Historical Perspective and Literal Analysis of the Lost Boy

In Asheville, North Carolina, a family is in mourning. They have just lost Glover, their 12-year-old son to typhoid fever (Wolfe, 1989). He is the lost boy. The family is devastated as the young boy contracted the fever during a visit to Louisiana, to attend the St. Louis World Fair in 1914. Glover had shown signs of sickness but it seems to be nothing serious. To their surprise, the situation gets worse upon their arrival back to North Carolina, leading to Glover’s death (Rosenberg, 1989). The story, written by Thomas Wolfe, was first published in 1937, with other editions following the initial publication. It is a four-part Novella, composed in the third person reported speech, at a time when Broadway shows were mostly dramatized in New York. The dramatical scenes in the play demonstrate a lot of concentration to ethics, American values and culture. A lot of inferences of a racist nature can be drawn. However, the Novella is rich in historical and literal aspects that can be gathered about the American culture at the time (Hovis, 2010).

In the first part of the Novella, the epiphany of the boy is told. He passes by Mr. Crocker’s shop, where a mean man cheats him and accuses him of stealing. The first part builds up the characters of the participants, with Glover receiving support from his father, against theft claims from the Crockers (Mr. and Mrs. Crocker). The second part of the story depicts a situation, more than thirty years after the death of Glover. It details the sobbing and mourning account of a mother (Glover’s mother), wailing and lamenting about how life had been unfair to her. She recounts how good her son was (Boyer, 1998). The third part records the guilt of Glover’s sister, and how she and her brother had sneaked off to eat into a cheap restaurant, where the young Glover contracts the typhoid fever. She is very remorseful. The final part of the Novella captures the epiphany of Glover’s younger brother, Eugene. Years after his death, the aspiring writer seeks to get a clear understanding of the details thirty years earlier, in order to begin his writing journey (Morris, et al., 1994).  

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Historical Perspective

The historical perspective in the Novella can be explicated in two ways; first, the timing and setting of the story. The year around which the family moves toLouisiana shortly for the Fair and the same time Glover meets his untimely demise is 1904. This is of significant historical value to the story. The 1900s are a time when most of the industrialization in America begins to set in. the train, industries that began all the way from Jamestown Virginia and cultural exchange are common. Slave trade is common and so is the trade in the various states (Rosenberg, 1989). The timing of the Louisiana Purchase Expedition (St. Louis World’s Fair) is thus at a time when business is soaring and probably an opportunity for trade and probably settle in the rather industrialized Louisiana (Morris, et al., 1994).

The second historical perspective to the story can be captured from Wolfe’s first novel; Look Homeward, Angel (1929) details significant similarities to the Novella (Moisy, 2006). Wolfe brings out the characterization of the cast in ‘The Lost Boy’ as follows; he takes on the role of Eugene (who returns to Louisiana 30 years after his brother’s death) who seeks answers about his life before coming an accomplished writer (Rosenberg, 1989). The now deceased brother to Wolfe, Grover Gant is actually his younger brother who had passed on years earlier. Through the Novella, Wolfe tries to depict the bibliography of his family and explains in his own perspective, the feelings and grief behind his younger brother’s death. The historical analysis of the facts, the flashback thirty years later, and the emotional reflection brings out the historical angle to Thomas Wolfe’s Novella. This explains the historical journey of his writing career (Boyer, 1998).

Literal Analysis

Thomas Wolfe is not deprived in his literal use of language. He is a significantly descriptive writer with three styles that stand out in this Novella. These include; imagery, flashbacks and the use of reported speech. The use of imagery for comparative analysis is visible in statements such as; ‘here is the square, as it has always been at Papa’s shop’, the thoughts Grover harbors about Mr. Crocker’s shop (Morris, et al., 1994). The comparisons drawn in the Novella are majorly within the speech that is represented by Grover’s thoughts as well as conversations between Grover and Mr. Crocker. The use of flashbacks is inherited in most of the Novella. For instance, Grover’s mother has flashbacks about her son. By the time the character of Grover’s mother is introduced, Grover had already passed on. For most of the story, Grover’s mum, sister and brother share memories of him in well depicted flashbacks. These flashbacks are brought to life using well-crafted descriptive language (Preher, 2011). 

The role of reported speech cannot be understated. It is the major contribution to Wolfe’s work. Indeed, from the Novella, every character has a chance to either reveal their thoughts and imaginations or simply conversations with other characters. Very little narration is used in the play, which makes it possible to dramatize (Rosenberg, 1989). Wolfe uses an ancient style of writing that takes into keen consideration the vivid memories and words characters think and utter. Repetition is seen in some of the speech. For instance, Grover repeats the phrase; “Old Crocker…. Old Stingy Crocker” to lay emphasis on his disdain for the shopkeeper. He also thinks to himself that he would not return to the shop again but cannot help himself. The story is indeed anchored around the repetitive thoughts that bring out Grover’s character and personality, as if to emphasize to the reader who the character really was (Moisy, 2006). 


The ‘Lost Boy’ can be termed as a well-crafted and designed explication of the tale of Grover Grant’s short life. It is a great eulogy by his brother, who doubles up as the writer and a character in the Novella as well. Wolfe’s projection of imagery is immensely great. He is able to properly organize the thoughts and feelings of the characters to bring out the sad emotion that surrounds the story. While there is no particularly good ending to the Novella, the fact that Eugene takes up writing and begins by telling his brother’s story is an amazingly melancholic conclusion. The Novella may be close to a century old, but the feeling is as modern as it can get. It is a well written story with a lot of emotion to it.  


Boyer, J. D. (1998). Revisions of Thomas Wolfe’s” The Lost Boy”. Studies in Short Fiction35(1), 1.

Hovis, G. (2010). Wolfe’s Racism Revisited: A Response to Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr. Thomas Wolfe Review34, 87.

Moisy, A. (2006). Thomas Wolfe and the Family Romance. Thomas Wolfe Review30, 28.

Morris, J. R., Wolfe, T., Clark, J. W., & Lindlof, E. (1994). The Lost Boy. World Literature Today, 68(1), 142. doi:10.2307/40149965.

Preher, G. (2011). A Cosmos of His Own: Loss, Ghosts, and Loneliness in Thomas Wolfe’s Fiction. Thomas Wolfe Review35, 22.

Rosenberg, S. (1989). A study of personality in literary autobiography: An analysis of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology56(3), 416.

Wolfe, T. (1989). The complete short stories of Thomas Wolfe. Simon and Schuster.

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