The Last Gentleman By Walker P

2557 words - 10 pages

In Search of Meaning In addition to finding meaning and purpose to his life, Will Barrett in Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman must attribute some meaning to his father's suicide in order to resolve his ongoing grief. Suicide survivors experience dramatic shock and trauma as explained in a compendium of articles in Living With Grief After Sudden Loss. Judith M. Stillion, a contributing suicidology expert, states that "those grieving loss by suicide often are left with questions such as why their loved one killed themselves, and what, if anything, might have been done to prevent the suicide" (50). Questions like these are generally unanswerable, and thus they may prolong the process of grieving and condemn "survivors to live in the shadow of that suicidal death far longer than is healthy" (Stillion 50). As a suicide survivor, Will Barrett at the age of nineteen, not only has the usual identity search of a young man, but he also has a special and time-consuming burden to overcome the heightened feelings of guilt, shame, and rejection caused by his father's suicide. In the end, Jamie and Sutter Vaught, as adopted family, help Will find meaning in life and resolution with his father's suicide. Suicide may be the least forgivable sin of all human betrayals; Ed Barrett arrogantly and selfishly committed suicide, leaving himself dead and unanswerable to his son. As John M. Schwartz states, what finally provoked Mr. Barrett to suicide was, "His dance of honor collapsed amidst its moral ambiguities. At the last, he was a moralist, but his world completely failed to stand at the moral attention he demanded" (117). What he wanted was for all gentlemen to accept the burden of noblesse oblige, and for there to be a distinction between a gentleman and others (Schwartz 117). Walker Percy's Ed Barrett states on the night of the suicide,"They've won" (Percy 330). The fornicators, bribers, takers of bribes, the hypocrites-all the enemies of lawyer Ed Barrett, refused to fight against him. They refused to fight him because they were no longer seen as bribers and fornicators, but as everyone else (Schwartz 118). The elder Barrett fails to connect meaningfully with anyone in his life-including his son; he tells his son moments before he kills himself, "In the last analysis, you are alone" (Percy 331). Whatever the source of this despair leading to suicide, Will's father has failed to grasp the most important purpose of life-one does not have to save the world or right all the wrongs, but he just has to touch the lives of a few people. Ed Barrett was arrogant and selfish when he did not realize that mattering in his son's life was enough incentive to live; consequently, Will would live the next part of his life in search of resolution. The intentional, sudden, and violent nature of Ed Barrett's death left Will feeling abandoned, helpless, and rejected. As Mark Johnson suggests, the "haunting power" of the suicide scene follows Will around like a...

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