Power of Language

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Harold Pinter has stated unequivocally many times that "I do not write theses: I write plays.'' He says that his personal judgments are reserved for the "shape and validity'' of his work. He is concerned with expressing his vision in a way that communicates directly to the audience. Audiences in 1965 (and to a large degree even today) were used to realism with its specific biographical facts, implicit or explicit judgments on characters and situations, summary speeches, and neatly wrapped denouement. The audience may then agree or disagree with the author's view or conclusions, but at least the author's stance was clearly delineated. That is not so with Pinter, and this is profoundly disturbing to many critics and viewers. Pinter banishes the notion of the omniscient, moral author and makes no judgments about his characters or their situations. The characters are defined by their actions rather than judged by their author. This technique puts the perception—and moral judgment—of these characters squarely in the hands of the audience.

Like many plays The Homecoming presents us with a solidly realistic grounding in a particular place. There is an almost uncanny reproduction of real life in the characters' language. The story is simple: a man brings his wife of six years home to meet his family for the first time. There is a struggle for control of the family in which the new wife is first the target of domination and ultimately the victor. In this battle for supremacy, the character resort to their basest instincts for survival, casting most accoutrements of civility aside. While these people reveal themselves as vicious creatures, little information is given as to what specific events in their lives made them this way. This ambiguity in their backgrounds, especially Ruth's, adds to both the allure and repulsive nature of Pinter's characters While the play Is grounded in a specific reality, it also provides a sense of mystery that lends itself to many valid interpretations The Homecoming offers its audiences a powerful glimpse into the darkness of human nature but it also leaves character motivation and history open to interpretation.

Most of the "action" in The Homecoming is contained in the language and works on a psychological level Language for Pinter is never devoid of tactical purpose. His characters do not speak in a logical question-response manner; they constantly probe the other's assumed intentions, cover-up their own intentions, counter-strike, and intentionally evade. They are constantly using language to create a reality in which they can dominate the others. This leads to very powerful and constant action on the subtextual level. Ruth may seem to be talking about a glass of water when she says to Lenny, "Have a sip. Go on. Have a sip from my glass. Sit on my lap. Take a long cool sip.

Put your head back and open your mouth," but Lenny and the audience know that she is making an overt sexual proposal. Did Ruth have a job in her past that equipped her to deal with men on this level, or did she acquire this skill from her six years with Teddy? Another puzzle for the viewer. In another instance, Sam seems to be gently praising Jessie when he tells Max that he would "Never get a bride like you had, anyway. Nothing like your bride ... going about these days. Like Jessie." In reality he is reminding Max that Jessie was, at best, a loose woman who had an affair with Max's best friend MacGregor and Max understands the real meaning in Sam's words.

Despite then ambiguous histories, Pinter creates wonderful characters...

(This entire section contains 1833 words.)

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In fact, he has been "accused" by some critics of merely writing characters that actors like to play, as though that were a fault in his writing. He does write fascinating characters. Max is a gem of contradictions: sly, clever, charming, vicious, violent, and ultimately vulnerable and pitiful. Ruth is sexually seething beneath her cool, polite exterior. Lenny is all cool polish and wit over his inner fears and weaknesses. Even gentle Sam has the weapons that have allowed him to survive in this savage household. These are luminous, multifaceted characters, the kind that actors define as ' "meaty" and crave for their challenging nature. They are always active and they always have the capacity to surprise us. And despite their often revolting behavior, these are characters that an audience seeks out as well. They offer a vicarious ride into humanity's lower depths and a tangible mystery of human nature.

Moreover, Pinter is able to make us laugh at the brutish behavior of his characters. As Harold Clurman put it in his review of The Homecoming in the Nation: "The mask is one of horror subdued in glacial irony." We are constantly surprised by the incongruity between what we expect in these family relationships and what is actually expressed. The brutality and crudity of feeling that break through the veneer of civility constantly surprises us. For example, the opening scene of Act II might come from a "drawing room" comedy—those polite, witty staples of British theatre for decades before Pinter. In The Homecoming the family is having after-dinner coffee and the chit-chat about family life and Max's late wife, Jessie, is quickly recognized as hypocritical sentimentality to the point of parody.

