The Web and the Rock Additional Summary

Thomas Wolfe


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

George Webber’s childhood is one of bleakness and misery. He is a charity ward who lives with his aunt and uncle. George’s father deserted him and his mother and went off to live with another woman. After the death of George’s mother, her Joyner relatives take George into their home, where the boy is never allowed to forget that he has Webber blood mixed in with his Joyner blood. Strangely, all of his good and beautiful dreams are dreams of his father, and often he hotly and passionately defends his father to the Joyners. His love for his father makes his childhood a divided one. George hates the people his aunt and uncle call good, and those they call bad, he loves. A lonely child, George keeps his thoughts and dreams to himself rather than expose them to the ridicule of the Joyners, but the picture of that happy, joyful world of his father, and others like him, stays with him during those bleak years of his childhood.

When George is sixteen years of age, his father dies, leaving the boy a small inheritance. With that money, George leaves the little southern town of Libya Hill and goes to college. There he finds knowledge, freedom, and life. Like many other young men, George wastes some of that freedom in sprees of riotous and loose living, but he also reads everything he can get his hands on, and he is deeply impressed with the power of great writers. George is beginning to feel the need to put some of his thoughts and memories down on paper. He wants to write of the two sides of the world—the bright, happy world of the people who have everything and the horrible, dreary world of the derelicts and the poor. His college years end, and George fulfills the dream of every country boy in the nation; he goes to the city, to the beautiful, wonderful “rock,” as he calls New York.

The city is as great and as marvelous as George knew it would be. He shares an apartment with four other young men; it is a dingy, cheap place, but it is their own apartment, where they can do as they please. George, however, finds the city to be a lonely place in spite of its millions of people and its bright lights. There is no one to whom he is responsible or to whom he belongs. He thinks he will burst with what he knows about people and about life, and, because there is no one he can talk to about those things, he tries to write them down. He begins his first novel.

The next year is the loneliest one George ever knew. He drives himself mercilessly. He is wretched, for the words torturing his mind will not go on the paper as he wants. At the end of a year, he takes the last of his inheritance and goes to Europe. He hopes to find there the peace of mind he needs to finish his book. The cities of Europe do not hold his salvation. He is still lonely and bitter, because he cannot find the answer to the riddle of life....

(The entire section is 1157 words.)