Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

by Anne Tyler

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 816

Among Tyler’s many works, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant has received the most critical attention. Her technique of multiple points of view is in the tradition of stream-of-consciousness fiction but is more readable than earlier writers who used the technique, such as Faulkner. She also writes in the tradition of the American Southern writers in her focus on the family as a metaphor for society; however, she departs from the usual Southern practice of using the decline of the family as a metaphor for the fall of the South. In this novel, the family is her subject matter.

The technique of multiple points of view indicates that character is far more important than plot in this particular novel. Tyler’s other novels are more conventional in form and have clearer chronological narratives. For this reason, any analysis of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant needs to examine how Tyler effectively combines varying points of view, memory, and metaphor to present characters and relationships.

A unifying device in the novel is the use of a specific event or image from the past, presented from the point of view of each of the major characters. Probably the most interesting and intriguing of these scenes is a childhood archery incident in which Cody, aiming an arrow at Ezra, pierces his mother in the shoulder. During the course of the novel, each character tells a quite different version of what happened—but each tells the truth from his or her own perspective. This scene can serve as an illustration of how the novel works as a whole.

Pearl blames her husband, Beck, for the accident that injured her. She recalls that Cody shot the arrow, but that fact was incidental. Instead, she sees what happened as typical of Beck’s thoughtlessness, if not his deliberate intention. When she becomes ill with an infection from the arrow, Beck is away on another trip, and she must go to the doctor alone.

Beck recalls the incident as the one that was the last straw, that led him to leave the family. He recalls that he had bought the archery set, thinking that it would be fun for the family, but nothing worked out as he had planned. Pearl claimed that she was not athletic, Jenny was too cold, the boys got into an argument, and Cody “winged” his mother. Beck was unable to deal with what he calls the “grayness” of things—the half-right and half-wrong experiences of family life.

Ezra recalls only that everything was his fault because Cody blamed him, but the family blamed Cody. So, throughout his life, Ezra has carried with him a burden of guilt for having caused the accident and for escaping free of punishment.

Cody is the only character who has two separate memories of the event: one early in the novel, when he blames Ezra for the accident, and a second one after he learns that Beck left because of the family situation and not because of something that Cody did. After Pearl’s funeral and a talk with his father, Cody has a totally new memory of the event. This time, he remembers the arrow sailing gracefully, he remembers his mother’s hair lit with gold, and he remembers a little brown airplane droning through the sunshine. These pleasant memories present for the reader a new view of Cody and a new way for Cody to look at the world.

Although in many ways this small scene is a typical family disaster for the Tulls, it also symbolizes the underlying Oedipal struggle in the family involving the mother and all three male figures, with...

(This entire section contains 816 words.)

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the arrow used as a phallic symbol. Pearl has tried to use Cody as a substitute father for Ezra and Jenny, while always favoring Ezra. The result is Cody’s jealous and at times vindictive treatment of Ezra and his rejection of his absent father. For these reasons, the brief unity established between Cody and Beck after Pearl’s death is important, although all three children remain flawed and incomplete.

The unfinished dinner also serves as a metaphor for the dysfunctional Tull family. These dinners are both humorous and pathetic, reflecting what happens in many modern families. Ezra tries to set up dinners for birthdays, homecomings, or his nephew making the honor roll—any occasion will do for dinners at his restaurant—but the family never stays long enough to finish a meal. A family member comes late or leaves early, or an argument erupts and everyone leaves. The one dinner that is almost finished is the ritual dinner after Pearl’s funeral. Ironically, Beck sees that gathering at the Homesick Restaurant as one of a “typical” family, like those on television, “a gathering of the clan,” in contrast to the true experience of Jenny and Cody groaning over another of Ezra’s attempts to establish harmony through food.


Critical Context