You Can’t Go Home Again

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 614 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Manhattan. Borough of New York City in which the novel opens, shortly after George Webber has published his first novel. During a Park Avenue party, Webber reveals his disgust with the emptiness of America’s materialistic culture leading up to the Great Depression, and after obtaining the funds needed to become a full-time writer, he resigns his position at New York University to pursue a solitary literary career.

Libya Hill

Libya Hill. North Carolina town modeled closely on Wolfe’s hometown of Asheville that is Webber’s birthplace and hometown. When he returns there to attend his mother’s funeral, he comes to the realization that Libya Hill no longer furnishes him with any opportunities, that he cannot, in fact, go home again. Meanwhile, signs of America’s faltering economy during the Great Depression are evident in the closing of the local bank, the Citizens Trust Company.


*Brooklyn. New York City borough in which Webber, following Wolfe’s own experience there, lives a spartan existence for four years, as he struggles to publish his second book. Brooklyn is full of dilapidated housing, seedy hot dog stands, broken-down roads, and dreary coffeehouses. During his residence there, Webber receives his only comfort from the company of his editor, Foxhall Edwards, who helps Webber cope with the mixed reviews that greet his first novel.


(The entire section is 446 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Clements, Clyde C. “Symbolic Patterns in You Can’t Go Home Again.” Modern Fiction Studies 11, no. 3 (Autumn, 1965): 286-296. Defines and explicates these symbolic patterns: reminiscence (family and hometown), progression (business ethic, love, and art), and projection (fame in exile and the father).

Holman, C. Hugh. The Loneliness at the Core: Studies in Thomas Wolfe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1975. Analyzes the ambivalent attitudes of Wolfe, via his hero George Webber, toward the South and its place in modern America.

Idol, John Lane, Jr. A Thomas Wolfe Companion. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Explains Wolfe’s avowed purpose in writing this novel and describes how Max Perkins, his editor, pieced it together and published it after Wolfe’s death. Identifies the novel’s main themes: discovery, growth, illusion and reality, hope, sorrow, dreams and their loss, ambition, freedom, honesty, and loneliness. Discusses its structure (rejection follows discovery), summarizes its episodes, and analyzes its characters, all identified in a glossary.

McElderry, Bruce R. Thomas Wolfe. New York: Twayne, 1964. Explains how closely this novel follows The Web and the Rock, summarizes its continuing action and the maturing thoughts of the hero, and shows how significantly the work differs from Wolfe’s earlier, more autobiographical novels. Praises its satiric, demonic, and comic episodes.

Snyder, William U. Thomas Wolfe: Ulysses and Narcissus. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1971. Demonstrates how events in Wolfe’s life, chronologically charted, caused his swings between depression and elation. Labels these events love denied, love unavailable, fame denied, love gratified, fame gratified. Parallels these events and elements in You Can’t Go Home Again.