How is identity defined and maintained in the play?
It is perhaps curious to talk about identity in a play where the characters do not seem entirely realistic and do not actively seek to define themselves as individuals. However, there is some value in looking at the ways they do, to an extent, construct their identity. Ultimately, identity comes from dominating others. The characters feel a sense of self when they break down others. This happens with Max and Sam, Teddy and Lenny, Lenny and Ruth. Critic Penelope Prentice also sees the characters valuing identity in their jobs: “Pinter’s characters assert identity only one other way—by claiming the right of title conferred by work outside the house. Max boasts of being a butcher, Sam, ‘the best chauffeur in the firm,’ and Teddy enjoys Lenny’s references, however mocking, to his being a professor of philosophy. Both forms of identity rely upon the recognition, and ideally the respect and even admiration, of others.” This is a typically masculine way of defining oneself, and fits with the rest of the characters’ behavior and statements.
What role does Sam play in the work?
For most of the play it seems as if Sam is there merely to be yelled at by Max. However, he does play a more central role as the play goes on, and it is not just that he reveals Jessie slept with MacGregor in the back of his car. Sam is the only voice of a traditional morality; he is the only one who seems at all disconcerted that Ruth will be the whore to Max and the sons. He comments that Teddy is Ruth’s “lawful husband. She’s his lawful wife” (69) and protests Max’s plan by stating “Don’t be silly” and “You’re talking rubbish” (70). The stress of this situation is what causes him to reveal his secret, though he intimated it several times prior. Sam is not dominant, though, and his objections to the plan are quickly drowned out.
Whose Homecoming is it?
On the surface it seems like the title refers to Teddy’s return to his London home and his family. He is the only son to have left the family; he took a job in a place far away, married and had children without telling anyone, and devoted himself to his studies and writings. Now he has returned and is looking for his father’s blessing. Yet, while the play could be about Teddy’s homecoming, it may also be Ruth’s. Certainly this would be more figurative, but the “homecoming” is Ruth’s freeing herself from her indifferent husband and assuming a position of power. It is her freedom and her dominance; it is her sexual awakening. Ruth takes over the position previously held by Jessie, and comes home in her own way.
Is there a system of morality present in the play?
Interestingly, morality seems to have no role in this play. Sam half-heartedly musters opposition to the plan for Ruth to stay, but he is steamrolled verbally and then collapses to the floor and says nothing. Max, Lenny, and Joey have no moral qualms about seducing their son/brother’s wife and asking her to stay on as a prostitute for them. Teddy and Ruth are not offended or surprised by this request. Critic Michael Hinden states that these questions definitely don’t enter the play and “crucial decisions are left open to experiment in a contained and self-reflexive framework. Within the confines of this framework, elements may interact in predictable or unpredictable ways, but the system itself appears to be isolated from the outside world.” It is no accident that the characters and the situation thus feel alien to the audience; it is not Pinter’s goal to make them realistic.
What happens to the male characters when Ruth interacts with them?
For being such a quiet and serene woman, Ruth has a powerful effect on the men of the family (all except for Teddy, whose utilitarian philosophy precludes him from fully engaging with her). Lenny is the first to experience her power when she turns the tables on him in their first conversation. She also holds her own in the negotiation about her future role in the family, procuring everything she wants. For Joey, Ruth is a powerful sexual force, and even though we don’t know exactly what happened in the bedroom, she seemed to come out of it with what she wanted, though Joey seems flummoxed by two hours of “love play” that didn’t result in “going the whole hog.” He is, it is clear, dominated by her sexuality. Max also loses his edge when his plan for Ruth to stay becomes fully dictated by her terms. His stress about this reversal of power leads him into an almost infantile regression at the end of the play; he crawls on his knees, sobs, and begs her to kiss him. Overall, the men assert their desire to dominate Ruth throughout the play, but by the end the exact opposite appears to have happened.