Look Homeward, Angel Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Impressionistic realism

Time of work: 1900-early 1920’s

Locale: North Carolina

Characters DiscussedEugene Gant

Eugene Look Homeward, AngelGant, a shy, imaginative, awkward boy. The youngest child in a tumultuous family, with a wastrel father and a penny-pinching mother, he passes through childhood alone and misunderstood, for there is no family affection. He is precocious, with an insatiable appetite for books. He hates his mother’s penuriousness, the family jealousies, and the waste of all their lives, yet is fascinated by the drunken magniloquence of his father. His salvation is the private school he is allowed to attend, for the Leonards, who operate it, develop and shape his mania for reading. At fifteen, he enters the state university, where he is considered a freak although he does brilliantly in his studies. He has his first bitter love affair with Laura James during that summer. In his sophomore year, he becomes something of a campus personality. The great tragedy of these years is the death of his brother Ben, who had loved him in his own strange fashion. Just before he leaves for Harvard for graduate study, his brother Luke asks him to sign a release of his future inheritance on the excuse that he has had his share of their parent’s estate in extra schooling. Knowing that he is being tricked by his grasping and jealous family, he signs so that he can break away from them forever.

Oliver Gant

Oliver Gant, his father, a stonecutter from Pennsylvania who has wandered to North Carolina and married there. Hating his wife and her miserly attitude, he is drunken and promiscuous, yet fascinating to his children because of his wild generosities and his alcoholic rhetoric. He is the exact opposite of his wife: She has an overpowering urge to acquire property and he wants none of it. He will not go with her when she moves to another house so that she can take in boarders. Their entire marriage has been an unending war, but she wins at last, for his failing health forces him to live with her.

Eliza Gant

Eliza Gant, Oliver’s wife and Eugene’s mother, the daughter of a family named Pentland from the mountains. They have all grown prosperous through financial acumen and native thrift. Eliza has an instinctive feeling for the future value of real estate and an almost insane penuriousness; she acquires land until she is a wealthy woman. She alienates Eugene with her stinginess, which will never allow her to enjoy the money that she has accumulated. She is rocklike in her immobility, absorbed in her passion for money and her endless, involved reminiscences.

Ben Gant

Ben Gant, their son, silent and withdrawn yet capable of deep affection for Eugene. He dies of pneumonia because his mother will not call a reliable doctor in time. His is a wasted life, for he was endowed with potentialities that were never realized.

Steve Gant

Steve Gant, another son. He is a braggart and wastrel, with all of his father’s worst qualities but none of his charm.

Luke Gant

Luke Gant, another son. He is a comic figure, stuttering, generous, and ineffectual.

Helen Gant

Helen Gant, a daughter. She has her father’s expansive nature and takes his side against her mother. She is the only member of the family who can handle the father when he is drunk.

Daisy Gant

Daisy Gant, another daughter. She is a pretty but colorless girl who plays little part in the family drama.

Margaret Leonard

Margaret Leonard, wife of the principal of the private school that Eugene attends. She directs his haphazard reading so as to develop the best in his mind; she really takes the place of the mother who has had no time for him.

Laura James

Laura James, a young girl five years older than Eugene who is spending the summer at Eliza’s boarding house. Eugene falls in love with her and she with him. When she returns home, however, she writes that she is to marry a man to whom she has been engaged for a year.

Bibliography:Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Wolfe. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Bloom, himself a distinguished critic, gathers in his book eight essays by seven different writers, suggesting that the collection is what he considers “the most useful criticism of Thomas Wolfe’s fiction.” A bibliography of critical pieces on Wolfe is included.Donald, David Herbert. Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe. Boston: Little, Brown, 1987. Donald prepared this admired biography of Wolfe with the aid of the novelist’s voluminous papers, lodged at Harvard University. The preface announces that, in addition to Wolfe’s biography, an attempt is made to offer “a group photograph . . . of what can properly be called the Great Generation in American literature.”Idol, John Lane, Jr. A Thomas Wolfe Companion. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. A very useful handbook for the study of Wolfe. It includes a selected bibliography of Wolfe publications, an annotated bibliography of criticism, and a short list of information sources. A helpful glossary of characters and places identifies many characters and places fictionalized by Wolfe.Rubin, Louis D., Jr. Thomas Wolfe: The Weather of His Youth. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1955. Rubin considers Wolfe’s first novel as autobiographical fiction and then moves on to examine “the meaning of the time structure” in Wolfe’s fiction.Wolfe, Thomas. The Notebooks of Thomas Wolfe. 2 vols. Edited by Richard S. Kennedy and Paschal Reeves. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970. The first in this two-volume set includes the entire period when Wolfe was at work on Look Homeward, Angel. Editors’ notes help relate Wolfe’s various jottings to incidents in his book.
Categories: Characters