So, too, the first psycho-sexual duel between Ruth and Lenny has the power to provoke laughter as we watch Lenny nonchalantly weave his stories of violence to women in order to intimidate and dominate Ruth, only to have Ruth turn the tables on him with sexual innuendo. She easily demolishes Lenny, and we delight in seeing him calling after her, "Is that supposed to be some kind of proposal?" as she climbs the stairs totally victorious. Even the overtly physical violence seems almost like slapstick comedy. When Max knocks Joey, the aspiring boxer, to the floor with one punch, then hits Sam, and finally collapses himself, it is, on the surface at least, funny. When Sam collapses from an apparent stroke after blurting out that "Mac had Jessie in the backseat of my cab as I drove them along," it is funny because of the reaction of Max, who says, "What's he done? Dropped dead1?... A corpse on my floor? Get him out of here." In her comical nonchalance, Ruth seems not even to have noticed.

Pinter's humor is often categorized as black humor for its ability to draw laughter out of what are commonly regarded as serious events or situations. Much of this dark comedy is drawn from actual events in Pinter's life The basic idea for The Homecoming comes from the fact that one of his boyhood friends, Morris Wernick, did in fact marry without telling his family and immediately moved to Canada. He kept up the pretense of being unmarried for ten years before taking his whole family to meet his father. His father provided the inspiration for Max, and Wernick also had an uncle who was a cab driver—much like Sam in the play. All this means that the basic situation, which served as a springboard for Pinter's imagination, is grounded solidly in reality. Nevertheless, Michael Billington in his study of early drafts of the play discovered that the play grows from the image of a man and a woman who are in discord. From that start, Pinter seems to be able to tap directly into his subconscious. He draws on his own obsessions and inner tensions, and he has the ability to make those inner dreams concrete on the stage.

In spite of the fact that Pinter does not consciously write to illustrate a theme, his plays do communicate, and communicate directly, to an audience. Part of the power of The Homecoming is the fact that, like all potent drama, the play does lend itself to many interpretations.

The play has been held to be a very particular Jewish domestic drama—a view that Pinter is quick to dispel by pointing out that audiences from Italy to Japan respond to it. It could also be seen as a simple study of the loss of human sensitivity, of emotional impotence in which all human warmth has been smothered. Certainly the play shows life to be a ceaseless struggle in which language is used as a negotiating weapon to attack or cover-up and defend. In this view, all the characters are doomed to isolation and profound loneliness. It has even been suggested that the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by Teddy. In this view, Teddy has hired a prostitute and orchestrated the whole thing to wreak revenge on his cruel family.

Martin Esslin builds a solid case for an Oedipal interpretation of The Homecoming in which Ruth, taking on the dual roles of Madonna and whore, is the object of the sons' lust as well as an avenging angel who dethrones and utterly humiliates the father. Another interpretation of the Oedipus myth that fits the play is the ritual sacrificing of the old king, Max, so that there may be rejuvenation of the social body. Unlike the myth, however, a new king does not rise from the ranks of young men to assume the throne; the heir apparent Lenny is denied his ascension. From almost all perspectives, the new "king" is Ruth.

In his book The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, Billinton, while appreciating other views, finds The Homecoming to be "less that of Oedipal wish-fulfillment than of female triumph over a male-power structure." There is no doubt in my mind that Ruth does triumph. From her introduction she makes it clear that she will not act just because others tell her to do so; she makes her own decisions for very specific reasons. Ruth shows a distinct talent for bending the men to her will. And she is able to tailor her interaction with them to best manipulate their individual personalities.

