Southern Charm

Parodies abound in Chapter 3 of The Last Gentleman when Will Barrett hooks up with pseudo-negro Forney Aiken–Aiken is a white photographer done up in shoe polish to blend in with his subjects. A reader is gifted with Huck and Jim type-banter, Levittown PA’s shady real estate practices, and the bizarre story of John Howard Griffin, white author (in blackface) of Black Like Me, a book some took as serious reporting in the 1960s.

Percy pokes fun at white sensibilities of the south, a brave thing to do in 1966, Gentleman‘s publication year. Barrett, after ditching Forney and waiting for a ride in Northern Virginia, has a terrific sequence of daydreams:

He studied his map. He reckoned he could not be more than twenty miles from Richmond. Richmond. Yes, had he not passed through it last night? As he ate Ritz crackers and sweet butter, he imagined how Richmond might be today if the war had ended differently. Perhaps Main Street would be the Wall Street of the South, and Broad might vie with New Orleans for opera and theater. Here in the White Oak Swamp might be located the great Lee-Randolph complex, bigger than GM and making better cars (the Lee surpassing both Lincoln and Cadillac, the Lil’ Reb outselling even Volkswagens). Richmond would have five million souls by now, William and Mary be as good as Harvard and less subverted. In Chattanooga and Mobile there would be talk of the “tough cynical Richmonders,” the Berliners of the hemisphere.

from Chapter 3, Part 4 of Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman