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...
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