The Homecoming

Have you ever had a bad experience introducing a significant other to your family? Or have you ever just not brought them around to avoid any awkward altercations? After six years of marriage, the main character in The Homecoming (1965) by Harold Pinter (1930-2008) introduces his wife to his all-male, working-class family. The encounter does not go well for Teddy, who (spoiler alert) returns home without his wife. Pinter's drama The Homecoming examines themes of feminine power and familial competition in the setting of 1960s London. 

The Homecoming The Homecoming

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Table of contents

    Content warning: sexual content, prostitution, derogatory language toward women.

    The Homecoming, Content warning, StudySmarter

    The Homecoming Summary

    The Homecoming opens on an all-male household full of working-class men. Max, the patriarch, is clipping coupons in a magazine and gets into a heated argument with his middle son, Lenny, over missing scissors. The two men use derogatory insults and swear at one another, and Max threatens to beat Lenny with his walking stick.

    Max's brother, Sam, enters amid the bickering, having come home from his job as a chauffeur. Max is immediately rude to Sam, jabbing at Sam for being feminine and insinuating he may be a homosexual. Max's youngest son, Joey, enters the scene. He works in demolition but is currently training to be a professional boxer. With all the men home, each vies for control and power over the others.

    The Homecoming, Men arm wrestling for money, StudySmarter

    Fig. 1: The male family members try to out-man one another as they wrestle for supremacy.

    That night, the eldest son, Teddy, and his wife, Ruth, arrive at the house. They have spent the last six years living a quiet life in the United States. Teddy is a professor of Philosophy and has removed himself from his chaotic family. Although he and Ruth married in London before traveling to the United States, no one in the family has met Ruth. The couple have decided to visit for the first time on their way back from a trip to Italy.

    It is late and no one in the house is awake, so Teddy suggests they go to sleep. The cracks in their marriage begin to show when Ruth refuses, telling Teddy she will take a walk outside alone. Teddy bumps into Lenny, who has been awakened by a noise. They reunite for a few minutes before Teddy heads to bed. Lenny is still awake when Ruth comes in from outside. He begins to flirt with Ruth, knowing she's his brother's wife. He is taken aback when Ruth flirts back and asks him to sit on her lap and drink from her glass. She goes up the stairs to bed as a bewildered Lenny calls after her.

    The Homecoming, Man whispering in woman's ear, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2: Despite being married, Ruth flirts with Lenny the first night she meets him.

    The next morning, Max is furious when Teddy comes downstairs with Ruth. Max accuses his son of bringing a prostitute into the house even after Teddy says Ruth is his wife. Max yells at Joey to remove them and take the diseased woman away. When Joey doesn't move, Max hits him and Sam with his walking stick. Max finally calms down. He asks Ruth if she is a mother, and she tells him they have three sons in the United States. Max asks Teddy to cuddle and reconciles with him.

    The second act opens with the now seemingly cheerful family. The men share cigars while Ruth pours coffee. Max asks about Teddy and Ruth's wedding and states he would have paid for it. Teddy talks about their life in America and his career in academia. Max welcomes Ruth into the family and says his deceased wife, Jackie, would be happy to see her boys together.

    After the other men exit, Teddy tells his wife they should return to America immediately. Ruth seems reluctant to leave his family. Teddy goes upstairs to pack while Ruth stays downstairs. Lenny enters the scene, and the two sit on the couch together. Ruth tells Lenny she was a model before she had children. As Teddy comes down the steps, Lenny asks Ruth to slow dance with him. She obliges, and they kiss. Joey, having come home with Max and seen the entire thing, kisses Ruth. They make out on the couch with everyone still in the room. Max asks Teddy if they're leaving so soon and tells Teddy he doesn't need to be embarrassed by his wife.

    Max insinuates Teddy is embarrassed by Ruth because she is "below" him. What can you infer about the family's views on femininity, sexuality, and reputation?

    Ruth suddenly stands up and demands food and drink. Joey and Lenny rush to oblige her. Ruth makes a few jabs at her academic husband, insinuating no one has read his works. She then goes upstairs with Joey for two hours, but he comes downstairs alone, saying they didn't have sex. While the men disparage Joey's sexual prowess, he admits he feels a connection with Ruth beyond sex.

