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You Can't Go Home Again

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"Is anything better than finally finding your way home?
Is anything worse than finally reaching home, and finding that you're still lost?"

For some reason or another, one of the main characters is displaced from their home — be it in the sense of homeland, home planet, home universe, or literal house — and unable to return. Often, their attempts to return form a key plotline or focal point of the series, but since Status Quo Is God, Failure Is the Only Option (until, perhaps, the Grand Finale). If the reason why they can't return is because of a Doomed Hometown or because they are The Exile, then their quest is often revenge or a new place to stay. Sometimes they will finally return to Where It All Began to challenge the force that kept them away for so long. Before the character leaves their home, they may give it a final glance before leaving.

This is often seen alongside Fish out of Water, and tends to result in Walking the Earth or a Wagon Train to the Stars. Trapped in Another World usually entails this (so most examples of that trope are equally valid for this one). When this trope is applied to the entire human race, it's Earth That Was.

Contrast with I Choose to Stay. Also contrast with Stranger in a Familiar Land, in which you can go home, but find that you no longer fit in there. If you can't go home because you've been banned from doing so, you're Persona Non Grata. Patriot in Exile and The Stateless may also have been expelled from their native country. Compare The Call Knows Where You Live, The Exile, Hated Hometown, Never Accepted in His Hometown, and So What Do We Do Now?. A common outcome of the "Leaving the Nest" Song.

When this happens, some people may choose to Start a New Life instead.

Example subpages

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    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: Big M. and Little M. crash-land themselves on Planet Xing Xing and can't return home to Planet Gray.

    Comic Strips 
  • A series of Peanuts strips followed Snoopy taking Woodstock to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm where he (Snoopy) was born, only to find it had been replaced by a parking garage.note  This became the basis for one of the Peanuts specials where Snoopy is reunited with his siblings.
    Snoopy: You stupid people! You're parking on my memories!!!
  • The comic strip Adventures of Gamepro ended up like this. A pro gamer finds himself pulled into an Alternate Universe where video game worlds are real. While he eventually makes it back to Earth, it turns out the superpowers he picked up while he was there tie him to the dimension, and being away is killing him. This forces a tearful goodbye between him and his girlfriend back home before he disappears back to the game dimension.

