Anne Tyler’s, The Accidental Tourist and Morgan’s Passing, illuminate man’s alienation in modern society. In both, the quest for self-knowledge is the primary goal faced by the main character. The Accidental Tourist and Morgan’s Passing both deal with characters attempting to overcome their alienation from society after being forced in isolation by a horrible occurrence in their lives. The focus of both novels lies on Macon’s and Morgan’s attempts to reconnect with society. Both male protagonists attempt to overcome their asphyxiating inhibitions and re-discover a sense of identity lost in isolation.
Throughout the course of Morgan’s Passing, Morgan the protagonist’s alienation from society appears as the prominent theme. The protagonist of this work lives under an alias, a false identity created to make him feel less isolated. Each morning Morgan chooses “who to be today”, from his vast closet of costumes (Bennet 162). These identities affect his life a great deal, as it is while posing as a doctor, that he meets Emily, who ultimately changes his life (Yardley 182). Through this false identity, Morgan is capable of holding control of his life. In Morgan’s Passing symbolism is used to show Morgan’s growth and movement away from alienation. Morgan’s “assumed personas” represent his life with Emily, whereas his relationship with his wife is represented through his true personality (Morgans Passing 162). Through conflicts faced by Morgan, the reader becomes aware of Morgan’s mistakes in denying “his family and lovers” (Wolcott 34). In Morgan’s Passing, Morgan’s awareness of the goodness of change represents his life of isolation. Though his marriage to Bonny awarded him with things as a home and a career, his heart and mind are left empty. Because of his interaction with Emily, Morgan cultivates an appreciation of “permanence in change” (Peck 9).
In The Accidental Tourist, the death of Ethan, his son, pushes Macon towards isolation.
The starting point occurs when Macon’s wife for over two decades decides to leave him. Macon is abandoned with one only Ellen, the cat and Edward” as companions (Yardley 120). She fears that her husband has transformed her into a hermit or recluse, by not allowing her to experience the world (Yardley 120). Macon’s isolation expands further as he restores his own daily routine which establishes for him, a sense of order by following the same pattern each day. After attempting to harm himself, Macon relocates to “his grandmother’s house”, which is the place where he grew up, symbolizing his opposition to change and his reversion back to his past life (Peck 12). Each day, Macon does his laundry by walking upon it as he showers, a childish act,
which makes him seem like a child once again (Peck 12). Finally, Ethan’s dog, Edward,
symbolizes his son, because since his wife left he is the only reminder of Ethan, and he clings viciously to this symbol. Although Edward remains a symbol of both Ethan and Macon’s “past life”, Edward is the force that pulls Macon out of isolation (Humphrey 150). Edward’s outward influence pulls Macon out of isolation and into the real world and adds hope to his life (Smith 110).
Both novels, Morgan’s Passing and The Accidental Tourist, occur in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. In both novels, Baltimore signifies an ideology, a state of mind. In Morgan’s Passing isolation is described by Morgan’s perception of Baltimore as somewhere “unplaceable, whose details” were apparent to him (Hoffman 95). In reference to Singleton Street, a street in The Accidental Tourist, Yardley suggests that although the street is “fictious, it’s real” (119). Although both protagonists lived in the same city, the ways in which people affected their daily lives differs. Morgan finds Baltimore an easy place to hide. However, in Macon’s case the city “that for most of his life would be the measure against which he held every other place on Earth”
was Baltimore (Humphrey 149). The simplicity of Baltimore allows both of the protagonists to be displayed clearly. When Morgan is in Baltimore, he is able to “act as a conjurer”, where he can change himself (Shafer 128). With North Charles Street, and his drive down it, Macon feels like “he is on the map” (Yardley 119).
In both Morgan’s Passing and The Accidental Tourist, Tyler’s protaganists deal with their adjustment to the expectations of modern society. In both of Tyler’s books, personal freedom is a central topic. Morgan’s Passing features Morgan fleeing his loved one in order to discover “some meaning in his life” (Shelton 856). In The Accidental Tourist, Macon’s sanity is saved only by the presence of order (Dixon 84). In The Accidental Tourist and Morgan’s Passing, Tyler associates the family with the individual. Breaking his leg prompts Macon to move back to his parent’s home, and incidentally having his personal growth increased (Yardley 3). Morgan feels “right at home” with Emily and Leon (Updike 97). Finally, Tyler shows two men living in worlds of their own creation. In Morgan’s case, his downfall is provoked by idiosyncratic downfall (Mojitebai 14). Macon progresses with growth after being left alone (McMurly 36).
In Morgan’s Passing, interaction with other characters helps Morgan come to a state of self-realization. Emily plays a pivotal role in Morgan’s recovery. “The boundary between the strange and the familiar”, is realized through Morgan’s understanding that the world is not all bad, which is achieved through his love for Emily (Robertson 127). Emily encourages Morgan to reveal his true self, which contrasts with others who interrogate Morgan, frightening his true identity to stay hidden. Morgan’s representation of modern man also symbolizes his relationships and their outcomes. Morgan, like many people remains in an “outwardly happy marriage”, and when his marriage falls apart, he becomes isolated from the society that he once belonged to
(Bennet 162). Morgan wants to change his apparently dull life like most people and to him Emily’s uncontrolled life, opens a part of him (Humphrey 150). Morgan finally overcomes his isolation through Emily. Though Morgan is a detailed character, “the reader [is] never completely sure of the character” of him, because he derives many traits from Emily (Parry 176). By the end of the novel, Morgan has developed an “insight and love for someone different” (Peck 8).
In The Accidental Tourist Macon’s ultimate happiness comes as a result of many factors. Macon’s wife Sarah plays an important role in Macon’s development. After Ethan’s death Sarah leaves, sparking Macon’s shyness though he was already a “rather timid man” (Updike 212). This resulting isolation results in Macon’s behavior slipping “from eccentric to neurotic to compulsive” (Updike 213). In The Accidental Tourist Macon represents the aftermath of tragedy and the recovery that will eventually take place. After Ethan’s death, Macon’s life is similar to “a forced march” (Peck 12). Despite all this however The Accidental Tourist “ends with hope” (Peck 13). Finally, Macon overcomes his isolation. Muriel, who pursues Macon, equals “growth and change”, just what Macon needs to recover (Peck 13). To recover fully Macon was forced to release his notion that “home means either safety or imperishable bliss” and frees his life to new experiences once again (Peck 13).
In The Accidental Tourist and Morgan’s Passing, Tyler’s characters, Macon and Morgan, overcome incidents which resulted in their isolation. The focus of the novels becomes the journey towards self-realization and knowledge. Through other characters, both Macon and Morgan learn how to feel again. Both of these novels, Morgan’s Passing and The Accidental Tourist, give significant meaning towards overcoming life altering changes.