You Can't Go Home Again
You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940, extracted from the contents of his vast unpublished manuscript The October Fair.
The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill. The book is a national success but the residents of the town, unhappy with what they view as Webber's distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats.
Wolfe, as in many of his other novels, explores the changing American society of the 1920s/30s, including the stock market crash, the illusion of prosperity, and the unfair passing of time which prevents Webber ever being able to return "home again".
George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town, he is shaken by the force of outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and lifelong friends feel naked and exposed by what they have seen in his books, and their fury drives him from his home. Outcast, George Webber begins a search for his own identity. It takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of expatriates; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler's shadow. The journey comes full circle when Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope.
Wolfe took the title from a conversation with the writer Ella Winter, who remarked to Wolfe: "Don't you know you can't go home again?". Wolfe then asked Winter for permission to use the phrase as the title of his book.
The title is reinforced in the denouement of the novel in which Webber realises: "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." (Ellipses in original.)
The phrase “you can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that once you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail.
- Fred R. Shapiro, ed. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 832. ISBN 978-0-300-10798-2.
- Godwin, Gail (2011). "Introduction". You Can't Go Home Again. Simon and Schuster. p. xii. ISBN 9781451650488. Retrieved 2013-03-05.
- Matt, Susan J. (2007). "You Can't Go Home Again: Homesickness and Nostalgia in U.S. History". The Journal of American History 92 (4): 69.