Gant is the surname of the family being followed in this novel. The protagonist of the novel is the son Eugene Gant. The plot is essentially a Bildungsroman, describing the development of a young, sensitive man from birth through graduate school. His father. William Gant, the patriarch of the novel, is an outgoing, hard drinking man not overly sympathetic to the literary imagination of his youngest son. Eugene's brothers Ben, Steve, and Luke also possess the surname Gant, although usually the name Gant when used alone, refers to the father. The death of Eugene's favourite brother, Ben, is a central episode in the novel.