61 pages 2 hours read

Thomas Wolfe

Look Homeward, Angel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1929

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The American Experience

The novel begins by detailing the Gant family’s immigration to America. Despite the family’s British roots, the novel starts in America as Gilbert Gaunt moves to the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. The name Gaunt transforms into Gant, as molded by the American pronunciation. The Gants share a thirst for exploration and a desire for journeys. The family has no generational wealth or occupation; Oliver Gant sets out on an individual journey to Baltimore and discovers a passion of his own—stone-cutting—that shapes his family forever. This discovery is inherently American, as it is incredibly individual and focuses on personal goals of independence and self-sufficiency. Much of the novel takes place in the town of Altamont, a fictional representation of Thomas Wolfe’s native Asheville, North Carolina. He draws on that rich context to imbue the novel with the local colors and flavors of the American South.

The natural environment figures heavily into the novel as well as the characters’ multiple journeys in and out of Altamont. Several passages thoroughly describe the beautiful North Carolina landscape set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a microcosm of the American experience, the novel pulls from the individual journeys of every character who struggles to break free from the past and run toward an ambiguous future.