You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe. It was published posthumously in 1940 from the October Fair manuscript. The novel tells the story of George Webber, a beginning author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill. When the residents of Libya Hill read the book and see the egregious distortions Webber penned, they begin sending Webber death threats and menacing letters expressing their discontent with the novel, even though it is held in high regard in the rest of the country. Wolfe, as in many of his other novels, explores the themes of a changing America, including the stock market crash and the illusion of prosperity, and the unfair passing of time, which inhibits George from ever being able to go "home again". The book is one of his more popular novels, along with Look Homeward Angel.
The title comes from the finale of the novel when protagonist George Webber realizes, "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
“You can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that after you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis, you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life, and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail. Susan Matt has suggested that the phrase is sometimes spoken to mean that you can’t return to your place of origin without being deemed a failure. In this regard, the phrase is used as a self-admonition or warning. You can’t go home again ambitious Americans tell themselves. They say it as a warning to stick it out, to not dare go home and subject themselves to the prospect of being a failure in the eyes of their family and the friends of their youth.