The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The Homecoming begins in the evening of an apparently normal working day. Max and Lenny are sitting in the large, slumlike living room in North London, which is the realistic setting for the entire action of the play; they are arguing. Sam returns from work, and Max verbally attacks him. Then Joey returns from his boxing gym, and Max also verbally abuses him. Later that night, after all three have gone to bed, Teddy and Ruth arrive from the United States, unannounced, and while Ruth goes out for a breath of air, Lenny enters and converses nonchalantly with Teddy. Teddy retires to his old bedroom upstairs, and Ruth returns, to be greeted by Lenny, who engages in provocative banter and storytelling. This leads to an incident with a glass of water that Ruth offers to Lenny with clear sexual implications. When Lenny recoils, she laughs, drinks the water, and retires upstairs to bed. Max, awakened by the conversations, comes down and abuses Lenny. The next morning, when Teddy and Ruth come downstairs, Max reacts violently, particularly against Ruth, and orders Joey to throw both of them out. Joey is unwilling, and Max hits him. Max then changes his mind; the act ends with Max about to embrace Teddy.
Act 2 begins sometime later, with all the characters around the lunch table, their meal completed. Max reminisces about his dead wife Jessie and his children’s childhood years but soon reviles them; Sam leaves to do a taxi pickup, and Teddy talks in...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The characters in The Homecoming are similar to those in Pinter’s earlier plays—men (and, for the first time in a Pinter play, a powerful woman) of a common sort who live out their stage lives within the confines of a single room. The author creates an air of menace through threats conveyed both with language and silence, and acts of violence which suddenly erupt. The language Pinter uses for his characters seems to be that of everyday, colloquial speech typical of a London lower-middle-class family, but it is a crafted rhetoric which carefully, elaborately avoids the use of four-letter words. Regarding the play’s silences, Peter Hall, the director of the original London and New York productions, commented that Pinter wrote in silences as much as he did in words, and the text of the play is specific about the length of time an actor should give to pauses in the language, depending on whether Pinter used either three ellipses, the word “pause,” or the word “silence.”
Another dramatic device is the use of everyday domestic objects as sites for verbal battles. The play opens with Lenny choosing horses from the newspaper and then asking and rejecting Max’s advice over the likely winners. The glass of water used by Ruth in act 1 to tease Lenny sexually is used again when she orders whiskey from Lenny after teasing Joey. When Teddy “deliberately” eats Lenny’s cheese roll, the scene demonstrates Teddy’s ludicrous response to...
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While The Homecoming is grounded in the specifics of setting and family relationships, there is very little reference to the world at large. Nevertheless, the strife within the play's family reflects a turbulent time in the world in the year of its debut, 1965. The United States was being sucked deeper and deeper into the war in Vietnam. U.S. bombers pounded North Vietnam in February of 1965, and on March 8, U.S. Marines landed at Da Nang in the first deployment of U S. combat troops in Vietnam. On June 28 the first full-scale combat offensive by U.S. troops began.
America in 1965 reflected the turmoil of the military escalation. Anti-war rallies were held in four American cities and the term ' 'flower power'' was introduced by poet Allen Ginsberg to describe nonviolent protest. The Hell's Angels motorcycle gang attacked marchers calling them "un-American." University enrollments swelled as young Americans took advantage of draft deferrals for college students to escape the expanding war in Vietnam and campuses were tense with unrest. Still more young men evaded the draft outright, fleeing to Canada to escape combat duty.
Civil rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21,1965, in the Harlem area of New York City. The Voting Rights Act became law on August 10, and federal examiners began registering black voters in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In Alabama, civil rights marchers were attacked by Alabama state police...
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The setting of The Homecoming is realistic. It consists of a large room with a window, an archway upstage where a wall has been removed, stairs up to a second floor, a door leading to outside and a hallway leading to interior rooms. The furnishings, too, are realistic: two armchairs, a large sofa, sideboard with a mirror above it, and various other chairs and small tables. The set stays the same throughout.
The play takes place over a period of approximately twenty hours and there is one basic plot with no subplots. Here are all the requisite unities of time, place, and action that Aristotle put forth as the ideals for constructing a tight, powerful drama. Why, then, were audiences, including many critics, disturbed not only by the content but also by the form of the play? Part of the answer is in the audience's expectation that they will somehow be told about the characters in clear-cut exposition. In the realistic tradition—still overwhelmingly predominant in 1965—audiences expected to be informed of character background which would lead them to accept as ultimately logical and reasonable the responses of the characters at the point of climax and the falling action.
Viewers also expect the play to advance to its resolution in a logical cause-and-effect progression In The Homecoming the exposition is slight and not always reliable because characters frequently constructs fictitious...
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Compare and Contrast
1965: The feminist movement is getting underway, making demands for positive, concrete steps towards social equality and equality in the work-place for women.
Today: While there is greater consciousness about women's issues and many advances have been made, there is still inequality for women in many facets of contemporary society. There has been some backlash to the more radical and strident of feminists.
1965: The Sexual Revolution has begun, with sexual freedom being exhorted for both men and women. Concepts such as "Free Love" are advocated to free both mind and body.
