Chapter One The Origin of Binx’s “Search”: Trap in Negative Freedom
1.1 The Manifestations of Binx’s Break of Primary Ties
Fromm proposes that before independence, a person remains connected to the outside world for a period of time, which provides man with security and protection. And the connection is the primary ties. “They are the ties that connect the child with its mother, the member of a primitive community with his clan and nature, or the medieval man with the Church and his social caste” (Fromm, 1965: 40). Thus, the primary ties exist in the relationship of the individual and the family, as well as of the individual and the social environment.
What Binx experiences is the rootlessness engendered by the rupture of primary ties both in society and in family. As for the rupture in the society, Percy usually deeply explores it in his novels. In The Gift of the Other: Gabriel Marcel’s Concept of Intersubjectivity in Walker Percy’s Novels, Mary Deems Howland proposes that “[h]e would become a major literary voice---a voice concerned both personally and philosophically with modern anxiety over the old systems of life which seem to have broken down and new ones that have yet to be defined” (Howland, 1988: 1). In The Moviegoer, Binx lives in an era of the decline of the traditional values in the American South at the end of 1950s. As for the rupture of family bonds, the death of Binx’s father and the abandonment of his mother make him an orphan. There is the break of the primary ties in both Binx’s family and society.
1.2 The Results of Binx’s Break of Primary Ties
Fromm advocates that if the primary ties break, there will be some new tasks to complete: “Once the stage of complete individuation is reached and the individual is free from these primary ties, he is confronted with a new task: to orient and root himself in the world and to find security in other ways than those which were characteristic of his pre-Individualistic existence” (Fromm, 1965: 40). However, when one faces the huge world, man will feel powerless and lonely, which is the characteristics of negative freedom. In The Moviegoer, on the one hand, Binx is lonely before the “search”, unable to connect with other people. On the other hand, Binx has some problems in orienting himself like a wayfarer. Both of these are the results of the break of Binx’s primary ties, which will be investigated in the following chapter.
1.2.1 Isolation from Others as an Observer
“Like Huck, Binx longs for freedom while fearing solitude” (Boom, 1986: 3). Binx gets rid of all shackles, while he loses any connections with people. According to Binx’s description of the people around him and his behaviors in a week, it could be clearly seen that Binx is not close to other people, including his family, friends, landlord, and the girls who he dates with. “At the beginning of the novel, Binx observes life from the viewpoint of a detached and superior spectator” (Filippids, 1980: 11). Binx is like a detached observer but not a participant in his life.
Chapter Two The Mistake of Binx’s “Search”: Escape from Freedom
2.1 The Submission to Other People as a Moviegoer
Fromm gives a full account of authoritarianism, one of the mechanisms of escape: “it is the tendency to give up the independence of one’s own individual self and to fuse one’s self with somebody or something outside oneself, in order to acquire the strength which the individual self is lacking…The more distinct forms of this mechanism are to be found in the striving for submission and domination” (Fromm, 1965: 163). Binx’s role-play by watching movies is a kind of submission, reflecting his authoritarian personality. Binx admits that watching movies is part of his “search”, but it is a failed “search”: “The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up” (Percy: 1998: 13). Multiple evidence can be found in the novel that he submits to idols to guide his life.
Binx is definitely a movie fan; however, he watches movies not for the love of art, but for role-play. In the eight days that Binx recollects, he goes to the cinema four times and mentions twelve movies, but “there is no trace of jargon of ‘serious’ film criticism in his observations” (Hardy, 1987: 32). Besides, he admits: “the fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie” (Percy, 1998: 7). He doesn’t care whether the movie is good or not, while what he cares is whether the movie is closely related to his life for his role-play. He uses the role-play to let the people in the movies guide his life, which brings him great comfort. In Fromm’s view, people with authoritarian characteristics alleviate the sense of powerlessness and insignificance brought about by freedom by coexisting with authority. The thesis argues that Binx’s obsession with watching movies results from the willing of symbiosis with authority to ease his anxiety.
