The Homecoming

Symbolism and irony of title

In addition to the play being about Teddy's homecoming on a literal level, critics have suggested that, on a metaphoric level, in a variety of ways, the homecoming is Ruth's; that is, that, symbolically, Ruth comes "home" to "herself": she rediscovers her previous identity prior to her marriage to Teddy.[3] Ironically, as she "comes home" to this woman-less (motherless, wifeless, sister-in-lawless) family (Max, Lenny, Joey, and Sam), she renders her own family with Teddy similarly without (mother, wife, woman).[5]

By the end of the play, Ruth appears to have assumed the multiple roles of Jessie, the London family's missing wife and mother, the missing woman in their household ("mother/wife/whore" in terms used by critics), while putting the American family of Ruth and Teddy in a parallel position, thus ironically reversing the situation at the beginning of the play.[5] In that sense, the play recalls Edward's reversal of roles with the silent Matchseller in Pinter's 1959 play A Slight Ache, initially broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and similarly ironic plot and character role-reversals resulting from power struggles throughout many of Pinter's other plays.[6]

For many critics the missing "back wall" in the "large room" of the house described by Pinter as "removed" (21) and by Teddy as "knocked [...] down to make an open living area" after Jessie's death (37) symbolises the absent female influence.[7][8][9][10] In October 2007, as quoted by Lahr, Pinter said that he considers The Homecoming his most "muscular" (masculine?) play.[11]

After Teddy comes home and introduces his London family to his wife, Ruth (35–40), Max invites her to remain with them in London; as Teddy puts it to her euphemistically: "Ruth . . . the family have invited you to stay, for a little while longer. As a . . . as a kind of guest" (91). Whereas Teddy ultimately decides to return home to his family in America (91–96), Ruth agrees to "come home" (92) as the family's missing mother figure and possibly also a prostitute whom Lenny can pimp (92–94), filling in the gap created when their mother died: "I've never had a whore under this roof before. Ever since your mother died" (58). Upon first seeing Ruth, Max believes that his eldest son, Teddy, has brought a "filthy scrubber" (like Jessie) into "my house" (57–58). A major irony of the play is that Max's apparently-mistaken first assumption comes to appear accurate as the family (and the audience) get to "know" Ruth better (65–76). The play exposes to Teddy's family that Ruth has been unhappy in her marriage to Teddy. Though Teddy insists that she is "not well" (85) and simply needs to "rest" (71), he may not have recognised the cause of her apparent depression. Nevertheless, ultimately, he appears willing to leave her with his family in London, or at least wants to give the others that impression (perhaps to save face; or perhaps he really does want to leave her there). Teddy's "homecoming" appears to become Ruth's.

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