The “angel” in the title of Thomas Wolfe ’s novel refers both to a statue and to the idea of the dead observing the living. In the novel, the W. O. Gant family are stonecutters, as was Wolfe’s own father. The statue of the angel is also based on an...
The “angel” in the title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel refers both to a statue and to the idea of the dead observing the living. In the novel, the W. O. Gant family are stonecutters, as was Wolfe’s own father. The statue of the angel is also based on an actual statue that formerly occupied a prominent place at the family business and was later installed in the cemetery. The quotation “Look homeward Angel” is taken from a John Milton poem that was an elegy for a dead friend. The theme of the dead taken too young and their inspiration to the living relates well to the character of Ben, Eugene’s brother, who dies in the novel.
Milton wrote Lycidas (1637) in memory of Edward King, whom he had known at Cambridge; the young man drowned when his ship sank. In the lines quoted and those just above them, Milton refers to the places where King’s remains might have ended up beneath the water, as well as to high vantage points from which they might be observed. The last vista, “mount,” is on an island off Land’s End, Britain’s southwesternmost point, and is associated with a vision of St. Michael; the lines are thus interpreted as referring to the Archangel Michael. The final line, apostrophizing the dolphins, refers to washing King’s body back to shore, with which the compassionate angel could assist.
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.