The high school English curriculum is designed to teach many lessons about the human condition, many of which feel remote to the 17-year-old condition. One novel this year, however, proved particularly pertinent. We read You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe — a monstrously long novel about the travels of a man named George Webber. The title reiterates the novel’s premise: one leaves home through a one-way gate. You can’t go back again. Experiencing different places and people changes you. And in your absence, your home, your town, your familiar stores, and the people you knew — even the traffic patterns and the color of the tennis courts — have also changed. The sentimental memories we associate with our childhood, which constitute the composite of who we think we are, are, as it turns out, mutable. This brings into question the security of the persona we thought of as “me.”
As a second-semester senior with some Wilton separation anxiety, Wolfe’s idea nags in the back of my mind. In a few months I will be leaving for college, arriving at an entirely new place. The only familiar belonging I will carry with me will be the identity I forged in my childhood home town. Knowing I’ll be in exile from the East Coast for the next four years is a scary thought. I can only come home for the holiday season, and my interactions with my friends, old teachers, and the town itself will be sparse. Wolfe’s novel ennobles the virtues of living in the moment and he dismisses the values of enjoying the past. He suggests that my best hope of “enjoying” my past is to relish my memories of my home, and resist making futile attempts to return.