Sunday, October 24, 2010

Optional Work: The Homecoming

As promised, I will cover Harold Pinter’s play The Homecoming. And I will try my absolute hardest to devote the same amount of attention to this work as I would to one that did make it on my personal M.A. list.


Pinter wrote in the genre known as the Theater of the Absurd. Playwrights of this genre (including Samuel Beckett) liked to violate ordinary expectations. The characters do not behave plausibly and there is rarely a real resolution by the end of the play. Pinter also liked to rely on gestures and action rather than the words. A gesture was supposed to stand on its own and need no explanation.

Pinter was also a fan of grotesque humor. The audience laughs at things that are bizarre and dark and strange. We are given the option to either laugh or cry, and most of us choose laughter.


A question that my professor posed: Is this play about the manipulation of power?
All of the men in the family, with the exception of Sam, try to dominate Ruth and control her, but in the end she is the one who becomes completely free and ends up controlling the entire situation. It turns out that she can play the game better than they can. One by one, all of their attempts to control Ruth fail and each man slowly becomes like a child with her. Joey, the youngest, spends two hours up in the bedroom with her and gets nowhere. Lenny talks about his violence towards women to her, but is completely disarmed by Ruth when she states that she could take him. Max is all about controlling his entire family, but openly expresses his fear that he may now be too old for her. He is even initially upset when he thinks that Teddy has brought home a prostitute; then he is ready to turn Ruth into one. He is okay with the idea as long as it is under his terms, but in the end, it is all under Ruth’s terms. And even Teddy, her seemingly passive husband, tries to control her by taking her back to America, and at the end he is leaving without her.

An underlying theme throughout the play is the tension and conflict between the U.S. and Great Britain. The return of the oldest son, Teddy, and his wife Ruth from the U.S. is a symbol of Britain’s relationship with the U.S. Teddy’s initial move to the U.S. is also a symbol of brain drain from England. Teddy is the one member of the family that received an education, and he is now teaching philosophy in the U.S. English colleges suffered greatly after World War II and a lot of the best and the brightest went to America. Also, while Britain is grateful to the U.S. for saving them, deep down past that gratitude is resentment (Why you not me?). Teddy’s brothers and father feel the same way. They are glad to see Teddy, but resent him for being the one to escape this incredibly toxic environment. This also ties into the theme of control because Teddy is the one who escaped Max’s control by going to the U.S. Max then tries to regain his control through Ruth, but that does not work either. Sam is the one family member who shows any feeling about Teddy coming home. He is happy to see him, and he is also the one who was a soldier in WWII. He welcomes Teddy, the new American home. Sam represents that part of Britain that remembers being saved by the U.S. and is still grateful.

This play could also be viewed as what could happen to a family of males when the one central female character is taken away. In the middle of the play, it is discussed that one of the walls in the house was removed but the structure wasn’t damaged. Teddy then also mentions the death of his mom, hinting that her removal did cause some structural damage to the family. Therefore, when Ruth comes into the picture, she somehow becomes both the family’s mother and prostitute (really makes you wonder what happened to the mom).


As mentioned under themes, this play has an undertone that explores the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain. Pinter published the play in 1965, and it was written during that part of the 60s that we don’t really think of as “the 60s.” England was still recovering after WWII and almost all British colonies had become independent. However, they were undergoing a cultural revolution. It was the period of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, etc.

This was also written at the time of the deterioration of the nuclear family.

Brief Notes on the Characters

Max was a butcher, and Lenny is a pimp. Both men had or have careers in trading flesh.
At the end of the play, Ruth calls Teddy “Eddy.” It is almost as if she forgot his name. This shows that their relationship is not especially close.
Jessie, the mother, was where the boys learned their morals, according to Max. If the play is to show what they learned from her, then how were her morals? Also, the name “Jessie” means gift from God. If she is dead, then the men have been abandoned by God.
Teddy is smart but largely useless. He is an observer, and even admits that, but it means that is all he does and he remains completely detached. He uses big words that don’t really mean anything of substance.
Joey is supposed to the one who is young and virile, but he is the one who spent two hours with Ruth and did not get anywhere.
Sam’s death is ambiguous, but either way, that family really doesn’t react at all. He was the one serving as the new mother figure after the mom died, but now that Ruth is here, there is no need for him.

Well I tried my best. To be honest, this play still baffles me a little bit. But as usual, I was able to get more out of it once I attended class and heard other people’s opinions.

As for next week, I am torn between William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and the required work of Middlemarch by George Eliot. Let me know if anyone has a preference.

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