The Last Gentleman

Percy, Walker

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

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


Williston (Will) Barnett, the damaged son of an old Southern family, is the protagonist of this rambling, picaresque novel. While living in New York, Will meets Kitty McVaught, a young Alabama woman whose father owns the world's largest Chevrolet agency. Will, who suffers from bouts of amnesia and fugue states, follows Kitty back to Alabama and meets her family, including her mother, who believes the South lost the Civil War as a result of a Jewish conspiracy; her older brother Sutter, a failed physician and self-proclaimed pornographer; her sister Val, a devoted Roman Catholic who works among the poor black children; and a 16 year old brother Jamie, who is terminally ill.

Will's mission in this novel is to discover why his father committed suicide when Will was 12 years old, and thereby achieve some healing of his own memories, but most of the action in the novel involves various members of the McVaught family, especially Sutter and Val, who represent the warfare between animal desire (Sutter) and angelic spirit (Val) in this fallen world. The novel's climactic scene takes place in Santa Fe, where Jamie undergoes a deathbed conversion. Afterward, Will presumably returns to Alabama to marry Kitty and do something constructive with his life.


In his analysis of Percy's novels, Jack Tharpe writes that Will Barrett "may be what Mann in 0010 calls 'life's delicate child,' whose soul is battleground for forces of the rational and the irrational" (Walker Percy, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1983, p. 65). "Battleground" is a good word for Will, whose story takes place during the 1960s civil rights movement in the South. He remains curiously passive as various manifestations of the dialectic between good and evil rage around him: spirit vs. flesh, rational vs. irrational, virgin vs. whore.

Percy also develops a dialectic between Christendom (the society and culture supposedly based on Christianity) and the Christian religion itself. In the long run, Will drops off the page at the end of the novel without having resolved these conflicts in his own life. While he supposedly returns home to marry Kitty, he remains curiously passive. The end is pretty much as ambiguous as the beginning.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York



Page Count