Saturday, June 23, 2012

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Look Homeward, Angel is Thomas Wolfe's masterwork, the novel that made his reputation.  Born in Asheville, NC, in 1900, he was educated at the University of North Carolina and at Harvard.  He spent his time teaching and traveling, building his reputation as one of America's master novelists.  Wolfe died in 1938.

The novel tells the life of the Gant family in a small mountain town in North Carolina.  It is widely acknowledged that the town is Asheville, NC and that the book is a thinly disguised account of Wolfe's own life there.

The Gant family was made of Oliver and Eliza Gant and their children, Steve, Luke, the twins Ben and Grover, the girls Daisy and Helen, and the baby, Eugene.  Eugene is the individual whose life most closely mimics Wolfe's own.  The family is portrayed for the twenty years of Eugene's childhood and early manhood, as he grows up and learns that he must move on to achieve what he wants from life.

The daily lives of the Gant family are richly portrayed, each detail building upon the next to demonstrate daily life in the mountain region of North Carolina from 1900 to 1920.  Oliver is a stone mason, Eliza becomes the owner of a boardinghouse.  They both are so consumed with the thought of money and what it takes to make a living that they neglected the emotional lives of their children.  The children are left to provide emotional support for each other, to force their way through life trying, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing to achieve their goals.

Education was a great good, although expensive and those who had the opportunity to get an education were reminded daily of their great fortune.  Wolfe details the daily working life of laborers, of those revered in small towns such as lawyers, doctors and politicians.  He covers the relationships between men and women, and those between the races.   The first Great War and the iinfluenza epidemic are covered.  The United States was changing and the Gant family is a representation of how the country changed over this time period.

This book is recommended for readers interested in knowing how daily life was in western North Carolina during the early years of the 19th century as the population moved from a rural to a city focus.  It is intricately detailed and moves the reader through the daily life of this family and the constant questions of why we are here and what we are to do with our lives. 

No comments: