Literature Study GuidesHomecomingAct 2 Section 1 Summary

Homecoming | Study Guide

Cynthia Voigt

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Homecoming | Act 2, Section 1 | Summary



That afternoon Max, Teddy, Lenny, and Sam are in the living room smoking cigars, when Ruth and Joey bring in a tray of coffee. Ruth distributes the coffee and compliments the lunch Max prepared. Max compliments the coffee and asks if Ruth is a good cook. Teddy says she is. Then Max surveys the room and talks about how Jessie would have liked to be there with her three sons and daughter-in-law. He goes on to praise Jessie's morals, her mind, her "will of iron," and her "heart of gold." He tells of a time he pampered Jessie—having her put her feet up and drink some brandy while he got the boys bathed and ready for bed. He'd been on the verge of making a business deal with a group of butchers. When Ruth asks what happened with the butchers, Max tells her they turned out to be a bunch of criminals. He puts out his cigar and begins harassing Sam about being late for work. Then he begins to complain about how he had to work hard to take care of his bedridden mother and invalid brothers and then a "slutbitch" of a wife and her children. He accuses Sam of being lazy and idle and insults his job: "You call that work?"

Indignant, Sam insists he is a good worker whose clients love him. Max continues the insults, claiming MacGregor was a better driver and Sam didn't even fight in the war. Sam maintains he did. Max turns to Teddy and tells him it's nice to have him back with the family, but he should have let them give him and Ruth a big wedding. Teddy notes Max was busy at the time. Max suggests letting bygones be bygones and gives Teddy and Ruth his blessing. Ruth tells him Teddy wondered if Max would be pleased with her, but Max says she is charming. Ruth says she used to be different, but Max dismisses this comment, saying it is best to live in the present. Teddy says they have a nice life with their three boys, and Max suggests Joey teach his nephews to box. Noting that Ruth is "intelligent and sympathetic," Max then asks if she thinks the children are missing their mother. She doesn't answer immediately, but Teddy does instead: "Of course they are. They love her."

Lenny suddenly begins questioning Teddy about Christian theism: about how a person can revere something they don't know exists and about "being and not-being." Teddy says these areas of philosophy are not his specialty. Lenny says he and his friends often have a few drinks and discuss these questions, giving the example of asking if a table is really a table. Joey and Max jokingly comment on the discussion, but Ruth takes it in a different direction. She moves her leg and says she is simply moving her leg, but because that motion might also move her underwear, the same motion might capture attention and lead to other thoughts. She adds that her lips move as she talks, and perhaps the movement of her lips is more important than the words that come through them.

Ruth sits still in the silence following her speech, and Joey looks at her. Then Teddy talks randomly about his life. Max reminds Joey it is time for his workout, and Joey, Lenny, and Max leave. Teddy then tells Ruth he wants to cut the visit short and go home. She seems reluctant and questions his reasons. He asks her to rest while he packs. When he goes upstairs, Ruth remains in the room and closes her eyes.

Lenny returns and sits next to Ruth. In the course of conversation, Ruth tells him she used to be a model and recounts the events of a modeling job at a house near a lake. Teddy comes back with Ruth's coat. Lenny plays a recording of some slow jazz and asks for a dance before they leave. Teddy objects, but Ruth dances with Lenny as Teddy stands there holding her coat. Max and Joey enter, and as the three men look on, Lenny and Ruth kiss. Joey calls her a tart, then approaches them and takes Ruth's arm. Joey sits with Ruth on the sofa and kisses her, leaning her back and lying on top of her. Lenny sits on the sofa arm and caresses Ruth's hair as Joey continues to hold her.

Seeing the suitcases, Max asks Teddy if they are leaving. Max thinks Teddy didn't tell the family he was married because he was ashamed of Ruth. Max claims to be broad-minded, however, and can see she is a beautiful woman and a mother.

Ruth and Joey, still embracing, fall off the couch onto the floor. Lenny moves to stand above them and nudges Ruth with his foot. She pushes Joey away and stands, as does Joey. Ruth tells Lenny to get her a whiskey. He does. She tells Joey to turn off the music and get her some food. He asks what kind of food she wants. Lenny makes drinks for everyone as Ruth walks around the room.

Ruth asks Teddy if the family has read his critical works. When Max says they haven't, Teddy says his father wouldn't understand them anyway. Teddy claims he can "see," while the others simply move about—he "can operate on things and not in things." He does the same things they do, he adds, but doesn't get lost in them.