When Lenny refuses to accept that she is in fact married to Teddy and attempts to intimidate her with stories of his brutality towards women, she is unmoved. When he tries to physically threaten her by repeatedly moving her ashtray and attempting to take a water glass from her, she turns the tables on him by using the glass of water as a metaphor for sex. She defuses Max by calmly not responding to his taunts of "pox-ridden slut" and "whore." She is genteel to Sam, and she openly seduces Joey, She takes control of the negotiations concerning the conditions under which she will work as a prostitute, and she drives a hard bargain. She ends up enthroned in an armchair, probably Max's, with the men around her like tamed animals. Joey is at her feet like a puppy, Max is crawling towards her begging for a kiss, Sam lies comatose on the floor, and Lenny is sulkily standing off to the side, denied his chance to rule. Ruth is queen of this jungle.

Source: Terry Browne, for Drama for Students, Gale, 1998.

Neverending Power to Shock

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A beautiful, elegant woman, Ruth, sprawls on a sofa in a drab working-class front room which contains five men: her husband, Teddy, her husband's two brothers, her elderly father-in-law and his brother. Her husband's youngest brother, Joey, lies heavily on top of her, grinding his pelvis into her in a simulation of intercourse, while the other brother caresses her hair and the two older men watch, transfixed. Soon her husband, who loves her, will stand by passively, as his family (whom she has only just met) concoct a scheme to set her up as a prostitute in the West End, servicing them at home in the evenings.

Thirty-two years after its London premiere in 1965, The Homecoming, in Roger Michell's intelligent new production, still has the power to shock. It drags out of the darkness the forbidden sexual desires of fathers for their sons' wives and brothers for their brothers', showing life in an all-male family as a cauldron of anger, competition, lust and loneliness, which boils over when a woman finally arrives. The superficially unlikely, even laughable, code of behavior by which this particular family operates is also disturbing at a deep level, because the fantasies and drives underlying it are universally recognizable.

Harold Pinter's best work draws deeply on the unconscious—he says he is aware of "Images, characters, insisting upon being written". This is not done showily, in the manner of Theatre of the Absurd; rather, everything is contained by an apparently neat and orderly reality which soon begins to fray at the edges. According to the playwright, "what happens m my plays could happen anywhere, at any time, in any place". Here, what happens is that the clever son, Teddy, returns home unexpectedly from America to introduce his wife to his family, in a mood of blind optimism—"They're very warm people, really''—and everything goes wrong. It is a family of men, for Teddy's mother, Jessie, alternately described as a paragon of motherhood and "slut-bitch" by the father, Max, is dead. In a sense, the whole play is about her absence, echoing the hinted absence of Max's own bedridden mother before her, and culminating m her transgressive replacement by a nubile daughter-figure, Ruth

Max's father is an exaggeratedly sentimental, bullying patriarch, but Pinter makes Max unique by sharpening the familiar shifts between physical violence and demonstrative tenderness, anger and maudlin sorrow. David Bradley gives a riveting performance, transforming himself to terrifying effect at the end of the first act from a pathetic old boaster into a man who can lay out brother and son almost simultaneously, commanding the otherwise silent theatre afterwards with a low growl and a gargoyle stare. But extremes, and quick movement between extremes, always make for comic possibility, since laughter is based on surprise, and the text of this dark and sinister play is full of comic moments which this excellent ensemble cast exploits to the full. There's some inventive witty language, too. Accused by his brother of not going the whole hog with Ruth, inarticulate Joey explains that sometimes you can be happy ''without going any 'og". When her husband finally leaves in disgust, Ruth manages the priceless' 'Don't become a stranger".

