1962 -- The Moviegoer

Mr. Percy, with compassion and without sentimentality or the mannerisms of the clinic, examines the delusions and hallucinations and the daydreams and the dreads that afflict those who abstain from the customary ways of making do.

—from the NBA judges’ citation

In his acceptance speech, Walker picked up on the judges’ reference to the clinic, saying that his novel was more than a pathology report, and not hopeless about modern man’s chances of surviving his crisis over the loss of identity and meaning:

Yet the patient is not mortally ill. …In short, the book attempts a modest restatement of the Judeo-Christian notion that man is more than an organism in an environment, more than an integrated personality, more even than a mature and creative individual, as the phrase goes. He is a wayfarer and a pilgrim.

In a letter written several months later to the novelist and critic Caroline Gordon, a friend and also a Catholic writer, Percy complained that The Moviegoer had been “almost universally misunderstood,” and most misunderstood by those who seemed to most admire it: “It was received as a novel of ‘despair’—not a novel about despair but as a novel ending in despair.” Another letter from the same time reiterates that the book was “about despair but with hope,” and wonders if “I didn’t get the prize for the wrong reasons.”

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