The opening of Act 2 is strikingly different from the opening of Act 1. In the beginning of Act 1 the men are at odds over daily minutiae. Max belittles the others' occupations, physical strength, and intelligence while boasting about his superior strength and work ethic. His cooking is insulted in turn. But as Act 2 opens, the men are smoking cigars in what seems a comfortable atmosphere. When Ruth and Joey come in with coffee, it is politely handed around, and a civilized conversation ensues. Max smiles at Ruth, and the two exchange compliments. This interaction prompts Max to reminisce positively about the past and to tell a story depicting himself as an attentive husband and patriarch of a happy family. His story ends with the image of his freshly bathed children, "their hair shining, their faces pink," kneeling at the feet of Max and Jessie—"like Christmas." This idyllic image of family life both foreshadows the end of the play, when Ruth sits and Max and Joey kneel at her feet, and contrasts tragically with it. Unlike the image of the idealized Christmas-card family, the final scene shows a twisted version—but one that seems more accurate. Max was not an attentive husband, nor was Jessie a faithful wife. This is not a story of the family losing its way when the mother died, for its solidity was broken long before.

It is important to Max that the others respect and affirm his version of the past. At any given moment, his version might be the ugly version in which he takes care of a bunch of freeloaders, or it might be the sickly sweet version he describes here. What is important to Max is that his listeners go along with his narrative. When they mock or question his version of events, he reacts negatively. In this he is not unlike Lenny, who in Act 1 told Ruth the prostitute in his story was diseased because he "decided" she was. Both Max and Lenny want to control others by controlling knowledge and meaning. Thus, Ruth's failure to react to Max's story about Jessie by affirming its intended meaning—that he was a good husband and father—infuriates him. Instead of a simple, polite response, she questions a peripheral detail in the story: "What happened to the group of butchers?" Max immediately crushes his cigar and begins insulting his brother. The spell is broken, and disturbing reality returns.

A few moments later, after the beleaguered Sam leaves, Max tries again to mend fences with Teddy and Ruth. The conversation that follows revolves around Teddy's relationship with the rest of the family and includes Max's grievances against his eldest son. Indeed, the conversation almost makes Max a sympathetic character. After all, Teddy did leave and didn't communicate for all those years, didn't tell them of his wife and children, and didn't allow them to do family things, such as throw a big wedding. These complaints seem reasonable, and Teddy's reaction is off-putting. He tells them, rather smugly perhaps, what a nice life he has in America, and he calls his department "highly successful" and the university environment "very stimulating." A little later he is ready to go back home where it is "clean." He calls the swimming pool down the road from his family's home a "filthy urinal." Despite Max's attempt to welcome Teddy back into the family, Teddy clings to his outsider status, wanting to "cleanse" himself of family sordidness, returning to a place where his surroundings are pristine and his family thousands of miles away.

Ruth, on the other hand, continues to insert herself into the family as Teddy distances himself. When Teddy, smug and seemingly above it all, refuses to answer Lenny's philosophical questions—snide as they may be—Ruth jumps in and takes control of the conversation. Her suggestive leg movement gains the men's attention, and she presses her advantage, capturing both Lenny and Joey in her slow seduction. As she performs, she gives subtle hints that her life with Teddy is not ideal—at least not from her perspective. She describes America as a vast expanse of rock and sand with a lot of insects. When Teddy suggests they leave and return early, she seems testy, saying, "Don't you like your family?" and suggesting if she'd been a nurse in the Italian campaign during World War II (perhaps implying instead of being a wife and mother), she would have traveled to Venice long before Teddy took her there. Her comment echoes Lenny's about Venice in Act 1 and establishes another connection between them, which sets the scene for some further surprising developments from Harold Pinter.

Teddy's behavior is strangely—even absurdly—passive as his wife unabashedly kisses and caresses his brothers in front of everyone. Teddy observes but neither objects nor intervenes. This puzzling indifference might be explained by his commitment to maintaining "intellectual equilibrium." He prides himself on being able to avoid getting caught up in things. And so he stands by as Ruth asserts control over his family, first through sensuality and then more aggressively as she instructs them to get her a drink and food. By the time the lights go to black, Ruth is firmly in control of the family, and Teddy is on the sidelines beyond the audience's comprehension of reasonable behavior.

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