  • The song "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" by the Shangri-Las is made of this trope. It's essentially An Aesop about a girl who runs away from home and breaks her mother's heart to be with a boy, who she forgets about almost immediately, while it's implied that her mother dies of loneliness in the meantime.
  • "You Can Never Go Home" by The Moody Blues presents a psychological/spiritual version of the trope.
  • Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 24 hours from Tulsa, which is as close to home as Gene Pitney gets due to an unplanned encounter at his stop-off, which eventually leads to "I hate to say this to you, but I love somebody new. What can I do? And I can never, never, never go home again."
  • The Finnish military march Jääkärimarssi (Yeager March). Syvä iskumme on, viha voittamaton, meillä armoa ei, kotimaata (Our strike is deep, our wrath implacable, we have no mercy and no homeland). Makes sense, because the Yeagers were patriots (or traitors, depends on which side you look at) who during the WWI joined the German Army to get military training for liberation war against Czarist Russia. The Czarist Law stated mandatory death penalty from high treason.
  • "Golden Slumbers" on Abbey Road, The Beatles' last album, starts "Once, there was a way to get back homeward..."
  • Pushin' the Speed Of Light, a filksong about crewing an STL ship ends with the line "You've left behind you the world of men, with no way in space to go home again."
  • A number of Jacobite songs focus on this trope since many were either exiled or refused to live in a land that no longer seemed their own. Two standards of this type are The Highlander's Farewell and It Was All For Our Rightful King.
  • "When We Return to Portland" is a song about fugitives who flee Portland to become pirates. They long for their old city, but the return would be a sure death sentence, thus "may fate never let us return"
  • The Trope Namer is the DJ Shadow song "You Can't Go Home Again". Despite being mostly instrumental, the overall feeling of the song can be described in the only words spoken at the beginning:
    And here is a story about... being free.
  • The RuPaul song "Never Go Home Again" is about the prevalence of this trope in the GLBT community, and how queer people often band together and form new families after facing rejection at home.
  • Ry Cooder's song "How Can You Keep on Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)" includes a verse that converses this trope. "I can't go back to the homestead, the shack no longer stands/They said I wasn't needed, had no claim to the land/They said, 'Come on, get moving! It's the only thing for you!'/But how can you keep moving, unless you migrate too?"
  • Pulp's 'Sorted for E's and Wizz' has the singer, talking about a drugged-up episode at a music festival, imagine calling his mother and say "Mother, I can never come home again/'Cause I seem to have left an important part of my brain/Somewhere, somewhere in a field in Hampshire".
  • "When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back" by Confederate Railroad is from the point of view of a man who's had a series of these all throughout his life. It starts with him having a bad fight with his father and running away from home, then getting a girl in Knoxville pregnant and abandoning her at the altar before their marriage, giving him two families he can never go back to. Almost Subverted as he says in the last stanza that he would like to go back home anyway, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever it takes to come back... but then it ends with an even darker one as he reveals that he got with another woman in Houston and murdered her husband when the man walked in on their affair. He's sentenced to death and refuses to receive his last rites, with the priest warning him that if he leaves Earth this way, he'll become a wandering lost soul who can never return home to Heaven.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival's song 'Lodi' deals with this. The protagonist of the song is stranded in the titular town because his agent ran off and left him there, without enough money to afford a cross-country bus home. He's forced to perform at dive bars full of customers who don't care (and don't tip) to try and scrape together money so he can eat, and for a bus fare home. A year later, he's not any better-off financially than he was when he arrived.
    • Creedence Clearwater Revival also do this with their early hit 'Porterville' where the son of the town ne'r do well - who isn't quite as bad as his father - can't go home again because they will hang him high if he tries, just because he's his no-good father's son.
  • The bluegrass/hip-hop fusion group Gangstagrass addresses this trope in their song "You Can Never Go Home Again"—specifically, in the context of trying to put one's life back together after serving a prison sentence.
  • Lampshaded in the opening line and Played With in 'The House That Built Me' by Miranda Lambert as the singer's childhood home is still standing, but someone else is currently living there. The singer still asks the current tenant if she can enter to at least reminisce one last time.
  • Taylor Swift's "My Tears Ricochet": "And I can go anywhere I want / Anywhere I want / Just not home..."
  • Zucchero: The song "Il Suono Della Domenica" (The Sound of Sunday) tells about Zucchero missing the rural homeland where he was born and raised. There's an English version of the song called "Someone Else's Tears", whose lyrics emphasize his tearful feelings about it, saying he can't stop crying.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • In the Book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve break the rules in the Garden of Eden, they are cast out forever and an angel with a flaming sword guards it from them. Hence, they and their descendants spread around the planet. The trope is eventually averted in Christianity, however, when God takes the consequences and punishment for human sin on himself.
