The Family Reunion

by T. S. Eliot

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

​​T. S. Eliot's The Family Reunion (first produced in 1939) is a two-act play in blank verse that tells the story of an aging dowager, Amy Monchensey. She is attended by her three sisters and the two brothers of her deceased husband. She looks forward to the return of her three sons, John, Arthur, and Harry, who are to arrive from Leicestershire, London, and Marseille, respectively.

Harry is the only one who arrives, as the other brothers were waylaid by various automobile accidents. Harry, however, is haunted by the Eumenides (the avenging spirits of Greek tragedy), for having pushed his wife off of a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean—although, whether or not Harry actually killed his wife or merely believes he did is a matter of scholarly debate. It seems that he is guilty of murderous ideations but not his wife’s death itself. Nevertheless, he arrives at his mother's birthday celebration in a tortured state. Mary, a child of a deceased cousin of Amy Monchensey, is also present—she was a childhood friend of Harry.

Before Harry's arrival, they discuss the differences between the children in each generation:

IVY: The younger generation are undoubtedly decadent.


CHARLES: The younger generation are not what we were. Haven't the stamina. Haven't the sense of responsibility.


GERALD: You're being very hard on the younger generation. I don't come across them very much now, myself; But I must say I've met some very decent specimens and some first-class shots—better than you were, Charles, as I remember. Besides, you've got to make allowances: We haven't left them such an easy world to live in.

Eliot uses this quote to showcase the sort of banter that is typical of older generations concerning younger generations. Gerald (a former subaltern in the British army) is more progressive than his family members. As such, he is the spokesperson for the younger generation.

When Harry arrives, the Eumenides have followed him:

HARRY [to the Eumenides]: Why do you show yourselves now for the first time? When I knew her, I was not the same person. I was not any person. Nothing that I did has to do with me. The accident of a dreaming moment, of a dreaming age, when I was someone else thinking of something else, puts me among you. I tell you, it is not me you are looking at, not me you are grinning at, not me your confidential looks incriminate, but that other person, if person, you thought I was: let your necrophily feed upon that carcase. They will not go.


MARY: Harry! There is no one here.

This reveals the extent to which Harry is tortured by the Eumenides. It also demonstrates that only he can see these creatures.

MARY [to Agatha]: Oh! . . . so . . . you have seen them too!


AGATHA: We must all go, each in his own direction, You, and I, and Harry. You and I, my dear, may very likely meet again in our wanderings in the neutral territory between two worlds.

This final exchange takes place between Agatha and Mary, who admit to one another that they, too, have seen the Eumenides.

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