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You Can't Go Home Again (Perennial Classics)by Thomas Wolfe
Reading Group Guide
George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town, he is shaken by the force of outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and life-long friends feel naked and exposed by what they have seen in his books, and their fury drives him from his home.
Outcast, George Webber begins a search for his own identity. It takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of ex-patriots; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler's shadow. The journey comes full circle when Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope. Discussion Topics
2. Of George's editor in the novel it is said, " Fox really has no hope that men will change, that life will ever get much better." What of George? Does he have hope? What does he see in the future for himself and America? How does George's attitude evolve over the course of the novel?
3. Discuss the author's use of the metaphor of the honeycomb throughout the novel and what the image symbolizes. Why do you think he says that " it seemed, then, not only entirely reasonable but even natural that the whole structure of society from top to bottom should be honeycombed with privilege and dishonesty?"
4. What does Wolfe mean when he says of Amy Carleton that " shehad slept with everybody. . . but she has never been promiscuous?" What does he mean when he says, " She had tried everything in life - except living?"
5. What is it about the party and ensuing fire at the Jacks' the causes George to conclude at the end of Book II that his love for Esther is not enough, that his aspirations for a life of wealth and privilege have been all wrong? Why is it that he concludes that privilege and truth - particularly for a writer - are incompatible? Moreover, is he right?
6. Consider the writing-school dictum of " write what you know" in terms of how it relates to George's - and Wolfe's - novel. Has George taken this advice too literally? Can you think of successful novels that have rung true to you, but which contained events that could not possibly have been drawn from the author's personal experience?
7. Within the world depicted in the novel, is social class and position more important than ethnic background and nationality in determining character? Is it true that, as Wolfe says, " one tells a good deal more about a man when one says he is a chemist than when one says he is an Englishman?" Would the same hold true today?
8. Is it possible for a person to eradicate his roots, a step that George deems necessary if, as he says, " a man was to win his ultimate freedom and not be plunged back into savagery and perish utterly from the earth?"
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