    • In the same book, after Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, Lot and his daughters take shelter in a nearby cave. Lot's wife made the mistake of looking back as her hometown was destroyed, and ended up being turned into a pillar of salt. And their unnamed daughters' fiances were killed along with their neighbors. They get their father drunk and rape him, and each have a son by him, because they think they're the only people left After the End.
    • Also in the same book, most of Abraham's line falls into this, including Abraham and Sarah themselves. Abraham (then known as Abram) and his wife/half-sister Sarai are approached by God, given a Meaningful Rename, and told to migrate to the other side of the Fertile Crescent. Abraham has a son named Ishmael by his slave Hagar (who is from somewhere around Egypt or Nubia), and when he and Sarah finally have the biological son they've been waiting for (Isaac), Sarah makes him kick Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert. They are promised by an angel that everything will be okay, and Ishmael becomes the Hero of Another Story. Meanwhile, Isaac grows up, and Abraham and Sarah really want him to marry a girl from the "right" family, instead of the local Canaanite women, whom they view as godless heathens. So they send a messenger back to Padan-Aram, and he brings home a girl named Rebekah as a bride for Isaac, and it's understood that she will never return home again after the marriage (which she accepts). They have two sons Jacob and Esau, and when Jacob and Rebekah trick Esau out of his inheritance, Rebekah sends Jacob off to Padan-Aram to her brother, where he marries Leah and Rachel. Although he does eventually visit Esau (who, to his surprise, has forgiven him), he never sees his parents again. His son Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and ends up in Egypt, where he becomes an important adviser to the Pharaoh.
    • In the Book of Jeremiah, the titular prophet along with the Judean survivors of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem escape to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians, despite Jeremiah's warnings from God not to go down there. It is there where God through Jeremiah tells the refugees that a good deal of them will die there and never return to the land of Judah.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The Deep Imaskari race in the Underdark setting live in a Hidden Elf Village. If anyone decides to leave, they automatically have the location of their home erased from their memory so that in the (highly likely) chance they are captured by something evil that can read minds, they will be unable to divulge the secret location.
    • Elminster Aumar of the Forgotten Realms. At the start of his book series a magelord on a dragon burns down his home village to assassinate his father, a prince of Athalantar who had abdicated. About a century later, an orc horde destroyed the entire kingdom. The present-day city of Secomber is built on its capital's ruins.
  • The odds of a member of the Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000 making it to retirement age are pretty low, considering that the Imperium is almost continuously at war with some if not all of its neighbors (and quite frequently itself). Those that make it are generally discharged on the planet they happen to be on when they retire, and their retirement package does not include a ticket back to their home planet (which could be thousands of light years away, depending on what events happened during their deployment). As such, there is a very good chance that anyone who enlists in a Guard regiment will never return to their home planet, let alone their home town, ever again. Indeed, the lucky ones instead get a commission and some land on the planet they conquered most recently, essentially becoming landed gentry there.
    • This applies to the Regiments on a logistical and bureaucratic level. Once a regiment is raised it will likely never see its original homeworld or system. With new recruits being picked up from planets they pass, or liberate. Only the more famous and decorated regiments such as the Firstborn or Death Korps of Krieg have the privilege of getting reinforcements from their homeworld.
  • Vampire: The Requiem goes to great lengths to describe why a fledgling should never go back to its mortal life. Even if its old friends and family can cope with its return as a vampire; even if the vampire has enough Heroic Willpower to keep its Horror Hunger and Unstoppable Rages in check; the dysfunctional, sadistic, and highly lethal vampiric societies will find out and take a very dim view of mortals learning about their existence.
  • In Changeling: The Lost, every newly-made Changeling quickly learns that the Fae who abducted and transformed them left a lifelike impostor in their place. Good luck convincing the family that the deformed, unhinged version of their loved one who showed up out of nowhere is actually the real person. Even if they manage, Changelings are irreversibly bound to Fate, which tends to turn them into Doom Magnets for mortals they get too close to.
  • 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars opens by touching on this trope and then inevitably hammers it in hard on any Player Characters - all PCs are outcast from the utopian society on Earth, and forced into glorified penal legions sent to "proactively defend" Earth by committing genocide on all other life in the galaxy. Any character who lasts long enough can develop a "Hatred for Home" trait that risks them eventually going back to Where It All Began... to exterminate Earth in revenge for what they were forced to do.

