The Second Coming

Percy, Walker

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jul-22-1997


Will Barrett, the protagonist of The Last Gentleman (see this database), returns in this novel, having retired early from a lucrative law practice. A widower, he lives in an exclusive North Carolina suburb where he has become "the world's most accomplished golf amateur."

Suddenly, his golf game turns sour and "hidden memories" pop up. Among these memories is the truth about his father's suicide: when Will was 12, his father killed himself in a "hunting accident," but had also tried to kill Will to "protect" him from an inauthentic existence. While Will is struggling with his own "death in life," he meets Allison, a neurotic 20 year old woman who has escaped from a mental hospital and is living in an abandoned greenhouse on some property that she has inherited.

Other characters include Father Weatherbee, a decrepit old Catholic priest who was once a missionary in Mindanao, and Jack Curl, a charmingly smooth Episcopal priest, who is trying to establish affluent "love communities" in North Carolina. Will decides to challenge God, "I shall go into a desert place and wait for God to give a sign. If no sign is forthcoming, I shall die . . . . " Ultimately, he finds his "sign" in Allison; they choose life, fall in love, and get married.


In The Second Coming, as in his other novels, Percy's main characters are searching for a meaningful way to live in a world in which all the "-isms" have apparently failed. People are inauthentic, incomplete, and estranged from themselves. The world is consumed by continual warfare between Angelism (purity) and Bestialism (animal instincts), neither of which lead to authentic human life.

Percy takes particular aim at self-satisfied solutions to life's problems; for example, Jack Curl's attempt to develop Christian "love communities" among the affluent. Will, who has been so severely damaged that his world is "death in life," is ultimately restored to "life in life" by simple human love.

Allison affirms the natural world of greenness and growth. She shines on the sick man and he is healed; in healing Barrett, Allison herself becomes whole. This resolution is probably the clearest and most hopeful in any of Percy's novels: God becomes immanent in the world (the second coming) in loving human relationships.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York



Page Count