The Homecoming (Harold Pinter)
The Homecoming Synopsis
Harold Pinter’s play, The Homecoming, is set in north London and comprises a mainly male cast. The entire two-act play takes place in one room and the plot sees a typical homecoming story; an estranged son, Teddy, bringing his wife, Ruth, to meet his family. The tone of the play moves from social realism to parody as it progresses. The Homecoming is noted for its cryptic, ambiguous nature, open to many different interpretations and, while it has always been successful, winning many awards, it has also always been a source of debate.
Teddy, a professor of philosophy, and Ruth, his wife, return from the United States of America to Teddy’s home to find an ongoing struggle for power between Teddy’s father, Max, a retired butcher, his brothers, Lenny, a pimp, and Joey, a demolition worker and boxer, and his uncle, Max’s brother, Sam, a chauffeur. The family dynamic is harsh and angry, with a constant threat of physical violence and allusions to sexual violence. It is clear from the beginning that Teddy and Ruth’s marriage is not exactly a happy one; Ruth is flirtatious with the other men from the outset; in fact the play is full of sexual tension as she taunts them. She is also restless, and they are ill at ease with one another.
After a shaky start, when Max discovers that his estranged son has returned in the night and he assumes that Ruth is a prostitute, Max gives the marriage his blessing. As Ruth relaxes, the balance of power shifts and she quickly becomes the focus of the group.
As Teddy decides that they must leave, Ruth is increasingly sexually suggestive towards his family and enjoys her new power, finding the dominance favourable to her more boring life in the United States as a wife, and mother of three children. Lenny and Joey both have sexual encounters with Ruth and, although she doesn’t actually have sex with either of them, they discuss turning her into a prostitute. Ruth ‘makes out’ with Lenny and Joey in front of Teddy and Max. Teddy is irritated, but stoic, and, when he is ready to go, tells his wife of his family’s plan to keep her (without giving much information about the plan to make her their prostitute), offering her the choice of staying in London with Max, Lenny and Joey or returning to their family in the United States with him. Ruth is clearly more excited by the prospect of staying in London than returning to the United States, and negotiates terms with the men. She stays and Teddy leaves. In a final tableau scene, Ruth sits among the men, queen-like, stroking Joey’s head, while the other men appear enthralled. What began is Teddy’s homecoming is, in fact, Ruth’s homecoming.
The Homecoming relates to other Pinter plays in the way that it is less plot-based and more about the characters and the themes that they evoke. The theme of power is strong throughout the play, whether it be the power of a father over a son, a husband over a wife, a sexually attractive woman over a lustful man, a pimp over a prostitute, or an intelligent man over a manual labourer—all of these relationships come to conflict, and the struggle for dominance, whether subtle or violent, creates a sense of unease and threat.
The Homecoming Characters
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