Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

In the afterword to the 1996 edition of Homecoming, Alvarez, looking back on this collection a dozen years after its initial publication, claimsIn writing Homecoming , I can see now how fiercely I was claiming my woman’s voice. As I followed my mother cleaning house, washing and ironing clothes,...

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In the afterword to the 1996 edition of Homecoming, Alvarez, looking back on this collection a dozen years after its initial publication, claimsIn writing Homecoming, I can see now how fiercely I was claiming my woman’s voice. As I followed my mother cleaning house, washing and ironing clothes, rolling dough, I was using the material of my housebound girl life to claim my woman’s legacy.

The poet’s models in life were the domestic models of the women around her as she was growing up and the romantic models provided by the heroines she encountered in the novels she read. She was personally incapable of becoming what either of these models represented.

In this poem, Alvarez, as a modern woman and an emerging feminist, deals with the theme of women resisting prevailing sentiments about what women should be. The only men in the poem are the “he” in the first stanza, the old lover who “has broken things off,” and the husbands in whose arms the wives in the second stanza fall asleep. The women in the poem are passive creatures whose lives seemingly revolve around men.

The old heroine has had her day. She now rides in isolation toward some unstated end. She sees her face reflected in the train window, “a face still dramatic,/ pale and young in that afterward light.” Life has passed her by, as it does all old heroines, both those drawn from the pages of novels and those in real life.

There are, on the other hand, the real women, the wives, the mothers, the women who, although they treasure their dreams, are realistic enough to know that they will never fulfill them. They can, in their sleep, concoct for themselves other, more exciting lives, but in the end, they waken and turn on the lights “to make sure of their status.” This is perhaps the most controlling line in the poem because it suggests not only that women cannot move beyond where they now find themselves but also that they really do not wish to.

One might expect Alvarez, as a feminist, to rant and rave about this unequal situation, but instead she seems to accept it. A dominant theme in the poem seems to be one that has to do with dreams. Just as Alvarez derived her early self-image from women who represented domesticity and from the women she encountered in the novels she read, she has in this poem constructed two worlds, one of dreams, the other of realities.

The two kinds of women presented in this poem—the lost heroine and the ordinary housewives—do not meet and never interact within the poem. The ideal is indeed eclipsed by the real. The old heroine “rides on forever in the haze of bright dreams/ which her sorrows inspire in these happier women.” Alvarez, for any feminism she might profess, in this poem casts her lot with the ordinary housewives, whom she calls the happier women.

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