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By Don Adams (auth.)

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The writing that Weil produced in the final year of her life in England, including what is probably her masterwork, The Need for Roots, is profoundly lucid and poignant. The last half of that work, in particular, as Weil summarizes the history of Western civilization and explains the various ways in which we have gone astray in our thinking and our being, is a remarkable culmination in the form of a repudiation. If we think of Weil in terms of her vocation as a saint, then we must read her life, as well as her work, allegorically, as Naomi Lebowitz reads the life and work of Kierkegaard in her illuminating Kierkegaard: A Life of Allegory, in which she observed that “Kierkegaard’s actual death on the street seems accidental; he represents himself as one who ‘historically died of a mortal disease, but poetically died of longing for eternity’ ” (6).

Historically, as Benjamin observed, allegory “established itself most permanently where transitoriness and eternity confronted each other most closely” (224), as in periods of great social, religious, and psychological instability and distress. Such is our present age, according to Weil, who argued that one difficulty of living in a time of existential crisis is that we are so preoccupied with the symptoms of distress that we are unable to perceive their underlying causes: Distress is a culture broth for false problems.

20 / alternative realisms Bozoe is attempting to convince Janet Murphy of her existential dire straits as she lives a life focused solely on materialistic and egoistic pursuits. Self-expressive and haranguing monologue-speeches such as this— some in letters, some in person—are staples of Bowles’ fiction and are one of its most evident allegorical characteristics. Allegorical figures typically present themselves didactically, through both word and deed, and implicitly and explicitly argue for their viewpoint, which—for quest figures— ultimately concerns the pursuit and fulfillment of their destiny.

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