The Homecoming shows men and women deeply divided. The men are all dogs, a woman's worst nightmare of what men might be. Max growls like a dog; his son says they eat like dogs, they boast of having raped two women on a bomb-site like dogs, they sniff round Ruth and try to mount her like dogs. Pinter does not often write good parts for women— Old Times, Betrayal and A Kind of Alaska are exceptions—and this play's only woman, Ruth, is a compendium of stereotypes from cool Madonna to promiscuous "tart". But she is also, as Teddy hints once or twice, "ill"—mentally ill—which makes her behavior just about plausible in realistic terms. Lindsay Duncan adds depth and mystery to this very difficult role, and at the end brings real pathos to the interesting gloss Michell's production puts on Pinter's text, introducing overtly maternal tenderness to Pinter's ambivalent image of reconciliation between men and women. The play is neither feminist nor misogynist, but turns instead on two contradictory truths about men who lack mothering—their brutalization and their child-like need for tenderness.

Source: Maggie Gee, review of The Homecoming in the Times Literary Supplement, Number 4896, January 31, 1997, p. 17.

Victims of Duty

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Pinter's Homecoming may be the most enigmatic work of art since the Mona Lisa, an image its main character, Ruth, evokes. At the turning point of the play, Ruth's professor-husband, Teddy, watches intently as she lies on the living-room couch with one of his brothers while the other strokes her hair. His father, Max, claiming he is broadminded, calls her "a woman of quality," ' 'a woman of feeling.'' Shortly after Ruth frees herself she asks Teddy, out of the blue: "Have your family read your critical works?"

This provokes the smug Ph.D. to a slightly manic assertion: ' 'To see, to be able to see! I'm the one who can see. That's why I can write my critical works. Might do you good,.. have a look at them ... see how certain people can view ... things ... how certain people can maintain ... intellectual equilibrium." His reaction to this intensely disconcerting moment parallels that of Pinter critics who, like Teddy, refuse to let themselves be ' 'lost in it.'' This is, of course, the natural reaction for people whose public image depends upon maintaining their intellectual equilibrium. But it is hardly the appropriate reaction either for Teddy, who restricts his protestations to eating his pimp-brother Lenny's cheese-roll, or for people genuinely experiencing a Pinter play.

Whatever else this response may involve, it must surely involve letting oneself be "lost in it." The jolt to one's intellectual equilibrium— what Bert States has dubbed "the shock of non-recognition" [see his essay "Pinter's Homecoming The Shock of Non-recognition," Hudson Review, Autumn 1968]—must be acknowledged as a validly evoked response. The urge for rational illumination that so often follows—the nose-tickle crying for a sneeze—must be regarded as an integral second stage of that evoked response. In experiencing these repeated "Pinteresque" moments, we are put precisely in the dilemma of Camus's "absurd man" described in The Myth of Sisyphus. We are confronted with bewilderment, disruption, chaos, what Beckett referred to as ' 'this buzzing confusion," In response, we involuntarily reach out for clarity, understanding, Godot: the little explanation that is not there. We become like lonesco's Detective in Victims of Duty, who lays its underpinnings bare: "I don't believe in the absurd. Everything hangs together; everything can be comprehended . . thanks to the achievements of human thought and science." Caraus's hero, the true believer in absurdity, acknowledges this recurring double take as a poignant byproduct of the absurd human condition, and in so doing, Camus says, reveals his "lucidity." Moreover, he becomes capable of reveling in the actual impact of the situation: the rich dark comedy of it, if you will. Sisyphus grows happy with his stone.

At these moments, in life or at a Pinter play, bizarre actions and reactions, churning with apparent meaning but inherently unexplainable, trigger the automatic desire for explanation built into us. An earlier pivotal incident in The Homecoming puts the idea in the form of a graphic enigma. Before her outright defection, Ruth invites her all-male audience to watch her as she moves her leg, but warns them that even though their minds may stray to the underwear that moves with it, all she is doing is moving her leg. She continues: "My lips move. Why don't you restrict ... your observations to that? Perhaps the fact that they move is more significant... than the words which come through them." What do Ruth's words mean? Be strict phenomenologist! Pay no attention to the inadvertently moving underwear, on which I have taken pains to rivet your attention; consider what I am saying insignificant—though I have made it surge with significance. Her words are of course absurd, since they cancel themselves out logically. But can we resist taking the lure and, on impulse, groping for the significance so deviously implied? Only the dull or jaded could. What we can try to avoid, however, is blurring the moment by detaching ourselves from the play in a face-saving quest for comprehension.

