Back In the World


Back in the world is an expression of a return to an environment which one considers as home and is comfortable with; the person should have been away from home for some time for the phrase to be applicable.

It has been used by Wolf in a very figurative way to illustrate the kind of a confusion that a person faces after spending too much time from the surrounding and society familiar to him or her; such confusion becomes evident after the person comes back to the society and finds out that the place is quite different from they way it he/she left it.

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The phrase back in the world therefore as used in the book to illustrates the coming back into the society form a different society. Specifically the phrase was coined in the story Soldier’s Joy. It is worth noting that this concept of back to the world can be applied to different aspects in the society which may not necessarily involve physical localities. The paper will look into the story of an individual and relates it the author’s concept of back to the world.

Part I

Story: Adam Smith

Adam Smith was an established economist and at the same time, a philosopher in his time. He was born it Edinburgh, Scotland in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Adam was born to able parents with his mother having been from a wealthy family and his father was a state officer. His father died before he was born. He then joined Glasgow University in the year 1737 where he studied moral philosophy. His level of excellence in the institution earned him a scholarship to Oxford University after his graduation in the year 1740.

His time at Oxford was, however, neither pleasant nor successful as he was forced to terminate his scholarship and studies. His move to stop his studies was based on a number of factors that included misunderstanding between him and the institution as well as his developed beliefs that were not accepted by the institution. The influence that he got from Hume, another philosopher was a factor to the misunderstanding between Adams and the institution since the beliefs by Hume had been denounced by the university.

Adams was at the same time not satisfied by the education that he received from the university. These circumstances led to Adam’s move to his hometown where he settled down in the year 1746. In Edinburgh, Adam started to offer lecturers, most of which were public lectures. These lecturers played a significant role in exposing him to the lame light.

He was noted by the town’s intellectuals who aided his rise in the intellectual sense. Five years later after leaving the oxford university, Adam was recognized by his former school, Glasgow University that had employed him and even gave him an award of a professor. Adam was therefore a recognized professor in logic at the age of twenty eight and was to be crowned again, just a year later, by an award in moral philosophy by the same institution (Age 1).

Adam Smith was a less social person. He more of concealed himself and was mostly absent minded. His psychologically closed doors in social concepts saw him stay with his mother instead of moving out to his own house as he grew up. His free time was spent on interactions with fellow intellectuals and leaders in the commercial sector.

He thus never offered time for recreational activities or leisure. He then later earned international recognition after the year 1959 following a moral theory that he developed at the time. This led to his change of job that took him to tutoring in different institutions. He was then taken for a continental tour by his employer and met a number of personalities on the fields of economics and philosophy.

His interaction with the intellectual class continued as he returned to London earning him an outstanding recognition among intellectuals. This led to his appointment to an intellectual body at the time. After his service as a tutor, Adams settled down again to stay with his mother in his hometown in Scotland. His achievements however continued as he was recognized by his former school, Edinburgh in the year 1777.

Then later he served his country as the head of customs department. His other recognized achievements include his philosophical opinions that are identified to have laid the foundation for capitalism. His life came to an end in the year 1790 and was buried in his hometown at Edinburgh. His life was therefore a partial success having been outstanding with regard to professional aspects though his private life failed to realize the same level of success (Age 1).

Part II

The Concept of Back in the World

The concept of back in the world as presented by Tobias Wolff is particularly evident in the life of Adam Smith. Wolff writing in the collection of Back in the world is a representation of confusion that is experienced by people at a time when they expected change from their domestic set up. In the stories of his collection, Tobias represented the expectations that American soldiers had developed while on foreign missions.

There were expectations of relief that they thought was awaiting them back at home only to return and find the normal confusion. This was particularly the case for the veterans returning from Vietnam. This comes out well in the narration of the story Soldier’s Joy where veterans while in the war zone in Vietnam have memories of their homes. It becomes a bit confusing for the soldiers that when they return home they are met with what they never expected.

There is a lot of confusion and this discourages the veterans after being back in the world. Likewise the life of Adam Smith is similarly characterized by such themes as Wolff’s in the collection of back to the world. His story is characterized with returns to situations that would not be expected of his life. He portrayed less of what would be expected of him at particular times of his returns (Wolff 1).

Adam’s life had a lot of returns, a characteristic of Wolff’s back in the world’s theme of returning to a former position or place. Instances such as Adam’s return to his hometown from Oxford University, his return to London from their continental trip around Europe and his final return to Edinburgh were characteristics of the Wolff’s interest in his particular writing.

Adam’s final return from London to Edinburgh and the initial return from oxford however illustrates Wolff’s theme as Adam does not come to a socially developed capacity that is expected of him. In both cases, Adam returns to his mother’s house though he is expected to live independently as a grown up man.

Another story that Wolff used to illustrate the concept of back in the home is the story of the lady who was celebrating her birthday. In order to help the lady celebrate her birthday, her friends bring her some cocaine which she is meant to consume to enable her celebrate her birthday. This leads to a bad ending as expected. It is a bit ironical that instead of celebrations being witnessed, the celebrations end in tears.

This is a big contrast that is witnessed even in the life of Adam. For instance, it was expected that Adam, after securing a sponsorship, would have a great time at the University of Oxford. In the contrary it has been shown that Adam was not even able to complete his studies at the Oxford University as he had adopted beliefs from Hume which were not accepted by the university and thus he had to drop from college.


Wolff through a series of stories has shown how situations change and great expectation crumble down. He uses real life events to pass his message across. The story of the Veterans who served in the Vietnam War particularly brings out the concept of back in the home well. Others stories in the collection equally show this concept. There is a great similarity between the life of Adam Smith and the concept of back in the home as brought out by Wolff. The life of Adam Smith is a good depiction of this concept.

Works Cited

Age. Adam smith 1723- 1790; an outline biography. Age of the Sage, n.d. Web. June 7, 2011.

Wolff, Tobias. Back in the world. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. Print.