The Family Reunion Summary
by T. S. Eliot

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The Family Reunion Summary

T.S. Eliot's The Family Reunion is a a two-act play composed in blank verse. It was first produced in 1939 (following the comparatively successful Murder in the Cathedral in 1935) and it is set in the fictional estate of Wishwood, where the ailing matriarch, Amy "Lady" Monchensey is hosting a birthday party with the aid of her sisters, Ivy, Violet, and Agatha, as well as her two brothers, Charles and Gerald Piper. They are joined by Mary, a daughter of a deceased cousin of Amy's, as well as a servant. Amy is very ill, but awaits the arrival of her three sons.

It is a cold springtime at Wishwood (in northern England) and Gerald misses being a subaltern so that he could be back in the warmer climes of the east. The group discusses differences between their generation and their children's (claiming, for example, that the younger generation is decadent). They look to Mary to ask for her commentary on her own generation, but, feeing socially marginalized by virtue of being nearing thirty and without serious marriage prospects, she comments that she feels she belongs to no generation.

Finally, Harry arrives. Agatha (Amy's sister) suspects it will be hard for him to adapt to the return, but his mother disagrees, as she is interested in him taking over the estate. Before Harry's return, Amy insists that they are lucky not to have met Harry's late wife, who died falling overboard on a ship at sea.

When Harry arrives, the family expects it is John, and is surprised to see him. Harry is accompanied by creatures noticeable only to him—the Eumenides of Greek tragedy who haunt the culprits of murder. Harry insists that, contrary to his mother's wishes, they cannot act like nothing has changed. He admits to having pushed his wife overboard. Mary confesses to Agatha that she wants to leave Wishwood, though she knows that Amy wants her to stay. Harry and Mary reminisce about their childhood together, but do not become romantically involved as Harry's near-death mother would wish.

Agatha admits that when Harry was in utero, his father thought of killing his mother, which Agatha prevented by dissuading him. It is announced in sequence that neither John or Arthur (Amy's other two children) will be coming. Harry, too, announces that he is leaving, which his mother first protests and then wishes to know why. She claims to her brother that he is becoming a missionary in order to account for his sudden departure. Amy also accuses Agatha of taking her son just as she took her husband (though Agatha insists that she did not prompt Harry to leave).

After Harry leaves, Agatha and Mary admit to having seen the creatures (Eumenides), too. The chorus describes how humans are resistant to changes in their lives. Amy dies, and Mary and Agatha pray around her body while blowing out candles on her birthday cake.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Amy, Lady Monchensey, is reluctant to have the lights turned on. She has to sit in the house from October until June, for in winter the sun rarely warms the cold earth of northern England. Since all she can do is measure time, she hardly wants to make night come too soon.

The whole family, except her three sons, gathers to celebrate her birthday, and the sons are expected that evening. The conversation while they wait out the time is tasteless. Gerald and Charles, Amy’s brothers-in-law, feel that the younger generation does not accept its responsibilities. Ivy and Violet, her younger sisters, agree that youth is becoming decadent. When they ask Mary her opinion, as a representative of the new generation, Amy’s ward is nettled. Nearing thirty, she was always poor and remains unmarried; she thinks she belongs to no generation.

Amy lives only to keep Wishwood, the family estate, together. Since her husband’s death, she has been head of the house. She knows her family, settled in its ways, is getting older; soon death will come as a surprise for them all. Only Agatha, her older sister, seems to find a meaning in death. Harry, the oldest son, was gone eight years. Amy...

(The entire section is 1,598 words.)