(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

An unnamed real estate agent and her client discuss the possible uses of the dining room in an old house available for sale. Although the client expresses some sentimental interest in the room, he declines to make an offer on the home, and the two plan to look elsewhere.

At a different time and place, the siblings Arthur and Sally argue over which of them will get the dining room table left behind by their widowed mother, who moved to Florida. The issue remains unresolved, and the Father, a precise, finicky man, starts complaining to Annie, the servant, that on the previous day he found a seed in his orange juice. He begins instructing his son and daughter in breakfast-table deportment and criticizes the deficiencies of his son’s teacher, Miss Kelly. The Father is joined by his wife, the Mother, while another husband, Howard, expresses irritation with his wife, Ellie, because she starts to do schoolwork on the dining room table. He complains that the table and its place mats, his family’s heirlooms, are very valuable, and he tries to persuade her to work elsewhere. When she resists he storms out and Ellie, unfazed, returns to her work on the table.

Carolyn, a young teenager, next explains to her unreceptive mother, Grace, why she wants to go to the theater with her aunt Martha. Grace, who believes that the eccentric, mildly bohemian Martha will be a bad influence on Carolyn, tries to make her daughter stay home to fulfill other obligations while insisting that Carolyn is free to make up her own mind. To Grace’s chagrin, Carolyn decides to go with her aunt.

A young boy, Michael, who is sick and at home from school, tries to talk a servant, Aggie, into staying on in the family service. At the same time, an Architect and Psychiatrist begin to discuss plans for remodeling the house so that it can be used both as a home and as an office. The Architect recalls his past in such a room and his unwilling participation in agonizing family-dinner rituals. To the hesitant Psychiatrist, he proposes that the dining room, a relic, be sacrificed for office and reception space.

A children’s birthday party for a boy named Brewster follows, hosted by Peggy, Brewster’s mother. Ted, the father of one of the children, arrives to pick him up, and as the party progresses, Ted and Peggy, sotto voce, discuss their deteriorating adulterous liaison. When the children go off to play party games, the Grandfather, an elderly man of about eighty, enters and sits at the head of the dining table. He is approached by Nick, his grandson, who is sent to ask him for financial...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)