2.2 The Submission to Anonymous Authority in the “Vertical Search”
“As the last century showed, people who are free—overwhelmed by the possibilities of freedom—are often quite willing to submit to the authority of those who forbid all possible ways but their own: one state, one people, one leader. And people are willing to submit not only to powerful, all-promising leaders. They will also submit to persuasive, all-explaining ideas and ideologies” (Levasseur, and McCay, 2016: xviii). One of the mechanisms of escape raised by Fromm, authoritarianism, also explains that in addition to submitting to others, man can also submit to some anonymous authorities. In order to define anonymous authority, Fromm firstly defines the authority: “Authority is not a quality one person ‘has’, in the sense that he has property or physical qualities. Authority refers to an interpersonal relation, in which one person looks upon another as somebody superior to him” (Fromm, 1965: 186). The authority criticized by him is not the benign relationship between teachers and students, but the vicious authority of the relationship between slaves and the slave owner. When one joins an authoritative organization, one gains a sense of security, “By becoming part of a power which is felt as unshakably strong, eternal, and glamorous, one participates in its strength and glory” (Fromm, 1965: 177). Fromm believes that in the mid-twentieth century, compared with the previous public authority organizations, the anonymous authority rises, which is “disguised as common sense, science, psychic health, normality, public opinion” (Fromm, 1965: 190). Percy also expresses a similar view to Fromm, that people are subordinate to the authority of an invisible scientist. In the interview with Whitney Hobson Linda, Percy expresses that “A loss of sovereignty has occurred so that we are more subject to invisible authority-scientists and so forth” (Whitney, 1981: 53). Mary K.
Chapter Three The Solution of Binx’s “Search”: Achieving Positive Freedom..........39
3.1 The Pursuit of Love..........................40
3.2 The Pursuit of Creative Work..................................44
3.3 The Pursuit of the Uniqueness of the Individual............................................47 Conclusion..................................49
Chapter Three The Solution of Binx’s “Search”: Achieving Positive Freedom
3.1 The Pursuit of Love
Fromm expresses that “love is the foremost component of such spontaneity” (Fromm, 1965: 287). On the basis of preserving the individual independence, love can connect people together. Fromm believes that uniting with others together is the deep need of human beings: “The dynamic quality of love lies in this very polarity: that it springs from the need of overcoming separateness, that it leads to oneness – and yet that individuality is Not eliminated” (Fromm, 1965: 287). After experiencing the discomfort of the “vertical search”, Binx decides to conduct a “horizontal search”: “But now I have undertaken a different kind of search, a horizontal search. As a consequence, what takes place in my room is less important. What is important is what I shall find when I leave my room and wander in the neighborhood” (Percy, 1998: 70). Xiao Minghan analyzes in the article “A Quest for Real Self, On Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer” on Foreign Literature, “A person’s true self can never and will not be isolated from others, but must be realized in real communication with others and in a normal relationship with others. This is the true meaning of Binx’s horizontal search” (Xiao, 1997: 87). Binx gives up the false love and establishes a real relationship with Kate, by which he bonds himself with the world. As John F. Desmond proposes, “Only crazy, loveable Kate offers him a connection with the world that does not threaten to ensure him in the everydayness” (Desmond, 2019: 57). Desmond approves of Binx’s connection with others, especially by the sincere relationship with Kate.
In Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, the “search”, named and carried out by the protagonist, Binx, is an important concept throughout. Because Percy doesn’t directly point out the concise meaning of the “search”, scholars have different interpretations on it, including the search for God, the search for identity, the search for community, and the search for existential freedom. Both Fromm and Percy are keen to diagnose social ills. In The Moviegoer, Percy describes a wealthy, but bewildered, modern Southern American youth exiled in the world in 1950s. This thesis makes use of Fromm’s theory of freedom to interpret Binx’s “search”. Through the analysis of the origin, mistake, and solution of the “search”, it comes to the conclusion that in his “search”, Binx experiences three stages of negative freedom, escaping from freedom, and positive freedom, and finally bonds himself with the world, while maintaining his independence.
The origin of Binx’s “search” is to trap into the negative freedom proposed by Fromm. Fromm defines that the negative freedom results from the rupture of the primary ties, and then makes people lonely and powerless in face of the huge world. Binx confronts the rupture both in the society and in the family. On the one hand, in society, there is the decline of traditional values in the American South in 1950s. Southern stoicism of the Southern aristocracy gradually declines, which is reflected in the portrait of Aunt Emily, who is a representative of southern stoicism. Through Binx’s narrative, it can be found that Aunt Emily insists on her value alone and regrets its decline. On the other hand, Binx’s family experience results in the break of the family ties, with the death of his father, and the abandon of his mother. That leads him to be lonely and unable to orient himself in the world. It can be found that Binx is not close to anyone, including his friends, relatives, neighbors, and women. Besides, Binx sways in the family values of his father and mother, but neither of them is suitable for him. In conclusion, Binx falls into negative freedom, which is the origin of Binx’s “search”.