The Homecoming Themes
by Harold Pinter

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Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Homecoming is a drama of human relationships—relationships conceived by Harold Pinter as continually under negotiation and expressed in language, silences, and the sudden eruption of actual violence. The many possible meanings of the play are to be found in the varied psychology of the characters and the history of their previous relationships with one another. The “facts” of those relationships, however, remain elusive to the audience. What is the truth of Max’s relationship with his dead wife Jessie? Was she a whore? Are his three children really his or are they MacGregor’s? Whose “homecoming” is it—Teddy’s or Ruth’s? Perhaps it is a homecoming for them both, since Ruth lived in London, too, before her marriage.

Max is the patriarchal head of the London household, but his authority is constantly being undercut by Lenny, who taunts him with questions about his (Lenny’s) own paternity and ignores him as he sees fit. Sam may be homosexual; Max purports to believe so, but this may be rather his method of attacking Sam—by focusing on Sam’s ambiguous sexual identity. In any case, Sam has his revenge when he blurts out that the mysterious MacGregor “had Jessie in the back of my cab as I drove them along.”

Pinter has said, “What goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism.” He is a “hyperrealist” who presents a perfectly feasible surface of action and behavior beneath which there is a continual struggle by the characters to develop hegemony over one another. This may be said to be the theme of The Homecoming—but the meanings are many. The play presents in miniature the fragile and tenuous quality of human existence, conceived by Pinter to be forever irresolvable for the simple reason that meaning is never certain. As Tom says in another Pinter play, Tea Party, “I’ve often wondered what ’mean’ means.” The Homecoming has an apparently simple plot, yet it is a text which resists closure and elevates psychological ambiguity to the status of great art.

Themes

(Drama for Students)

Alienation and Loneliness
A family lives in the same house and though they live side-by-side physically, their emotional alienation and consequent loneliness is palpable. Perhaps the most alienated of all the characters are Teddy and Ruth They seem to have chosen to remain emotionally separate from the others. Teddy very clearly states this when talking about his "critical works." He says that it is a question of how far one can operate on things and not in things. He has chosen not to be emotionally involved with anyone and apparently has chosen to specialize in a very arcane branch of philosophy in order to maintain what he calls his "intellectual equilibrium"; more likely this field allows him to work with little contact with others. Teddy says his relatives are just objects and, "You just…move about. I can observe it I can see what you do. It's the same as I do. But you're lost in it. You won't get me being. ... I won't be lost in it " Teddy displays a near complete apathy to the events that unfold during his visit. Despite losing his wife to his father and brothers (not to mention a life of prostitution), despite watching his uncle collapse in front of him, he remains passionless and isolated from an emotional tie to these events.

Ruth also chooses to treat others as "objects" to be controlled. She agrees to work as a prostitute, which by nature requires a lack of emotional involvement, and at the same time she agrees to "take on" the men of the family. She shows no hesitation or sense of loss when she chooses not to return to her three sons and her home in America. She even calls Teddy "Eddy" when telling him not to become a stranger as he leaves for America.

Anger and Hatred
Anger abounds in The Homecoming . The play opens with Max looking for scissors and Lenny ignoring him. Lenny then responds with, "Why don't you shut up, you daft prat9" Throughout the first scene, as the family of men are introduced, anger and hatred...

(The entire section is 2,425 words.)