Literature Study GuidesHomecomingAct 1 Section 1 Summary

Homecoming | Study Guide

Cynthia Voigt

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Course Hero. "Homecoming Study Guide." Course Hero. 5 Apr. 2019. Web. 19 Apr. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Homecoming/>.

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Course Hero. (2019, April 5). Homecoming Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 19, 2019, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Homecoming/

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Course Hero. "Homecoming Study Guide." April 5, 2019. Accessed April 19, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Homecoming/.

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Course Hero, "Homecoming Study Guide," April 5, 2019, accessed April 19, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Homecoming/.

Homecoming | Act 1, Section 1 | Summary

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The Homecoming has two acts. This study guide further breaks down each act based on the events of the plot.

Summary

The play is set in the living room of an old house in North London in the middle of the 20th century. In the room are a window, a mirror, a sofa, armchairs, and some other furniture. A hallway and staircase leading to the upper level of the house are visible through an old doorway. The front door of the house, with a coatrack nearby, is also in the room.

On a summer evening, Lenny, a man in his early 30s, is dressed in a suit and sits on the sofa making marks on a newspaper. His 70-year-old father, Max, wearing a cardigan and cap, enters and asks Lenny where the scissors are, because he wants to cut something out of last Sunday's paper. Lenny is dismissive and finally tells his father, "Why don't you shut up, you daft prat?" Max warns him not to talk to him like that, sits in an armchair, and then demands a cigarette. When Lenny doesn't produce one, Max pulls a crumpled one out of his pocket, complaining he's getting old. Max boasts he and his buddy MacGregor used to be known as brawlers in the West End of London, adding that MacGregor was "very fond of" Lenny's mother. Max then admits she "wasn't such a bad bitch" even if she had a "rotten stinking face."

Lenny tells Max to shut up, and the two trade insults. A moment later Lenny asks Max for his opinion about a horse, which Max says doesn't stand a chance of winning. Lenny disagrees, and Max becomes outraged because his opinion on horses isn't respected—he'd practically grown up on the track and has an instinct for horses, he insists.

Changing the subject, Lenny begins to insult Max's cooking and says he's going out to get himself a real dinner. Max angrily threatens Lenny with his walking stick, and Lenny mocks him, saying, "Don't use your stick on me, Daddy. No, please. It wasn't my fault." The two sit in silence until Sam, Max's younger brother, enters. Wearing his chauffeur's uniform, he complains to Lenny about how exhausting his job can be. Max, feeling left out of the conversation, says, "I'm here, too, you know." Sam includes him in the conversation by telling them about an American passenger who gave him some cigars. Sam boasts that clients prefer him to other drivers because he lets them have their privacy and doesn't try to engage them in conversation.

After Lenny exits, Max asks Sam why he never got married. When Sam says there's still time for him to get married, Max teases him that he probably has sex with women in the back seat of his car. Sam denies it, saying he doesn't do that "like other people" do. Max says when Sam does meet a woman he wants to marry, he should bring her home see they can all meet her. Sam then reminisces about how he used to enjoy driving Jessie around, because she was charming and a "nice companion."

Max's youngest son, Joey, a man in his mid-20s, enters after having worked out at the gym. He says he's hungry, a sentiment with which Sam agrees, and Max tells them both to get a mother. Lenny returns and joins in the complaints against his father's cooking, mockingly calling him "Dad." Lenny remarks that Max used to "tuck him up" in bed each night. "He used to like tucking up his sons," he says. Max says, "I'll give you a proper tuck up one of these nights."

Joey talks about his boxing training, and Max says Joey's only trouble as a boxer is that he doesn't know how to attack and doesn't know how to defend himself. Joey disagrees and goes upstairs. Max tells Sam to go upstairs, too, and leave him alone. Sam wants to be clear that when he took Jessie around in his car, he was doing it for Max—keeping her occupied when Max was busy. After a pause, he notes "Old Mac" (Max's old friend, MacGregor) died a few years ago. After another pause, he calls Old Mac "a loudmouth" and a "bastard" but says he was Max's friend. Max calls Sam a "maggot" and tells him when he gets too old to pay his way, he'll kick him out. Sam reminds him the house belongs to both of them, as it was their parents' house. Max sarcastically says he remembers how his "old man" used to feed him (Max), pick him up, and play with him.

