binx, and the people who live in the nicest of places but are troubled by persistent and unbearable inner turmoil, I can also be more appreciative of the inner joy that I find within myself. While at the end of The Moviegoer, Kate is barely able to handle a ride alone on the streetcar, because Binx encourages her that she can do it, I can ride any streetcar to any place, fully knowing that I have my Bookpacking friends, who will all be expecting my return, so that we can go out together and have another adventure. If this has become my everydayness, then I have nothing to fear at all.