Student Question

What is the historical context of The Homecoming and how does Pinter's reference to the working class fit?

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Pinter's primary focus in The Homecoming is the interpersonal dynamics of family life. However, in recognizing the time in which it was written, it seems the historical context has a profound impact on the relevance and meaning of the work.  Perhaps, it makes sense that these working class characters who see only their own immediate world fail to realize that they are impacted by the temporal conditions that surround them.

The historical context of London's North End in the mid- 1960s carries with it many elements that are meaningful to the drama's development.  The historical context is one of massive change.  The escalation in Vietnam, emerging discussions of race and gender relations, reconfiguration of international relations as formerly colonized nations asserted their own freedom is the backdrop for the drama.  In each of these aspects intrinsic to the historical context, there is profound change.  The protected and insulated world of what was gave way to the unpredictable nature of what can be.

This can be seen in Max's household.  A patriarchal structure in which Max was able to assert his own dominance and in which the men in it understood their own sense of security and view of the world was challenged with Ruth's presence.  She is able to subvert the power structure and completely change the condition of what is that is rooted in what was.  As Ruth enters, she is subjected to the same treatment that the men hold towards women.  There is denigration, advances, and intimidation.  Yet, Ruth becomes the force of change.  Pinter describes his construction of Ruth as "a free and independent mind.''  Such a description reflects the time period of freedom and emerging voice, something that Ruth displays as she assumes power in the home and ends up subverting the patriarchal power structure by the drama's end.  Ruth is an active agent of change, a woman whose psychological mobility and assertion of voice changes the conventional understanding that the men have about themselves, the world, and their place in it.  Through this, one can see how the historical context influences the drama's development.

An argument can be made that Ruth's appropriation of her own body as a form of sexual power can be reflective of the historical context as well. Ruth has no reticence about sex and sexual politics.  When Teddy discloses what the men have been talking about regarding her becoming a prostitute, she responds with "How very nice of them."  Ruth is a woman of the time, able to assert her own sexual identity with clear terms, focused determination, and even contractual understandings.  Her active agency over her own sexual identity is another way in which the historical context of the 1960s is evident.

Pinter's inclusion of the working class only heightens this aspect of change and upheaval which serves as the historical context of the drama.  The condition of change impacted life amongst the working class.  While life might have continued "much as it had for generations," change was inevitable.  While the men in the home might have thought their world immune to such change, Ruth's presence and her impact on the men prove this otherwise.  Change was permeating the world around the men, reflective of the world around them.  While they might have believed themselves to remain free of the world's mutable condition, Pinter's inclusion of the working class men reflects their myopic failure to understand this reality.

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