  • Zigzagged in Jasper in Deadland, as the shows subverts and double-subverts whether or not Agnes is actually dead, and whether or not it's possible for a dead person to return to the Living World.

  • The forgotten toy line Snailiens. The heroes are a group of mollusc-like aliens who come to Earth to help save a population of oppressed insects. In the process, a human boy finds their ship, mistakes it for an interesting-looking shell and puts it on the highest shelf in his bedroom to keep it out of the hands of his baby brother. It's not destroyed, but it's so high up the miniscule heroes are resigned to the fact that they'll never get it back.

  • Parodied in MegaTokyo, where Piro and Largo end up in Japan without any money to buy a ticket back home. They get several opportunities to fix this, yet for whatever reason, they never actually go back home.
    • MegaTokyo is an interesting case indeed... With the plot and Character Development going the way it is, it seems that Piro and Largo feel too tied up in the personal lives of all the people they've interacted with. As such, even if they were offered a fool-proof method to return to America, neither would likely take it.
      • One scene with Meimi and Junpei implies that they may end up being forced out of Japan at some point. Until then...
  • Tower of God: Urek Mazino followed Phantaminum into the Tower, but he discovered he could not get out of it anymore.
  • Silver Bullet Nights: The head of Donovan's family has disowned him for being transgender, resulting in him living on the mean streets of Toro City. He can't return to the family home or business; his previous life is over.
  • In The Order of the Stick, it is foretold that Durkon will return to his homeland—posthumously. However, he's actually happy to learn this because he'd much rather be buried with his ancestors than to die somewhere else.
    • Of course, he doesn't know the real reason he was sent away from his home in the first place: it's prophecized that when he returns, it will result in the land's destruction.
      • And this turned out to be subjected to Prophecy Twist. A Durkon that got turned into a vampire is dead, after all.
    • Then there's Vaarsuvius, whose quest for power cost V's marriage and nearly the lives of spouse and children.
  • A minor plot point in Homestuck is that Sburb, a video game which can manipulate physical objects, is targeted at players who are entering adolescence and beginning to want to escape their homes for a life of their own. Sburb also enforces this, since playing it eventually sends players to a Pocket Universe while their home planet is destroyed by meteors created by the game.
  • Zeetha from Girl Genius doesn't know where her tribe is from. Everyone who was involved in her journey to Europa ended up dead one way or another.
  • A plot arc in At Arm's Length allowed for the introduction of a new character, one that was in their Character contest back in 2012. This character appeared in a flash of light, and apparently is from another reality. Sadly, nobody knows how he got there, or if they will be able to send him back.
  • In Freefall, Sam Starfall is prohibited from returning to his home world, due to his acquiring knowledge of technology far above the approximately "Steam Age" technology level there.
  • In We Are The Wyrecats, K.A. tries hard to pick up where she left off after coming out of a coma, but reality sets in pretty quickly that the world not only isn't the same one she left, but that it's a decidedly worse one.
  • Alice Grove: Ardent and Gavia teleport to Earth from the orbital habitat where they grew up, then find that their requests to return are being ignored. When they get back to space by a different route, they learn that their "habitat" is actually a simulation being run by a titanic, sapient space tree, which won't accept them back because they've been infected by impossibly advanced picotechnology of unknown purpose. Rough day.
  • In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, this trope is why Mab is travelling with Dan but this is played with. What happened was is that the current queen of the faerie kingdom, Nutmeg, made a decree that no one could have a tail fluffier than the queen's, so Mab, known for her fluffy tail, decided "Screw that" and left. She could go back home and did for a little bit but she chose not to.
    • This happened to Matilda and the reason why she can't go home is because she ripped off her brother's arm and beat him with it. In her tribe, a female going against a male is punishable by death.
  • Africa: Chui takes Africa's territory. She returns to try and reclaim it, only to get beaten. She returns to the new place in defeat
  • A recurring theme in many webcomics about life in college, at least in late 1990s-early 2000s, perhaps in a bit more literal sense. In College Catastrophe Jan visits his parents' home and finds his old room no longer suitable for life. In his case, it's used as a junk storeroom.
  • In Dumbing of Age Joyce and Becky briefly go back to their hometown for a weekend, only for Joyce to end up disillusioned because her church's congregation aren't as accepting of Becky's lesbianism as she is, and that they seemed to take Becky's father's side (her father, who tried to kidnap Becky to bring her back to the Lord).