Glance at a more flagrant example. Soon after Ruth meets Lenny in Act I, he abruptly asks her if he can hold her hand. She asks why, and he says,' 'I'll tell you why." He then spins an involved story about being approached under an arch by a lady whose chauffeur, a friend of the family, had tracked him down. Deciding she was ' 'falling apart with the pox," he spurned her advances, "clumped her one," and stopped short of killing her only because of the inconvenience. "So I just gave her another belt in the nose and a couple of turns of the boot and sort of left it at that.'' A baffling reason for wanting to hold Ruth's hand! If at this point we care more about recovering our intellectual aplomb than about letting the play carry us along in its inexorable absurd flow, we will wrench ourselves away from its grip on us; assume the pose of the Critic-Detective; and forget that the scene, in spite of its spray of beckoning clues (partly because of them, in fact), will finally defy comprehension, and that the play, by its nature, is chuckling at our knee-jerk response to one of its more transparent brain-teasers. In Camus's terms, the extent to which we avoid the role of public explainer and acknowledge the way the play has "caught" us becomes the genuine measure of our lucidity.

That avoidance and acknowledgement also give us a much better chance to enjoy the play—to relish the delectable, audacious absurdity of such moments. The distinctive power of The Homecoming derives largely from the bizarrely disconcerting quality of the things that happen to characters depicted as real people in the real world Think of what typical first-nighters probably tell their friends about the play: a professor visits his grubby home after several years abroad and brings his wife, about whom he has not even told his family. The repulsive father calls her a whore, and the two repulsive brothers treat her like one. She does not seem to mind, and after a little bargaining accepts a deal to stay on as the family pet. The husband stands by complacently, smirk on his face, and finally leaves. If these spectators get around to elaborating on the play, they probably recall more and more incidents that involve "absurd" actions and a dazzling variety of reactions: Ruth making Lenny "some kind of proposal" soon after she meets him; Max lurching from extreme to extreme in his treatment of Ruth; Joey emerging after two hours of "not going any hog'' with Ruth upstairs; Lenny getting the bright idea of putting her ' 'on the game'' in a Greek Street flat and Ruth raising the ante extravagantly before accepting; everyone ignoring uncle Sam's traumatic revelation—and prone body—at the end. Untutored spectators are not apt to lose sight of what makes the play so eccentric and electric; as they reflect rather idly on their experience, they are more than likely to keep focusing on those bizarre moments that amused, shocked, fascinated, and above all puzzled them.

But what can trained literary analysts do that "mere" playgoers cannot? Some will warp and deface this perspective; others will develop and refine it. Those who take the latter path may begin simply by noting more or less covert instances of bizarre behavior which have to be perceived to be appreciated: when Teddy chats with Lenny in scene one, for example, he does not mention the existence of Ruth (who has gone for a 1:00 a.m. stroll), and he goes to bed before Ruth returns, in effect leaving her to Lenny. An especially profitable avenue is open for critics with a penchant for close analysis: focus on details that lend themselves readily to facile interpretation, such as Max's stick or Lenny's comment to Teddy that his cigar has gone out, and demonstrate their immunity to interpretation.