    Max suggests Ruth could move in with the family and earn her keep as a prostitute. The men also want her to do the cooking and cleaning and fill the hole Jackie left. They tell Teddy he can contribute by handing out business cards in the United States to help their business become an international success.

    The Homecoming, Drawing of woman standing under streetlamp, StudySmarter

    Fig. 3: The men want Ruth to use her sexuality to make a profit through prostitution.

    When Ruth comes downstairs, Teddy tells her about his family's proposal. She accepts, making a few demands of her own to Lenny, who appears to be a pimp. Sam is so shocked she accepted the deal he faints. Teddy returns to America and their sons alone. The play ends with the men surrounding Ruth as Max begs her to kiss him.

    The Homecoming Characters

    The main characters in The Homecoming are the academic Teddy, his wife Ruth, his brothers Lenny and Joey, and their father Max.

    Teddy

    A professor of Philosophy who has spent the last six years in America, Teddy separates himself from his toxic family. He secretly married Ruth, and they live in the United States with their three children. Teddy wants to return to America, but he doesn't refuse to allow her to stay and work as a prostitute. He resigns himself to return alone and raise his sons.

    Ruth

    Teddy's sexual, enigmatic wife, Ruth is unhappy in her marriage and feels stifled by her husband's career in academia. Ruth was once a photographic model but has stopped since having children. She flirts with her husband's brother the first time they meet and enjoys the attention she gets from Teddy's family. Although she acts coy, Ruth revels in the power her sexuality gives her over men. She agrees to work as a prostitute for the family.

    Max

    Max is the abusive patriarch of Teddy's family. He is a retired butcher and still complains about having to support the family. Max demands respect from his family and hits them with his walking stick when he feels disrespected. Temperamental and hot-headed, Max is often arguing with his sons and his brother. It is his idea to have Ruth stay, and he begs her to kiss him at the end of the play.

    Lenny

    The middle brother, it is strongly implied that Lenny is a pimp. Lenny and Max are the most dominant males in the family, constantly vying for power. Lenny flirts with Ruth despite knowing she is married to Teddy and kisses her in front of him.

    Joey

    The youngest brother, Joey wants to be a professional boxer and spends a lot of his time training. Joey is bewildered when he sees Ruth kissing Lenny, and he also feels the need to get involved. The two never have sex, but they get physical in front of Teddy. Joey is enamored with Ruth and listens to her demands.

    The Homecoming, Boxers fighting, StudySmarter

    Fig. 4: Joey dreams of being a professional boxer.

    Sam

    Max's brother, Sam is in his 60s and works as a chauffeur. He is the only one who thinks the family's plan to make Ruth a prostitute is crazy. Sam is depicted as an outsider, and Max is routinely mean to him.

    Setting of The Homecoming

    The Homecoming is set in a working-class flat in North London in the 1960s. The play's setting is important for two main reasons: first, it offers a glimpse into the intersection between gender and class issues, and second, it differs completely from Teddy and Ruth's life in the United States, offering Ruth sexual liberation and freedom.

    The Homecoming, Black and white London flats, StudySmarter

    Fig. 5: The play is set in a working-class flat in London.

    The language used in the play, especially the dialogue surrounding women, is often degrading, offensive, and distasteful. The language used in the play reflects the patriarchal, rough-and-tumble setting of working-class London. For example, when reflecting on his late wife, Max says,

    Mind you, she wasn't such a bad woman. Even though it made me sick just to look at her rotten stinking face, she wasn't such a bad bitch. I gave her the best bleeding years of my life." (Act One)

    The men in Teddy's family speak to and about women with blatant disrespect. They are used to a cruel life where they can barely make enough to get by. The men have never been taught how to treat a woman, especially a middle-class woman like Ruth.

    Ruth, however, doesn't mind the setting at all. In fact, in working-class London, away from her husband's dull life in academia, Ruth finally experiences some liberation and freedom. In London, she doesn't have to be a mother and wife like she was in the United States. She feels desirable again, profiting off her beauty and sexuality as she did when she was a model. For Ruth, working-class London offers liberation from a life she always felt constricted by.

    The Homecoming Analysis

    While the play depicts a physical homecoming for Teddy, the more significant homecoming is Ruth's figurative one. For Teddy, returning to London simply means reuniting with his family and introducing them to his wife. He doesn't seek out any special connections, and the trip is largely more physical than emotional. In fact, after six years away, the most emotional connection occurs not between Teddy and his estranged immediate family but between Teddy and his uncle Sam.

