Themes

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Last Updated on July 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 338

With The Family Reunion, T. S. Eliot offers his version of a modern Greek tragedy. The reunion of the title will take place in concert with the birthday of the matriarch of a wealthy, powerful family. The diverse family members are coming home from diverse spots to help Amy Monchensey celebrate. The primary theme that the playwright explores is family conflict. He extends this theme to the dualistic love-hate relationships between generations and among siblings of the same generation.

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The “reunion” of the title, therefore, is ironic: although most of the family members are physically united, their actions before and during the party push them ever further apart. In addition, as Amy seems to be the family’s center, her death at the play’s end signals the dissolution rather than reunion of the family and, by extension, of the Wishwood estate. The power of place is also a thematic undercurrent, as the physical estate assumes outsize importance in Amy’s scheme, which the younger characters variously endorse or reject.

The negative inspirations for and repercussions of many characters’ behavior suggest a theme of inevitable destiny. In this regard as well, Eliot draws explicitly on Greek tragedy by including the Eumenides, or Furies, who pursue those guilty of heinous, especially capital crimes. Initially it is Harry who sees them, foreshadowing his later admission that he believes he killed his wife. Because Agatha, Amy's sister, and Mary, a younger distant cousin, also see the creatures, Eliot suggests that they, too, may suffer under a burden of guilt. Although Agatha and Amy initially seem close, it is revealed that Agatha had an affair with her sister’s husband, Harry’s father; the husband had turned so far against his wife that he had plotted to murder her. Although Agatha had saved both her sister and the as-yet-unborn Harry, Amy cannot forgive her. Yet Downing, the family servant, also sees the Furies but is apparently innocent of all crime. The Furies’ association with Wishwood, therefore, confirms the powerful role of place.

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