What exactly was Thomas C. Wolfe's famous quote in "Look Homeward, Angel" about going home again?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

...And at the end of it [self-appraisal] he knew, and with the knowledge came the definite sense of new direction toward which he had long been groping, that the dark ancestral cae, the womb from which mankind emerged into the light, forever pulls one back--but that you can't go home again.

   The phrase had many implications for him.  You can't go back to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake, back home to aestheticism, to one's youthful idea of "the artist" and the ideal....(Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again")

This quote starts on page 706 of a hard-covered edition.  Here is another quote from an google publication of Wolfe's novel, page 664:

He saw now that you can't go home again--not ever.  There was no road back.  Ended for him, with the sharp and clean finality of the closing of a door, was the time of his dark roots, like those of a pot-bound plant, could not be left to feed upon their own substance and nourish their own little self-absorbed designs.  Henceforth, they must be spread outward--away from the hidden, secret, and unfathomed past that holds man's spirit prisoner--outward, outward toward the rich and life-giving soil of a new freedom in the wide world of all humanity.  And there came to him a vision of man's true home, beyond the ominous and cloud-engulfed horizon of the here and now, in the green and hopeful and still-virgin meadows of the future. (664)

In one of his songs, Bob Seger sang,"I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."  How often have people wished to return to an innoncence now lost!  Wolfe's novel is truly inspiring as it urges its readers "beyond...the cloud-engulfed horizon of the here and now" in which so many are mired. 


Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You Can't Go Home Again is the name of a novel by Thomas Wolfe. This has always reminded me of a saying from Heraclitus: "It is impossible to step into the same river twice." When you step into a river the second time, it is not the same river.  The water is different, the current is different, and the earth below the river is different because a river is always in flux. This is a metaphor for life because when we return to a place or a person, things have changed.  Going home again represents the same sense of change. You have changed, and so has home, so it is an impossiblility to return to the place you left.  Similarly, the people at home have changed, and so, as you return, you are not returning to the same people.  Some people feel this is rather sad,  but if this were not true, if we never changed, we would never grow, either! 

elizabeth51320 | Student

That theme, "a stone, a leaf, a door" began originally in Angel-  a variaton appears at leats 56 times (that I've beena able to count)- but it's the journey.  Eugene (and George Webber later on in Home Again) can't reach the "river" part- because he is so desperatley searching for the "stone" part (something to uncover) and the "leaf" part- (similar, but something that changes according to season...his obsession with fall/Octover and spring/April because of his birthday month) while trying to reconcile and figure out the "river" part.  He'll get it though-maybe not specifically spelled out- but look out for his later/unpublished stuff


kayblane | Student

also the phrase, "the stone, the river and the door"  occurs about 5 times in the novel and I never quite got its meaning.  What does this phrase, these objects signify and how do they relate to the novel's themes?

kayblane | Student

I want to know the significance of the title   Look Homeward Angel.   Where does it come from and how does it relate to the themes of the nove.

gfreeman1 | Student

Oh my!  Looking at the the last two responses.  Very elegant. 

The meaning is far simpiler.  You cannot recreate events in your life and expect the same experiences or outcome.

Don't believe me?  Go back to summer camp, go back to your first job, go back to spring break in Florida, go back to the first time you experienced true freedom.  Try to recreate any one of those things.  Will it be the same as the first time?

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Look Homeward, Angel

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