Eugene Gant, a shy, imaginative, awkward boy. The youngest child in a tumultuous family, with a wastrel father and a penny-pinching mother, he passes through childhood alone and misunderstood, for there is no family affection. He is precocious, with an insatiable appetite for books. He hates his mother’s penuriousness, the family jealousies, and the waste of all their lives, yet is fascinated by the drunken magniloquence of his father. His salvation is the private school he is allowed to attend, for the Leonards, who operate it, develop and shape his mania for reading. At fifteen, he enters the state university, where he is considered a freak although he does brilliantly in his studies. He has his first bitter love affair with Laura James during that summer. In his sophomore year, he becomes something of a campus personality. The great tragedy of these years is the death of his brother Ben, who had loved him in his own strange fashion. Just before he leaves for Harvard for graduate study, his brother Luke asks him to sign a release of his future inheritance on the excuse that he has had his share of their parent’s estate in extra schooling. Knowing that he is being tricked by his grasping and jealous family, he signs so that he can break away from them forever.
Oliver Gant, his father, a stonecutter from Pennsylvania who has wandered to North Carolina and married there. Hating his wife and her miserly attitude, he is drunken and promiscuous, yet fascinating to his children because of his wild generosities and his alcoholic rhetoric. He is the exact opposite of...
(The entire section is 670 words.)