Ruth's enigmatic farewell to her husband,' 'Eddie. . Don't become a stranger," is a manageable example. As Bernard Dukore notes, the fact that Ruth calls him Eddie suggests that "Teddy" is meant as a nickname not for Theodore but for Edward—a suggestion which invites comparisons to the similarly cuckolded stuffed shirt named Edward in A Slight Ache. But she may also be symbolically withdrawing from him by muffing his name, or she may be knocking the "Theo"—the divinity—out of what is left of him, or she may be hinting he is no longer her teddy bear—or Teddy boy, for that matter. The rest of her statement, "Don't become a stranger," must be easier; the heavy odds are that she means the opposite of what she says Or, after all, does she still want to keep a line open to her own children, even though she now has a new set? Or is her pleasantry, as a scholar sitting beside me in the British Museum once assured me, the way a London prostitute says, "So long—come again" to her clients? Surely the play's obtrusive "homecoming' ' metaphor must be hiding in there somewhere. Or does Ruth mean, Teddy, don't make yourself becoming to a stranger! It must be more sensible to grant the incomprehensibility of such conundrums than to flail for "the solution" and thus flout their essential nature. In a play like this, we know-—-to a certain extent—that we cannot know.

A full—fledged analysis concentrating on the play's bizarre and disconcerting effects, or at least trying not to dissipate them, might well aim to project what Kelly Morns has deftly termed [in her essay "The Homecoming," Tulane Drama Review, Winter 1966] "the suction of the absurd." As the play progresses, characters and audience alike get caught up in this suction. Take as a central example Lenny's victimization—or manhandling, if you prefer—by Ruth. In Act I she toys frivolously with him, countering his macho moves with audacities that throw him off kilter. From his lightly mocking "You must be connected with my brother in some way.... You sort of live with him over there, do you?'' and his leering offer to relieve her of her drink, he is reduced by a little seductive bullying to shouting: ' 'What was that supposed to be9 Some kind of proposal?" No doubt he is conscious to some degree of having been manipulated, and alert spectators will have observed the Venus' flytrap in action, so that both he and the audience have a chance to shake off the disconcerting effect of Ruth's bizarre behavior.

Relief gets harder as the "suction" intensifies in Act II. When Teddy is present, Ruth joins Lenny
in ruffling his proud feathers enough to convince him that he had better grab Ruth and flee if he is to avoid being "lost" in the situation After Lenny prompts him to absurd evasions of a few philosophical basics ("What do you make of all this business of being and not-being?"), Ruth calls attention to the elegant reality of her leg. Then she declares Teddy's adopted land full of rock, sand, space, and insects. Lenny may believe he has gained an ally, or even a potential filly for his stable, since he pretends to leave with Max and Joey, but reappears the instant Teddy goes upstairs to pack. In sharp contrast to his first encounter with Ruth, this time he is low-keyed and conciliatory. Again he digresses about a lady, but he gave this one a flowery hat instead of ' 'a short-arm jab to the belly." When Ruth reminisces dreamily about her life as a nude model (I assume) before she went off to America, Lenny seems to read her behavior as confirmation that she is making him "some kind of proposal."

Whether or not Lenny does, when Teddy comes downstairs to take Ruth home, he steps into the most bizarre auction scene in all domestic drama, and it is engineered by Lenny. The jaunty pimp puts on some jazz, asks Ruth for "just one dance" before she goes, receives full compliance, kisses her a few times, hands her over to Joey for a bit of mauling, parts them with a touch of his foot, and pours drinks for all to celebrate the realignment Though it is Teddy who visibly strains against the pressure of absurdity at this moment, Lenny has actually set himself up for a subtle comic downfall. Ruth's siege of deep-felt nostalgia—not about "working" as any kind of sex object but about posing for photographers at a genteel country estate—was entirely introspective and self-directed. To put it graphically, Lenny may have gathered that she was showing him her underwear when she was really just moving her leg. By the time she responds to his advances, he is deceived into thinking he has her pegged and will endure no more tremors from her behavior He is thus a prune candidate for a shake-up.

