Thomas Wolfe Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Some of Thomas Wolfe’s short stories were printed in The Hills Beyond, a posthumous volume compiled by Edward C. Aswell after he had published Wolfe’s two “novels” of his own creation. The tough-minded old Confederate general of the story “The Dead World Relived” mourns a South ten times as full of frauds after the Civil War as before it; the story is unforgettable and furnishes a much-needed corrective to the myth that southerners in the American literary renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s could hardly wait to start writing about the old Colonels.

“A Kinsman of His Blood”

“A Kinsman of His Blood” is a short, concise, and moving story in its subtly achieved pathos and its nostalgia for what life and history are, rather than for what we might want them to be, and is probably the best story in The Hills Beyond. The action takes place entirely in the foreground, and the story is really that of Arthur Pentland, also known from the beginning of the story as Arthur Penn. The viewpoint through which the reader sees Arthur is that of the ubiquitous Eugene Gant; the third character in the story is Eugene’s uncle, Bascom Pentland, who appears in Of Time and the River. It could be the tale of any three men related to each other; Arthur is the son of Bascom and the only one “who ever visited his father’s house; the rest were studiously absent, saw their father only at Christmas or Thanksgiving.” Even so, the relation between Bascom and Arthur is “savage and hostile.”

Arthur is a huge, obese, dirty, disheveled, grubby, distraught man who has trouble speaking clearly and coherently. The reader is told nothing of the history of his problems, or of Eugene’s background, and knows only that the conflict is stark, ugly, and dramatic. Some of Arthur’s behavior is clearly sociopathic. His table manners are not only embarrassing but also offensive. On one occasion, he tells an anecdote about a Harvard man who climbed into a cage with a gorilla; although the man knew fourteen languages, the gorilla killed him. Arthur’s summation of the incident is as frightening as anything in European fiction which tries to depict the mindless, anarchic malevolence of the crazy or the revolutionary.

Arthur decides that his grammar school teacher really loves him; even though the woman ignores his protestations of love, then tries to silence him with rudeness, he persists. He refuses to believe his mother when she tells him the woman does not really care for him, and he storms out “like a creature whipped with furies.” Finally, he goes to California to see the woman. Arthur is a pitiful, subnormal, obviously seriously disturbed creature, but frightening in his obesity, his filth, his animal-like inability to understand human beings. The story ends with Eugene, out walking in the rain through the South Boston slums,...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)