(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Tied together as they are by the common theme that Eugene Gant must struggle "to stand alone and apart," Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River nonetheless treat a virtual host of themes. However insistent Wolfe is that loneliness is the essential fact of human existence, he spends much time portraying the webs of family ties, friendships, and student-teacher relationships. Those concerns lead him to treat the troubled marriage of W. O. and Eliza Gant, the various wings and warts of Eugene's numerous siblings, the bonds of Eliza to her mountain kinfolk, the attentive helpfulness of Francis Starwick at Harvard, and the life-shaping roles of Margaret Leonard and Professor James Graves Hatcher as teachers. They also stand behind his treatment of Joel Pierce and his family and Eugene's relationship with Abe Jones and his mother and sisters.

Other common themes linking these two novels are the artistic spirit and how it is to be developed in America, the restlessness of Americans and their countering longing for fixity and certainty, the conflict between youth and age, a Faustian hunger for knowledge, the inarticulateness of many Americans, the vain attempt of American expatriates to find a spiritual home in Europe, and the paradoxical nature of death in separating and bringing people closer together. The idea of the preexistence of the soul is found in both novels, but unique of Of Time and the River is the theme of the search for...

(The entire section is 281 words.)


(Novels for Students)

The American Experience
Wolfe is interested in portraying a representative American experience and an allegory of American youth in his novel. Although Wolfe is often associated with expatriate American writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and made several long trips to Europe while he was writing Look Homeward, Angel, the author saw himself within the American tradition. Wolfe would not have deemed his writings "modernist" in the international sense of the term. He is better classified as an American romantic.

This is not to say that Wolfe's first novel is not innovative or daring; indeed, no one would publish it except Charles Scribner's Sons (a firm famous for publishing innovative modernist works). Even though Wolfe worked within the American tradition and was compared to writers such as Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, he was attempting to establish a new form of American romantic writing in a modern context.

Much of Look Homeward, Angel is frankly sexual in nature, and much of it relies on a concept of a stark break with the past to achieve a radical new understanding of the truth of the world. These concepts would be associated with modernism. Simultaneously, however, the aching desire to return home and to elaborately establish a vision of the traditional South are common romantic themes. There are also naturalist tendencies in certain long and seemingly disjointed passages about life in Altamont....

(The entire section is 591 words.)