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Look Homeward, Angel: In Memoriam Doug Marlette

Posted: Jul 15, 2007

On Tuesday, July 10, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Doug Marlette was killed in a car wreck on a rain soaked road in north Mississippi. Marlette and the driver of the truck, the theatre director at Oxford High School, were on their way to the school to help students rehearse for a production of Kudzu: A Southern Musical, based on Marlette's prize winning cartoon strip Kudzu. The play was scheduled to be performed at a festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, this August.

Outspoken and acerbic, Marlette managed with his outrageous cartoons to ruffle the feathers of nearly every religious organization and political faction, not to mention a host of individuals. He once wrote "Cartoons are the acid test of the first amendment. They push the boundaries of free speech."

Novelist Pat Conroy, a close friend of Marlette, observed that "The breadth of his talents was breathtaking. He made the world funnier. He was interested in everything." Pat, also known for his no-holds-barred wit, commented to reporters that there were "a couple of family members I would rather have lost than Doug." That is the kind of humor Marlette would appreciate.

With the death of Marlette as with the death of the irrepressible Molly Ivins of Texas earlier this year, the world has lost an essential voice, a confrontational voice that is not afraid to speak out, a voice that keeps us from becoming too comfortable and makes us question everything.

Because Marlette is a North Carolinian, I thought of him this morning and his fellow North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe when I saw this statue of a stone angel in my neighbor's garden. Thomas Wolfe's first and finest novel Look Homeward, Angel (1929) won for him a place in literary history. Wolfe, who was born in Asheville in 1900, died of tuberculosis at the early age of thirty-seven.

For the title of his most famous book, Wolfe turned to John Milton's elegiac poem Lycidas, written upon the untimely death of a fellow student Edward King, for these lines: "Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth./ And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth."

The stone angel in Wolfe's novel is a prized possession of the protagonist's father, W.O. Gant, and becomes for Wolfe (and his alter ego Eugene Gant) a symbol of our unrequited lives.

As for me, I can never see a stone angel without thinking of loss, unrealized potential, and untimely death. To echo the words of Thomas Wolfe: "a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.... O lost."

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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michaelbuffalo says...

Thanks for this article. KUDZU was one of my all time favorites. Before I got heavily into writing, I studied cartooning and even got to hang with Doug at a convention where he gave me some priceless pointers and kept me laughing the whole time. The world has lost a good man and a great talent.

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