Walter Percy’s The Moviegoer is the fascinating depiction of a bizarre bird, Binx Bollings, a New Orleans’s stockbroker, who is driven by a search. There are two kinds of searches Binx is concerned with, a vertical search and horizontal search. Through them, Binx strives to transcend “everydayness,” as well as existential despair, hopelessness, and malaise. He fears being content in life because he does not want to loose his individuality and become invisibly dead—a fear he eventually accepts. In this paper, I shall argue that Binx Bollings abandons the vertical search because the vertical search is his descent in hell, similar to Dante’s Inferno, and once he reaches his circle of Hell, he is stuck in an eternal horizontal existence—unlike his step-brother, Lonnie, who truly transcends everydayness, and ascends in the vertical search due to grace.
The search is first mentioned as a type of curiosity. As Binx recalls,
I remembered the first time the search occurred to me. I came to myself under a chindolea bush. Everything is upside-down for me, as I shall explain later. What are generally considered to be the best times are for me the worst times, and that worst of times was one of the best. My shoulder didn’t hurt but it was pressed hard against the ground as if somebody sat on me. Six inches from my nose a dung beetle was scratching around under the leaves. As I watched, there awoke in me an immense curiosity. I was onto something. I vowed that if I ever got out of this fix, I would pursue the search.
Binx recognizes the possibility of another type of search, the horizontal search, which consumes most of his actions. While the vertical search is scientific, materialistic, mathematical, disinterested, objective, universal, ...
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...usiness of coming up in the world? Or is it because he believes that God himself is present here at the corner of Elysian Fields and Bons Enfants? Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace, coming for the one and receiving the other as God’s own importunate bonus? It is impossible to say.
Finally, when Lonnie, Binx’s stepbrother, who is a devout Catholic, dies, he says, “I have conquered the habitual disposition.” Lonnie conquered the habitual disposition of hopeless everydayness, of living a life in the static, dead existence of sin, by living in the grace of God. A grace Binx denied, thus, causing himself to live in the hellish search, bound in despair.
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy I: Hell, trans. Dorothy Sayers. New York: Penguin Books, 1949
Walker Percy, The Moviegoer. New York: Vintage International, 1988