    Web Original 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: The Gunslinger's pocketwatch was made specifically to avert this trope. Under normal circumstances, travelling to another dimension would either be fatal to him, or it would cause the dimension to assimilate him, thereby making his own dimension fatal to him. The pocketwatch prevents these effects from occurring. But then Linkara destroyed the pocketwatch, causing The Gunslinger to be trapped in Linkara's world forever, unable to return. When Linkara realizes this, he swears that he'll find a way to fix it.
  • The Dimensional Guardians trapped in Creturia in the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Phase can't go home again. His family are the largest anti-mutant force on the planet.
  • qntm's "Be Here Now" story introduces a multiple-universes system of time travel. It's impossible to time-travel in one's own timeline, but you can "jump the tracks" to any point in any other timeline. The only thing is, the destination timeline is always "the next one down the [infinite] chain", so you can never go back home again once you've time-jumped once.
  • Survival of the Fittest: At the end of v3, JR Rizzolo manages to return home after (ostensibly) being the Sole Survivor, only to find that his family has disowned him and completely moved out.
  • The premise of Mabaka! Magic is for Idiots! revolves around a novice wizard from another dimension getting stuck on Earth with no way to get back. Naturally, he ends up staying with the same girl whose yard he crash-landed into. At least until a year is up and he can return via a dimensional transport system.
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: In episode 9, Jane has caught cold and is really sick, which also triggers her homesickness. It's all the more sad because she doesn't really have her home. The house feels empty and isolated, she doesn't have anybody to talk to; she misses university, but concludes that it was just a dorm room.
    "I just want to go home, except for I don't know where that is."
  • Random Assault: Kate will never be accepted by her family for wanting to be a female.
  • In The Jenkinsverse, Xiù Chang returns to Earth after spending two years living among an alien species called Gaoians, barely survives the effects of a nervejam grenade, spends three years hiding in exile pretending to *be* a Gaoian, and five years stuck in a stasis pod after narrowly surviving the destruction of a starship. Her experiences leave her unable to relate to her family and friends back home, but unwilling to return to Gao as that would put the Gaoians in danger from the Hunters. In the end, the only people she feels at home with are fellow abductees Julian and Allison.
  • RWBY:
    • The first three volumes of the show are set in Beacon Academy, the boarding school that is training the titular team of students and their friends and colleagues. By the end of Volume 3, the girls are approaching the end of their first year in a four-year programme. However, the villains instigate an invasion of the school by the Monsters of Grimm, leaving the school destroyed, the teachers and students evacuated, the headmaster killed, and a magically-frozen Grimm Dragon passively attracting more Grimm to the school's ruins. The finale ends with the titular team scattered, and a cross-continental quest beginning to try and seek answers to who the villains are.
    • During Volume 8, the heroes try to find a way to save the people of both Atlas and Mantle from Salem and her forces while Ironwood and the Atlas Military only try to save the people of Atlas and abandon Mantle to die. During the climax of the Volume when Ironwood threatens to bomb Mantle himself, the heroes come up with a plan to evacuate the citizens of the entire Kingdom to Vacuo using the Staff of Creation. Because they used it to create something new, the previous command on it to keep Atlas flying above Mantle stops and the city starts to fall. At the end of the Volume, Atlas ends up crashing onto Mantle as the people are evacuated while the cities were both covered in flames and flooded. Because of this, Weiss and the people of the Kingdom can never return to their homes again.
  • In Twig, Sylvester realizes, after he deserts Radham Academy with Jamie, that by killing the Baron Richmond and taking Jamie he's finally crossed the line and made Radham and his fellow Lambs his enemy, and that he can't go home, not alive, at least.
  • Murder Drones: After Uzi's father betrays her, and the Worker Drones are still cowardly and powerless against the Disassembly Drones, Uzi decides to exile herself because there's nothing she can do to convince them to fight. Besides, Earth is looking like a much better place to rule over.


Video Example(s):


The Vault Dweller

Upon returning to Vault 13 by the end of the game, the Overseer is delighted that the Vault Dweller has survived everything the wasteland had thrown at them to not only save the vault, but all of New California as well. However, seeing how the entire journey has radically changed them and fearing that the eventual hero worship amongst the vault's younger dwellers will cause them to leave the vault en masse, the Overseer decides to exile the Vault Dweller from Vault 13 for the sake of their people.

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