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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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Activities: Author Activities

Thomas Wolfe - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Why is Robert so concerned with "Time" in the first third of "The Lost Boy"? Notice how time seems to stop for Robert in certain places. How does his concern with the passage of time relate to the later sections of the story?

  2. Context: Compare "The Lost Boy" to Richard Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man." Like Wright, Wolfe was at least partially inspired by H. L. Mencken's sharp critiques of the South and its people. In what ways do both Wright and Wolfe seem concerned with "lost boys"? How are their lost boys similar? In what ways do they seem different?

  3. Context: During Wolfe's life, new technologies of mass media--primarily radio and motion pictures--sparked the growth of a mass culture that brought many changes to the small southern communities Wolfe writes about. With this in mind, how might we read "The Lost Boy" as a story about Wolfe's life and literary career? In what ways was Wolfe himself "lost"? In what ways might we think of it as the story of "the South" more generally?

  4. Exploration: Much of the fiction produced after World War II can be read as responding in some way to the horrific events of that conflict, including the Jewish Holocaust and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As you can see from Unit 15, "Poetry of Liberation," many writers in the second half of the twentieth century attempted to confront the question of what it means to be human after witnessing the extent of the cruelty humans can inflict on one another. Compare Thomas Wolfe to a few of the writers in Unit 15. In what ways are Wolfe's concerns similar to those of later writers? In what ways are they different?

  5. Exploration: What is the role of critical taste in determining a work's value? Literary taste changed during the interval between the publication of Wolfe's first two books (1929-35). During that time, Marxist critics began demanding socially conscious fiction, while New Critics were looking for structurally unified works. Neither critical perspective was pleased by the lack of structure and the personal style that characterized Wolfe's books. How does the rise and fall of Wolfe's literary reputation compare with that of Zora Neale Hurston? What might the critical reception of these authors tell us about what makes "great" American literature?

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