The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Homecoming begins in the evening of an apparently normal working day. Max and Lenny are sitting in the large, slumlike living room in North London, which is the realistic setting for the entire action of the play; they are arguing. Sam returns from work, and Max verbally attacks him. Then Joey returns from his boxing gym, and Max also verbally abuses him. Later that night, after all three have gone to bed, Teddy and Ruth arrive from the United States, unannounced, and while Ruth goes out for a breath of air, Lenny enters and converses nonchalantly with Teddy. Teddy retires to his old bedroom upstairs, and Ruth returns, to be greeted by Lenny, who engages in provocative banter and storytelling. This leads to an incident with a glass of water that Ruth offers to Lenny with clear sexual implications. When Lenny recoils, she laughs, drinks the water, and retires upstairs to bed. Max, awakened by the conversations, comes down and abuses Lenny. The next morning, when Teddy and Ruth come downstairs, Max reacts violently, particularly against Ruth, and orders Joey to throw both of them out. Joey is unwilling, and Max hits him. Max then changes his mind; the act ends with Max about to embrace Teddy.

Act 2 begins sometime later, with all the characters around the lunch table, their meal completed. Max reminisces about his dead wife Jessie and his children’s childhood years but soon reviles them; Sam leaves to do a taxi pickup, and Teddy talks in positive terms about his academic life in America as a professor and doctor of...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The characters in The Homecoming are similar to those in Pinter’s earlier plays—men (and, for the first time in a Pinter play, a powerful woman) of a common sort who live out their stage lives within the confines of a single room. The author creates an air of menace through threats conveyed both with language and silence, and acts of violence which suddenly erupt. The language Pinter uses for his characters seems to be that of everyday, colloquial speech typical of a London lower-middle-class family, but it is a crafted rhetoric which carefully, elaborately avoids the use of four-letter words. Regarding the play’s silences, Peter Hall, the director of the original London and New York productions, commented that Pinter wrote in silences as much as he did in words, and the text of the play is specific about the length of time an actor should give to pauses in the language, depending on whether Pinter used either three ellipses, the word “pause,” or the word “silence.”

Another dramatic device is the use of everyday domestic objects as sites for verbal battles. The play opens with Lenny choosing horses from the newspaper and then asking and rejecting Max’s advice over the likely winners. The glass of water used by Ruth in act 1 to tease Lenny sexually is used again when she orders whiskey from Lenny after teasing Joey. When Teddy “deliberately” eats Lenny’s cheese roll, the scene demonstrates Teddy’s ludicrous response to Lenny’s appropriation of Ruth. The threatened violence becomes real when Max strikes Joey in the stomach at the end of act 1, and when Sam collapses of an apparent heart attack at the end of act 2.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

While The Homecoming is grounded in the specifics of setting and family relationships, there is very little reference to the world at...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The setting of The Homecoming is realistic. It consists of a large room with a window, an archway upstage where a...

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Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1965: The feminist movement is getting underway, making demands for positive, concrete steps towards social equality and equality in...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Pinter believes that social violence is due to resentment. Research the break-up of the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina), or other...

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Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

The Homecoming was made into a film in 1973 for the American Film Theatre production series. It was directed by Sir Peter Hall and...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Two of Pinter's early plays provide background to The Homecoming: The Birthday Party (1958), Pinter's first full-length play,...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Elsom, John Postwar British Theatre Criticism,Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981, pp 155-60.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Billington, Michael. The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber, 1996.

Dukore, Bernard F. Harold Pinter. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1982.

Esslin, Martin. Pinter: A Study of His Plays. 3d ed. London: Methuen, 1977.

Gale, Steven H. “Character and Motivation in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8 (1987): 278-288.

Gale, Steven H. Harold Pinter: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.

Lahr, John, ed....

(The entire section is 134 words.)