Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 196

As its title suggests, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is about longing. Its characters yearn for the familiar and the comfortable, the imagined ideal, never known but constantly sought. As a metaphor of this hunger, food is occasionally mentioned throughout the book to suggest its significance in different ways. It is Cody who reflects on “its inexplicable, loaded meaning in people’s lives.” He realizes that his mother’s attitude toward food revealed her disapproval of neediness, and he recalls how family arguments usually started at the dinner table.

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The meanings of the theme are revealed primarily in dialogue, each person speaking naturally in his own characteristic voice rather than in interior monologues. Self-deception, pretense, misery, humor, courage, tolerance, impatience—all are present, and most of all in Pearl, who at the end of her life is still discovering her children and trying to understand them. Finally, she has learned to drift, and surprisingly but satisfyingly, her memories are pleasant ones, perfect in their simplicity and ordinariness—a summer wind, the weight of a sleeping baby, the privacy of walking in the rain under one’s own umbrella, a country auction, a day on “sunlit sand.”

Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

Social issues such as child abuse and single-parent households appear in this novel, but Tyler is less concerned with social issues than human relationships. A preoccupation in many of her novels is the paradoxes of family life, which are the paradoxes of all emotional relationships in microcosm. Nowhere are these more carefully explored than in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. In this novel of the Tull family, Tyler examines the way people within a family often hurt and harm those they most love, the balance they seek between longing for love and closeness and wanting to break free from constricting family bonds, and the armor they put on to protect themselves from emotional vulnerability. Pearl Tull loves her children, but her rage at having been left to rear them alone makes her screech at and strike them. She does not mind showing her temper and considers it a source of pride that she has never cried before them. Two of her children, Cody and Jenny, react to her treatment by trying to break away, but they are always drawn back. The other son, Ezra, reacts by trying to bring the family closer together, planning dinners at his Homesick Restaurant that are always interrupted by an argument.

The novel is also about the way people adjust to the hand life deals them. Tyler acknowledges that people are shaped by their past experiences but intimates that dwelling on past injustices stunts one emotionally and is fruitless. Closely allied to this theme is Tyler's recognition that the happy family, the perfect relationship, is a myth. When attaining that mythic perfection becomes life's goal, the inevitable result is dissatisfaction with reality. The discrepancy between the myth and reality is often apparent in the contrast between characters' memories and reality. Pearl, for example, remembers a beach vacation as an idyllic time; in fact, she spent the time fretting about whether the stove at home was off.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 827

Alienation and Loneliness
The related themes of alienation and loneliness permeate this novel about the impact of a father's desertion on his wife and family. In the pivotal character of Pearl Tull, Tyler gives us an extremely alienated individual, at least in the sense of being alienated from her community. After Beck deserts her (after more than fifteen years of marriage), she determines to...

(The entire section contains 1344 words.)

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