    Can you think of any other examples of homecoming? Do you think the title is effective for the meaning of the play?

    For Ruth, though, the trip to London is a much more meaningful homecoming. Instead of returning to any specific people or place, she finally returns to herself. Ruth spent the last six years of her life being Teddy's wife and the mother of his children. She was forced to give up a job she loved and even her own appreciation for her body when she stopped modeling. Now that she's in London, however, and Teddy's family allows her to escape her life as a wife in the United States, Ruth is finally able to reclaim her body. Being a prostitute allows Ruth the opportunity to reclaim her identity and rebuild who she wants to be. She's coming home to her true self instead of the woman Teddy expects her to be.

    Ruth and Teddy's "homecoming" is an emasculating force for Teddy. While Teddy is in his family's presence, his father and brothers completely disregard his role as Ruth's husband. They ignore Teddy in their conversations, get physically intimate with Ruth in front of him, and even tell Teddy they plan to prostitute his wife. Teddy's emasculation is symbolized by his cigar blowing out when he's smoking with his brothers, just as his role as the traditional patriarch is blown out by Ruth's disregard for her role as a mother and wife.

    When Ruth refuses to return to the United States, Teddy is forced to raise his sons without their mother. The lack of a feminine presence perpetuates a cycle reflecting his father's and brothers' household in London.

    Cigars are traditionally phallic symbols, and Teddy's cigar going out prematurely symbolizes his lack of sexual prowess and power over his wife.

    The Homecoming Themes

    The main themes are the power of femininity and familial competition.

    The Power of Femininity

    By the end of the play, it is clear Ruth has become the most powerful member of Max's household. The men submit to her authority: Joey puts his head in her lap, Max begs her for a kiss, and Lenny agrees to her demands. Ruth has effectively used her sexuality and femininity to work for her. She enchants the men with her good looks and uses her power to get the men exactly where she wants them. The men fall under her feminine wiles in a matter of days because they are so starved for real female connection. Although she is physically weaker than them, they do whatever she asks because they crave her attention and validation.

    The Homecoming, Woman dressed as goddess, StudySmarter

    Fig. 6: Ruth becomes more powerful when she embraces her feminine sexuality.

    Ruth stays behind in London mainly to reclaim the power of her femininity. When she became Teddy's wife and a mother, she lost autonomy over her body. She had to provide for her children and act as an obedient housewife. She finally finds freedom by charming Teddy's brothers to allow her to stay with them and reclaim a power she had previously lost.

    Familial Competition

    Teddy's family also reveals the theme of familial competition. From the beginning, it is evident the men vainly feel the need to compete with one another. They are constantly peacocking, trying to out-perform and overpower one another. The competition between the men becomes toxic as they degrade and physically assault one another to feel more powerful. As a result, the men treat each other more like enemies than they do family. Instead of confiding in one another, they are constantly trying to steal what they perceive the other has. This is especially apparent in Ruth, who the brothers feel no qualms about stealing from Teddy. They view their physical relationship with her as more of a game than anything serious and meaningful.

    The Homecoming - Key takeaways

    • The Homecoming was written by Harold Pinter and produced in 1965.
    • The play centers around Teddy's physical homecoming after six years away and Ruth's figurative homecoming as she reclaims her sexuality after motherhood.
    • The Homecoming is set in a working-class flat in London in the 1960s.
    • The main themes are the power of femininity and familial competition.
    • The main idea of The Homecoming is women can find power and liberation by embracing their sexuality.
    Frequently Asked Questions about The Homecoming

    What is the theme of The Homecoming?

    The main themes are the power of femininity and familial competition. 

    What happens in The Homecoming?

    A man returns home to introduce his wife to his family for the first time. After the men compete with one another for her attention, she stays behind with them to work as a prostitute. 

    Who is the main character in The Homecoming?

    The main characters are Teddy, his wife Ruth, his brothers Lenny and Joey, and their father Max.

    What year was The Homecoming published?

    It was first produced in 1965. 

    What is the main idea of The Homecoming?

    The main idea is women have power and liberation by embracing their sexuality. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who is the patriarch of the family? 

    When do readers see the first cracks in Ruth and Teddy's relationship?

    How does Max first greet Ruth? 

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