How does Thomas Wolfe organize the text “Look Homeward, Angel”?

A.The frame story is the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Gant’s love and marriage, relayed through flashbacks to their youth.

B.The frame story is the tale of Eliza Gant’s family, with flashbacks to explain their financial success.

C.The frame story is the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Gant’s community involvement, conveyed in chronological order.

D.The frame story is the tale of Oliver Gant’s life and marriage, presented in chronological order.

The answer is C: The frame story is the tale of Mr and Mrs Gant’s community involvement, conveyed in chronological order. The novel narrates the entire span of the journey right from Eugene’s birth till she turned 19 and is written with a consciousness narrative stream about Mr and Mrs Gant’s community involvement.

About the author Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe is believed to be one of the most noticeable novelists in the history of America literature whose works were predominantly of an autobiographical nature. Asheville, his hometown, features prominently in his works and is believed to be one of the biggest influences.

The boardinghouse, the citizens, his mother’s “Old Kentucky Home” have all inspired his style of writing. Wolfe authored four novels during his career besides several short stories, plays, and novellas.

His experiments with new ideas, forms, and languages are believed to have been key to shaping American literature as we know it today.

The stream of consciousness style of writing

The stream of consciousness is often used as a literary term for a narrative where the author adopts a style of writing to draw parallels to or mimic the internal thoughts of the character.

This writing format is also referred to as an “internal monologue” with style incorporating natural chaos of feelings and thoughts occurring in mind at any given point in time.

Similar to what is all too evident in real life, such stream-of-consciousness narratives lack associative leaps while the absence of any regularity in punctuations is another characteristic feature.

Stream of consciousness as adopted by Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe’s first novel in 1929, Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, is considered to be a classic of its times. It is written in an autobiographical tone that follows the life of Eugene Gant, believed to be the author’s alter ego.

The novel documents the journey of Eugene Gant from the time of his birth to the time he turns nineteen in a stream of consciousness style of narration. John Milton’s poem Lycidas is the inspiration behind the title.

The work is also believed to have drawn inspiration from an angel statue that stoops on the front porch of Wolfe’s home as an advertisement for the monument shop his father owned.

Part I: Introduction

Look Homeward; Angel begins with an introduction of Eugene’s parents, Mr and Mrs Gant. The characters bear striking resemblances to the author’s own parents.

A native of England, Gilbert Gaunt travels to Pennsylvania and adopts Gant as the new family name. His marriage to a Dutch woman bears two sons with the second one being named Oliver.

Despite growing up on a farm that was successful, Oliver is inspired to take up stonecutting as a profession by the statue of a stone angel he comes across in a Baltimore shop window. He spends five years as a stonecutter’s apprentice before setting out on his own to start a shop.

Oliver marries a woman ten years older to him by the name of Cynthia, but she passes away just eighteen months into the marriage. Following the death of his wife, Oliver’s business also closes down.

Oliver fears he is afflicted with tuberculosis and relocates to Altamont in Catawba, a small mountain town that is a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients as well as a summer resort for the wealthier class. He opens another stonecutting business here while trying to recover from the illness.

Oliver Meets Eliza

In the process, he meets a local woman by the name of Eliza Pentland. She belongs to an established family though her upbringing had been in the South where she had to suffer a great deal following the outbreak of the Civil War.

This had given her a habit of pinching and hoarding every penny she earned. Oliver and Eliza get married and move into a large house that the man builds on his own.

Their marriage turns out to be extremely volatile with severe challenges and tragedies. Oliver turns out to be an alcoholic whose disease does not get cured even after being sent to a treatment facility in Richmond.

The couple has nine children in eleven years, but only six of them manage to survive. The first daughter falls victim to cholera at an infant age while two more are taken away at birth. The last child, Eugene, is born while a nearly fifty-year-old Oliver sits downstairs, drowning himself in his drink.

Eugene’s School Period

A six-year-old Eugene starts school and turns out to be a bright kid with love for reading tales of adventure and travel. He is a daydreamer with vivid imaginations and enjoys sports though his awkwardness makes it difficult for him. Eugene is extremely aware of the textures, colors, smells, and sights around him.

As the youngest child in the family, Eugene is the apple of his mother’s eyes who refuses to cut his hair because she does not want to see him all grown-up.

His long hair gives the other boys a reason to tease him at school while his siblings too mocked at him for being different. His brother Ben is the only ally he has in such a situation.

Part II: Separation & Eugene’s Teen

Oliver and Eliza separate when Eugene is only seven years of age with his mother buying the Dixieland boardinghouse in a bid to survive. Eugene ends up being the only child who has to stay at home fulltime, an arrangement he hates.

There is little privacy around the place, so his mother asks him to help out in advertising the business. While going around town distributing newspapers, he places advertising cards about the boardinghouse inside the Saturday Evening Post. She also asks him to go to the Altamont train station for distributing the cards.

Eugene wins an essay contest in his school which earns him a chance to become a student at his principal, Mr Leonard’s, new private school. He is given permission to attend for four years.

On the very first day, Mrs Leonard is left impressed with his extensive knowledge of books. His love for reading gets nurtured further as he develops a special liking for Shakespearean plays and classical literature.

Eugene’s University Years

At the tender age of sixteen, Eugene leaves for the University of North Carolina though he was hoping to cut it big at a more prestigious institution such as Harvard or Vanderbilt. Tall and skinny, he can’t stop thinking about himself as a child which adds to him feeling out of place.

He is far younger than most of his classmates in college who tease him mercilessly. During his first year, war breaks out as many of his classmates head for service in the military.

Eugene returns home to Dixieland during the summer break of his freshman year and falls in love with a rich but ugly twenty-one-year Laura James. However, summer ends in disappointment when he learns of her engagement to another man.

While he was in the junior years of his college, Eugene’s father contracts cancer while Ben falls prey to pneumonia. After graduation, he is encouraged to study further at Harvard.

He longs for a better life that would take him beyond the small mountain town where he had stayed all these years. Eugene decides to free himself from the bondage of family ties and signs away the rights to his inheritance before departing for Harvard.

Conclusion

The plot of the poem “Look Homeward, Angel” takes you through the journey of Mr and Mrs Gant and their child. The plot is divided into three parts starting with how Mr and Mrs Gant met and their work and their strong connection with their child Eugene after losing their first daughter.

Later on poet discuss the progress of child and parent’s unstead relationship which makes Eugene rethink his decision to stay back in the small mountain town to come out of all the miseries he had seen throughout his life.

References

  1. Plot of Look Homeward Angel: Taken from en.wikipedia.org
  2. Theme of the poem “Look Homeward Angel”: Taken from academia.edu
  3. Analysis of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel: Taken from semanticscholar.org

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