Theme in Thomas Wolfe's 'The Lost Boy' and 'God's Lonely Man'

Citation metadata

Author: Lois Hartley
Editor: Anna Sheets-Nesbitt
Date: 1999
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 33. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,607 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date 1961) In the following essay, originally published in 1961, Hartley examines the theme of loneliness in Wolfe's story "The Lost Boy."]

In Thomas Wolfe's story "The Lost Boy" three related themes are eventually absorbed into what became perhaps the major theme of Wolfe's writing and of his life. The first of these is the theme of change, of the loss of illusions through change, and it is so closely related to the second, the loss of innocence through experience, that the two can only be examined together. The third is the theme of loneliness, and it is with the implications of this theme that I wish ultimately to deal.

One is aware of time, of change, from the first paragraphs of the story when the boy Grover is conscious of the light that "came and went and came again" in the square of Altamont, of the strokes of the town clock booming across the town, of the streetcars on their quarter-hourly schedule. Yet to Grover this is a sort of change without significance, and he is unaware of any more significant kind of change, for he is not yet "the lost boy": "It seemed to him that the Square, itself the accidental masonry of many years, the chance agglomeration of time and of disrupted strivings, was the center of the universe. It was for him, in his soul's picture, the earth's pivot, the granite core of changelessness, the eternal place where all things came and passed, and yet abode forever and would never change."

In the central episode of part one of "The Lost Boy," Grover goes into the candy store of the Crockers to buy candy with stamps given him for running errands. He buys fifteen-cents' worth of candy, but accidentally pays with eighteen-cents' worth of stamps. Crocker refuses to return the three cents in stamps. He and his wife imply that Grover stole the stamps, and put Grover out of the shop. Now "something had gone out of day. He felt the overwhelming, soul-sickening guilt that all the children, all the good men of the earth, have felt since Time began. And even anger had died down, had been drowned out, in this swelling tide of guilt, and 'This is the Square'--thought Grover as before--'This is Now. There is my father's shop. And all of it is as it has always been--save I.'" Through time and experience Grover has changed. He is now the lost boy. He has learned something about separateness, about isolation, about inhumanity; and perhaps Grover's feeling of guilt is a symptom of this failure in fellowship.

The lost boy moves across the square to his father's stonecutter's shop; it may be significant that he passes the "angel with strong marble hands of love." Grover intends to maintain deliberately a sort of separation from his father, for he fears that his father will hear of the Crockers' accusation. Then suddenly he finds himself blurting, "Papa, I never stole the stamps." Gant's nearly immediate...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420023830