Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The Homecoming is a drama of human relationships—relationships conceived by Harold Pinter as continually under negotiation and expressed in language, silences, and the sudden eruption of actual violence. The many possible meanings of the play are to be found in the varied psychology of the characters and the history of their previous relationships with one another. The “facts” of those relationships, however, remain elusive to the audience. What is the truth of Max’s relationship with his dead wife Jessie? Was she a whore? Are his three children really his or are they MacGregor’s? Whose “homecoming” is it—Teddy’s or Ruth’s? Perhaps it is a homecoming for them both, since Ruth lived in London, too, before her marriage.
Max is the patriarchal head of the London household, but his authority is constantly being undercut by Lenny, who taunts him with questions about his (Lenny’s) own paternity and ignores him as he sees fit. Sam may be homosexual; Max purports to believe so, but this may be rather his method of attacking Sam—by focusing on Sam’s ambiguous sexual identity. In any case, Sam has his revenge when he blurts out that the mysterious MacGregor “had Jessie in the back of my cab as I drove them along.”
Pinter has said, “What goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism.” He is a “hyperrealist” who presents a perfectly feasible surface of action and behavior beneath which there is a continual struggle by the characters to develop hegemony over one another. This may be said to be the theme of The Homecoming—but the meanings are many. The play presents in miniature the fragile and tenuous quality of human existence, conceived by Pinter to be forever irresolvable for the simple reason that meaning is never certain. As Tom says in another Pinter play, Tea Party, “I’ve often wondered what ’mean’ means.” The Homecoming has an apparently simple plot, yet it is a text which resists closure and elevates psychological ambiguity to the status of great art.