Home Jane Anne Phillips Themes

Jayne Anne Phillips

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At its most obvious level, “Home” is a simple story about a classic subject, the generation gap. The gap is well documented by the differences between mother and daughter in lifestyles, tastes (for television, books, magazines, politics), and attitudes toward sex. On this level, the story is almost comic. As youth must, the daughter returns, confronts the beast in its den (that is, her mother and her mother’s attitude toward sex), and triumphs.

There are complicating factors in the story, however, some with tragic overtones. One such factor is American history, ever-present in the “sorrowful” countenance of Walter Cronkite, who helped television introduce history into the American home and who “understood that here at home, as well as in starving India, we would pass our next lives as meager cows.” In the context of U.S. history, which the author skillfully evokes, the mother represents the World War II generation and the daughter represents the Vietnam generation—and it is no accident that these two generations are named here after wars. Both generations were scarred, in different ways.

Another complicating factor is that mother and daughter are as much alike as different—two sides of the same coin. The mother handed on her antisexual attitudes to the daughter, in whom they appear either as inhibition or a theory of liberation. In actual practice, both women have difficulty in bed, though the mother appears to have enjoyed sex more than the daughter, despite limited opportunity. The mother is not so much against sex for puritanical reasons as she is against further involvement with men. Although much involved with men, the daughter has not escaped the mother’s pattern. Both women callously use men, either as financial support or as sexual partners, and each has apparently helped send a good man, the father and Jason, respectively, to his doom (Daniel moves on quickly). Finally, the two women treat each other with a similar mixture of love and hidden resentment.