Analysis

The opening scene paints an unpleasant picture of this all-male household, as the characters tear one another down—from mockery to vile insults. Patriarch Max is getting old, as he notes, but he is still an aggressive and dominant presence. He seems to be spoiling for a fight when he enters and finds Lenny relaxing, first complaining he can't find the scissors and then demanding a cigarette. As the other characters enter, Max immediately starts in on them—mocking his brother's job and lack of a wife or girlfriend, mocking Joey's boxing ability, and generally harassing them relentlessly. The conversation centers around petty, meaningless content—the location of scissors, the date on the newspaper, a random client of Sam's, and the like. Yet, Max's unrelenting show of aggression makes every interaction a chance for him to assert his superiority by tearing the others down.

Max's ranting and railing against the rest of the family often takes him into the past. He remembers with some fondness his friend MacGregor and the status the two of them used to have in town: "We were two of the worst hated man in the West End of London," he boasts, adding, "I still got the scars." He also brags about his knowledge of horse racing, explaining how he'd spend a great deal of time at the track when he was young, "one of the best known faces down at the paddock." Thus, facing the physical decline of aging, Max turns to other ways of staying at the top of the pecking order. He brags about his past to show how the others' lives don't measure up to his, while he also mocks whatever they feel they have accomplished. When Sam expresses his pride about being a sought-after driver, Max questions him mockingly about his job and describes how well MacGregor used to drive. When Joey talks about his boxing, Max suggests he isn't good at attacking or defending—his way of saying Joey is bad at all parts of the sport.

The way the other three men react to Max's aggression is worth noting as well. Joey seems to try to avoid conflict with his father. After Max tells him the "only thing" he needs to do to go "straight to the top" is to learn to attack and defend, Joey says mildly, "I've got a pretty good idea ... of how to do that." Then he goes upstairs. Lenny, more sophisticated and articulate, has a two-pronged approach. He ignores Max's petty digs, refusing to get drawn into a power struggle about a newspaper, scissors, or a cigarette. By ignoring Max, he asserts his own dominance—as if Max isn't worth noticing. When this attitude angers Max, Lenny uses the opportunity to mock him. As Max grips his stick and calls him a bitch, Lenny pretends to be a child begging his father not to spank him. This interchange emphasizes that Lenny is not a child and that Max no longer holds as much authority over his children as he once did.

Sam's reactions are perhaps the most unusual. He seems willing to engage with Max in these petty fights, explaining why he is such a good driver when Max questions him only to continue the insults. Yet, he also brings up Jessie and the pleasant evenings he had driving her around while Max was working long hours. These statements are met mostly with silence from Max, as if Sam were implying something in an effort to provoke Max, who refuses to take the bait. One interpretation of these interactions is that Sam was friendlier than was appropriate with Jessie or that Jessie preferred him to her own husband. Another interpretation is that Sam brings up Jessie because he is alluding to her affair with MacGregor—revealed at the end of the play—about which Max may or may not know. In fact, Sam does bring up MacGregor in the course of one of these interactions, and in another part of the dialogue he remarks he doesn't have sex in the back of his cars "like other people" do. Sam's knowledge of Jessie's infidelity is a source of power he exerts over Max, and Sam seems eager to deploy his knowledge as a weapon in the ongoing power struggle with his brother.

Part of Harold Pinter's style is to give his characters lines that imply more meaning than the audience can quite grasp. Sometimes characters' reactions seem overly intense, leaving the audience wondering why a seemingly innocuous statement has drawn such a strong reaction. Sometimes characters take meaning from statements that seem to come from nowhere or seem to be nonsensical, again causing the audience to question what unstated meaning the dialogue contains. Yet, the audience is never given the context needed to interpret the lines with certainty. The effect is something like a reverse dramatic irony—characters all know much more than the audience knows. This relationship can be unsettling, but it is part of what makes Pinter's plays unique and thought-provoking in the effects they create for the audience.

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