Today: Society is more open regarding issues of sex. Sexual freedom in society is prevalent. Sexual issues are talked about and displayed in popular media that were unmentionable in 1965.
1965: Sexual promiscuity is prevalent, with many people having multiple sex partners. Sexually-transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, are easily
Today: There is broad recognition that promiscuity and casual sex can lead to incurable ailments such as herpes. The outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s brings the realization that sex can Mil.
1965: The United States, which has never lost a war, is one of two superpowers and is engaged in a "cold war'' with the Soviet Union. The United States is also being drawn deeper and deeper into the war in Vietnam.
Today: The United...
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Topics for Further Study
Pinter believes that social violence is due to resentment. Research the break-up of the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina), or other areas of late-twentieth century civil strife (such as Rwanda). Consider what part long-standing resentments played in the events. Compare them to the personal strife that occurs m Pinter's play.
Research the feminist movement of the 1960s and after. Does Ruth answer the feminist definition of a free woman'' Or is she a man's (Pinter's) idea of a free woman?
"Subtext" is usually defined as "the action beneath the words," or as "the words not spoken." In The Homecoming, compare what is being talked about, how it is being talked about, and the subtext in the first scene of Act II.
There are many instances of events that are remembered in The Homecoming, such as Ruth's memories of her past profession as a model, Lenny's memories of meeting a woman down by the docks, and Max's memories of Jessie. How accurately do you think these memories reflect the past and how are they used to affect the current situation?
Ruth in The Homecoming and Kate in Old Times both end up in control of their situations. Compare and contrast how they achieve these positions of power What part does ' 'selective memory" play in these power struggles'
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The Homecoming was made into a film in 1973 for the American Film Theatre production series. It was directed by Sir Peter Hall and featured the original Royal Shakespeare Company cast: Vivian Merchant as Ruth, Michael Jayston as Teddy, Paul Rogers as Max, Cynl Cusack as Sam, Ian Holm as Lenny, and Terrence Rigby as Joey.
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What Do I Read Next?
Two of Pinter's early plays provide background to The Homecoming: The Birthday Party (1958), Pinter's first full-length play, contains all the hallmarks of Pinter's style and concerns;-The Caretaker, which opened April 17, 1960, at the small Arts Theatre Club in London, explores loneliness and power struggles among three men Centered on a tramp who is given a place to stay by a mentally damaged man, this play was Pinter's first major commercial success.
Pinter's Old Times (1970), delves into time and memory, which Pinter finds to be fluid and uncertain. It also further explores the inability of a man to fully know a woman or to possess her. It is a move away from the more realistic The Homecoming.
Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet shows the influence of Pinter, especially in the use of language, on the younger American playwright. The play was first produced in 1983 at the Royal National Theatre, London, at Pinter's suggestion.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett was first produced in 1957 in French at the Royal Court Theatre, London. This play has some of the qualities and concerns seen in The Homecoming: mutual interdependence of characters, hate, an enclosed environment, and the use of spare language and lack of specific background information Beckett is an acknowledged influence on Pinter.
Sexual Power by Carolyn Johnston, published by Alabama University Press in 1992,...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Elsom, John Postwar British Theatre Criticism,Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981, pp 155-60.
Gottfried, Martin Review of The Homecoming in Women's Wear Daily, January 6,1967.
Grecco, Stephen "Harold Pinter" in Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, Volume 8 Contemporary Writers, 1960 to the Present, Gale (Detroit), 1992, pp. 315-36.
Kerr, Walter "The Theatre: Pinter's Homecoming" in the New York Times, January 6,1967.
Nadel, Norman "Homecoming Unfathomable" in World Journal Tribune, January 6,1967.
Salem, Darnel "The Impact of Pinter's Work" in Ariel A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 17, no. 1, January, 1986, pp 71-83.
Taylor, John Russell Review of The Homecoming in Plays and Players, 1953-1968, edited by Peter Roberts, Methuen, 1988, p 196.
Watts, Richard "Hospitality of a London Family" in the New York Post, January 6,1967.
Billington, Michael The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, Faber&Faber, 1996.
This is by far the best and most complete biography of Pinter The commentary on the plays is extremely useful Billington has been the theatre critic for the Guardian newspaper since 1971.
Burkmann, Kathenne H and John L KundertGibbs, editors. Pinter at Sixty, Indiana University...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Billington, Michael. The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber, 1996.
Dukore, Bernard F. Harold Pinter. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1982.
Esslin, Martin. Pinter: A Study of His Plays. 3d ed. London: Methuen, 1977.
Gale, Steven H. “Character and Motivation in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8 (1987): 278-288.
Gale, Steven H. Harold Pinter: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.
Lahr, John, ed. A Casebook on Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming.” New York: Grove Press, 1971.
Lahr, John. “Harold Pinter Retrospective.” The New Yorker 34 (August 6, 2001): 76-77.
Quigley, Austin E. The Pinter Problem. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975.
Scott, Michael, ed. Harold Pinter—“The Birthday Party,” “The Caretaker,” and “The Homecoming”: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1986.
Silverstein, Marc. Harold Pinter and the Language of Cultural Power. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1993.
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