Places: You Can’t Go Home Again

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1940

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Autobiographical

Time of work: 1929-1936

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Manhattan

*Manhattan. You Can’t Go Home AgainBorough 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.


*London. Webber goes to the capital of Great Britain in 1934, seeking fame and adventure and an escape from his monotonous life in Brooklyn. There, he rents a flat while trying to finish another novel. He hopes that the culture and civilization of the Old World will supply him with ample experiences to write about and the motivation to succeed. He lives on the third floor of a small London house that he shares with a doctor’s office and a tailor shop; during the evenings, he has the entire place to himself. While in London, Webber meets the author Lloyd McHarg (modeled on F. Scott Fitzgerald), who calls Webber one of the leading young figures of the American literary scene. McHarg gives Webber incentive to go on with his writing.


*Berlin. After a brief return to New York to deliver his second novel, Webber goes to Germany, which he visited several years earlier and came to regard as one of the great founts of European culture. In keeping with the theme that one can never truly return to the past, Webber encounters a Germany drastically altered by the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Although he still admires the natural beauty of Germany, he eventually concludes that Nazism is a manifestation of humankind’s historical preoccupation with barbarism, cruelty, and hatred.

BibliographyClements, 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.
Categories: Places