What is one element that makes Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe a romantic novel?
Eugene, the protagonist of this novel, has many features of the Romantic hero. The Romantic hero was not a warrior or a political leader as was the Classical hero but a sensitive, precocious, lonely, and misunderstood artist.
Eugene shows his precocity early, illustrating Romantic poet William Wordworth's dictum that the child is the father of the man. Eugene loves nature, loves book, and overflows with the desire for knowledge. While the narrative voice is hyperbolic and self-ironic, it also conveys a sense of Eugene as, at a very early age, more advanced than other humans. He studies the letters on his blocks in a desperate way:
Holding them clumsily in his tiny hands, he studied for hours the symbols of speech, knowing that he had here the stones of the temple of language, and striving desperately to find the key that would draw order and intelligence from this anarchy.
Like a Byronic hero, Eugene feels different from and misunderstood by the people around him in his home town. Like a Byronic hero, he "escapes" to go to another place seeking wisdom and enlightenment—in his case, to college.
Eugene, like a Romantic hero, feels he is a destined for a different path than the conventional one followed by most of the townspeople he grows up with.
One element of Romanticism in Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward, Angel is his heavy use of human interaction with nature. While a romantic novel can mean great emotional expression and melodramatic plot points, a novel's romance can also be defined as its ties to the Romantic tradition. The Romantics were writers who were often very in tune with the natural world. It is no secret that Thomas Wolfe was in love with his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and that he spent most of his writing life writing one long story—of which Look Homeward, Angel is a part—based on Asheville's mythology and history.
The Romantic love for nature, and love for poetry, can be found in the very beginning of the book: "a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door." This highly expressive form of literature, which is relying on the sounds and images of nature alone to communicate meaning, can be identified as properly Romantic. Wolfe often treats the romantic interactions between characters with the same eye for poetic expression and focus on natural beauty and wonder.
One aspect that makes Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel a Romantic novel is its emphasis on a glorification of the southern traditions to which the protagonist—who many critics believe to be an alter ego of the author himself—longs to return. The novel is a Romantic one because of its insistence on paying attention to the emotional connections the protagonist has with the past; these types of emotional connections are common characteristics of Romantic literature. In the American Romantic movement, the South was particularly fertile ground for the Romantic imagination. Look Homeward, Angel also focuses heavily on the classic American experience, treating it with a Romantic sentimentality, as seen even in the title. While the novel also contains many aspects of modernism—such as frank discussion of sexuality—critics have often noted that Wolfe set out to create a new form of modern Romanticism.
Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel is described by critics as "romantic" because of its emotionality and its spacious style. Pertaining to emotionality, Wolfe writes what is considered to be melodramatic passages [melodramatic: exaggerated and emotional or overly sentimental]. An example of such a melodramatic passage is Wolfe's description of people preparing food. For the commonplace circumstance of food preparation, his description is considered romantically extreme. Pertaining to Wolfe's spacious (or "sprawling") style, he incorporates elements of a Southern American epic tale, with elaborate descriptions of nature, and traces of European modernist style, with frank sexuality and long dissertations similar to modernist stream-of-consciousness writing.