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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by American writer Thomas Wolfe. The novel was published in 1940, after Wolfe had passed away. The story of the book centers on a struggling writer, George Webber, who finds success in publishing a book heavily-based on his hometown of Libya Hill. Although the book was a commercial success and received critical acclaim, the people of Libya Hill intensely criticized how Webber depicted the town and its citizens. This led to the townspeople threatening to harm Webber through countless hate mail.

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Wolfe's novel was set and published during the early twentieth century and thus depicted how the American landscaped had changed in the past few decades. The United States was becoming more active in foreign affairs at the turn of the century, starting with the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War, and the country's involvement in World War I's Western Front. Domestically, this affected the attitude of the American people and how they saw themselves in relation to the rest of the world.

Another major event that shaped American society was the Great Depression during the 1930s. America, symbolized by the town of Libya Hill, went from a country on the rise as a beacon of democracy and wealth due to major foreign affairs, to a country in shambles. The illusion of prosperity and social safety was shattered. In the novel, Wolfe criticizes the rise of capitalism in America, and how it has affected everyone from Main Street to Wall Street. The idyllic caricature of the United States as a land of opportunity transitioned into a portrait of a land of opportunists. Attaining wealth and fighting each other to reach the top of the social ladder became more important than the concept of community.

The rise of capitalism in America is juxtaposed with the rise of fascism in Europe, particularly Germany. The story takes the protagonist to Paris, where he meets fellow expatriates living a self-defined, constructed utopia of bohemians, and to Berlin where he feels the shadow of Adolf Hitler. When he returns to the United States, it doesn't feel like home anymore, and he wonders if he could ever go back to that "home" of nostalgia, pondering if it ever existed at all.

You Can’t Go Home Again

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614

George Webber returns to Libya Hill, a small town in the South, to find it is no longer the peaceful place of his youth. The town is caught up in frenzied real estate speculation that precedes the stock market crash of 1929. Then publication of his first novel angers Libya Hill’s citizens; they write him abusive, threatening letters.

Back in New York, Webber ends a love affair with a stage designer and moves to Brooklyn, determined to live among ordinary people and devote himself to his next book.

When the book is finished, Webber travels to Europe. In London he meets Lloyd McHarg, an American writer who is all Webber yearns to be. Webber is disillusioned when he discovers that McHarg is an alcoholic, unfulfilled by his fame and success.

In Germany, where both his first and second books have been well received, Webber tastes fame and success, but he is troubled by the fear and hate which the Nazi regime has aroused since coming to power, and by the tyranny the Nazis have imposed on the country. Webber had lived happily in Germany before his first book was published. Now he realizes, just as he had when he returned to Libya Hill, that he cannot be at home in Germany, either.

Returning to America, Webber breaks with his editor. His view of his role as a writer and his editor’s view are irreconcilable. In a long letter to his editor, Webber reviews his whole life and announces his intention to arouse the conscience of America against selfishness and greed....

(The entire section contains 1693 words.)

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