At the end of "The Far and the Near" the engineer comes to the realization that the reality of the world around him is much darker and more sinister than the idealism he observed from a distance. After spending his life thinking fond thoughts about the woman and his daughter who waved to him each day as he passed the small town, the engineer is shaken beyond all reasonable doubt when his actual visit destroys his idealistic image. Instead of living up to the engineer's idealistic and hopeful image, both the woman and her daughter look on the engineer with both suspicion and disdain, crushing the retired engineer to the core.
The significance of the title is profound. The words Thomas Wolfe provided in the title, "The Far and the Near," make up a pithy statement of both comparison and contrast as well as appearance vs. reality. From afar, the woman and the daughter inspired hope and optimism. Up close, the woman and the daughter inspired hostility and pessimism.
The things he saw when he rides through the town weren't how he pictured everything would be. He thought the town had was beautiful and when he goes to visit the two women the town looks totally different; he's confused and feels shameful. Things you see from a distant for awhile will always be there, but will change because you really haven't seen it and it's there though.