You Can't Go Home Again

by Thomas Wolfe

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Why does George return to New York from Europe in You Can't Go Home Again?

Quick answer:

George comes back to New York from Europe in You Can't Go Home Again because he believes that in Europe, he learned the important life lessons he needs to navigate life in the United States, particularly that he needs to make sure his emotions are in alignment with his reason.

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As George explains as the book opens, he leaves the United States for Europe to escape from a woman he is in love with, Esther Jack. She is an older woman with a husband and adult daughter. George is in love with Esther but also feels trapped in the relationship. He is ashamed of their "savage quarrels" and what he calls a "growing madness" within himself. So he leaves.

In Europe, he has time to think, especially after a beer-garden brawl lands him in a Munich hospital. As he reflects, he feels the madness leaving him and says he feels at peace for the first time in years.

He returns to New York because he decides he has learned through the trial and error of experience what he needs to know to handle life back home. Specifically, he believes he has learned he cannot "have his cake and eat it too." He now understands, he thinks, that he is the "son and brother" of all men. He begins, too, to realize he has limits and simply cannot "devour" the earth. He also learns that he has brought his problems and "torments" on himself. Most all, he believes that he now knows that he must not let himself be controlled by his emotions. He must look before he leaps and make sure his head and heart are in alignment.

Given the generalities and clich├ęs in which George expresses his new wisdom, we might question how deep it has gone, especially when, against what his reason tells him, he rapidly gets involved with Esther again.

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