Ruth administers the shake-up in two salvos, turning Lenny's cockiness as a shrewd exploiter of women into the sullen acquiescence of a man conned by one. It would be misleading to represent this as a conscious plot on her part, however; view it rather as the effect of her disturbing actions, whatever their roots. First, she somehow manages to play mother-beloved instead of whore to Joey, the test case client Lenny has arranged Lenny covers up his anxiety quite well when he learns this, but is clearly jolted by the realization that Ruth may be a mere tease. Joey snorts that he can be happy "without going any hog,'' but what will the paying customers say"7 Second, Ruth responds to the idea of paying her way as a prostitute by making exorbitant demands that Lenny thought he could handle but cannot. He had said to the men* "I know these women. Once they get started they ruin your budget." Ruth reduces him to:

LENNY: We'd supply everything Everything you
need. [Note the qualification—everything
you need ]

RUTH: I'd need an awful lot. Otherwise I
wouldn't be content.

LENNY: You'd have everything.
[Qualification dropped ]

Lenny does not squirm perceptibly during Ms public humiliation, even when it also becomes clear that Ruth will most probably refuse to "pull her weight" inside the house (no homecoming for Max and Lenny either). But as the final tableau implies, Ruth has effectively thrust him into the background shadows, big bear-enforcer Joey at her side. Whether Lenny becomes a cover-up-at-all-costs stoic or he is rendered catatonic as this barrage of the unmanageable shatters his delusion of firm control, he is certainly caught up in the "suction of the absurd"—no less than Teddy, in fact, and Teddy can at least escape. The audience, caught in the same suction (though with the cushion of aesthetic distance), leaves with heads buzzing: no escape but in the critics' explanations. Why Ruth carries out these strikingly unexpected acts of apparent self-gratification, by the way, is a wide-open question, but her spate of nostalgia for the best moments of the old life may have served vaguely as the impetus. Or perhaps it was simply her way of thanking Teddy for offering her the opportunity to help him with his lectures when they return.

This brief essay does not pretend to be a fully developed interpretive argument about The Homecoming. It is meant to exemplify the direction that might be taken by critical analysis which tries to be faithful to the genuine absurd experience of the play as it unfolds. The finely crafted progression of bizarre and disconcerting events might be approached from many other points of view. Mine, for example, completely neglects the two crucial offstage presences, Jessie and MacGregor, and fails to address Sam's important role. Nor does it do justice to one of the most prominent effects on that average first-nighter on whom I stake so much: the raunchy, ugly, gorgeous vulgarity of the piece. "What I mean," Lenny twits Teddy, " .. you must know lots of professors, heads of departments, men like that. They pop over here for a week at the Savoy, they need somewhere they can go to have a nice quiet poke. And of course you'd be in a position to give them inside information.... You could be our representative in the States." This excites Max: "Of course. We're talking in international terms' By the time we've finished Pan Americans’ll give us a discount." There. I haven't neglected that.

It seems unfortunate as well as symptomatic that few critics in the past fifteen years have taken an approach that accepts and even relishes the absurdity of Pinter's depicted world. Precious few have resisted the urge to chase the will-o'-the—wisp of a solution to the mind-bending indeterminacies The Homecoming in particular exudes. The gradual drift of criticism away from the reality of the play is marked by the actual titles of three early studies: the earliest, "Puzzling Pinter" [Richard Schechner, Tulane Drama Review, Winter 1966]; the others, "A Clue to the Pinter Puzzle" [Arthur Ganz, Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 21,1969], and "Not So Puzzling Pinter" [Herbert Goldstone, Theatre Annual, Vol. 25,1969]. Ionesco's Detectives have been at work. What they have accomplished often seems dazzling in its perception and profundity. Some of it even seems inevitable when one is immersed in it But if it violates the inherent nature of the play by trying to defuse its stunningly absurd time bombs, then what it is doing is busily explaining away the chief source of the play's power and of its richly deserved stature.

Source: Charles A. Carpenter, '"Victims of Duty"? The Critics, Absurdity, and 'The Homecoming '"in Modern Drama, Vol. XXV, no 4, December, 1982, pp 489-95


Critical Overview