Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In much of Wolfe’s writing, lengthy descriptions of train journeys impart a sense of movement and change. In Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man’s Hunger in His Youth, his hero, Eugene, embarks upon a trip northward. Having left college in his native state, Eugene believes that he has become a witness to a vast and panoramic series of images which, taken together, reveal the many faces of America itself. There is to him a sensation of escape from the dark and mournful mystery of the South to the freedom and bright promise of the North, with its shining cities and extravagant hopes. The plains, peaks, and valleys that shape the landscape over which he passes, as well as the innumerable towns and cities along the way, bespeak to him the limitless diversity of the United States.
Other images, mainly from the past, are called up within Eugene when he stops in Baltimore to visit the hospital where, in his fatal illness, his father is being treated. The old man seems yellow, wan, and exhausted, and only the stonecutter’s hands, of a massive size and grace, seem still to suggest the strength and dignity with which he had once carried out his chosen calling. Otherwise, old Gant appears to have wasted away, and his sullen self-pity indicates that little remains of his once vibrant spirit. Somewhat later, in some graphic passages, the old man is left drained and enfeebled by sudden and vast outpourings of blood; he dies in the midst of numerous...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Of Time and the River Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Eugene Gant is leaving Altamont for study at Harvard University. His mother and his sister, Helen, stand on the station platform and wait with him for the train that will take him north. Eugene feels that he is escaping from his strange, unhappy childhood, that the train will take him away from sickness and worry over money; away from his mother’s boardinghouse, the Dixieland; away from memories of his gruff yet kind brother Ben; away from all ghosts of the past. While they wait, they meet Robert Weaver, who also is on his way to Harvard. Mrs. Gant says that Robert is a fine boy, but there is insanity in his family. Before the train arrives at the station, Mrs. Gant tells Eugene about family scandals of the town.
Eugene stops in Baltimore to visit his father, who is slowly dying of cancer. Old Gant spends much of his time on the sunlit hospital porch, dreaming of a former time and of his youth.
At Harvard, Eugene enrolls in Professor Hatcher’s drama class. Hungry for knowledge, he browses the library, pulling books from the shelves and reading them as he stands by the open stacks. He writes plays for the drama workshop. Prowling the streets of Cambridge and Boston, he wonders about the lives of people he meets, whose names he will never know.
One day, Eugene receives a note from Francis Starwick, Professor Hatcher’s assistant, asking Eugene to have dinner with him. As Eugene has made no friends at the university, he is...
(The entire section is 1182 words.)