Homecoming | Study Guide

Cynthia Voigt

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Homecoming | Symbols

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Max's Chair

In the opening scene, Max enters the room, making demands of Lenny before sitting in an armchair. Later, when Teddy and Ruth arrive, Teddy points out one particular armchair as his father's designated chair. Like many families of the era, the patriarch has a special armchair and others avoid sitting in it, even when the patriarch is not present. The chair symbolizes Max's place as head of the family.

There are various ways this symbol can be used for effect in the play, depending on directorial choices. The stage directions do not always specify which chair Rush sits in; the play can be staged so that she sits defiantly in Max's chair after Teddy points it out, takes over Max's chair by the end of the play, or establishes her own chair from among the others onstage by the final scene.

House Key

When Teddy and Ruth arrive at Teddy's childhood home, they find that his old key still works and his old bedroom is just as he left it. The key symbolizes belonging—to the family, to the household. Teddy's belonging is reiterated throughout the play up until he chooses definitively to leave. Just as Teddy's key still works, he still belongs and has a place in the family.

Later that first night, Ruth says she wants to go outside and asks for the key to the house so she can let herself back in. Teddy is reluctant to give her the key. She insists, and he finally relinquishes the key to her. This is often interpreted as a symbolic representation of her desire for freedom and his reluctance to relinquish control. That is a valid interpretation. However, if the key represents belonging, Ruth's request for the key and Teddy's reluctance to give it to her can represent his reluctance to allow her a place in his London family. That he gives her the key and she takes it signals that he will become an outsider to the family, while she will begin to belong.

Glass of Water

An important interaction between Ruth and Lenny occurs in Act 1, involving a glass of water. Lenny wants Ruth to have a glass of water, and he gives her one. Then he wants to take it away, but she refuses. Then, surprising him, she invites him to sit on her lap while he drinks her water, and when he does not comply she says she will pour it down his throat. These interactions are sexually suggestive and involve a current of unspoken aggression and dominance.

Water is often seen as a symbol of feminine power. The primordial sea, the moon-governed tides, and the waters of birth are all associated with women and motherhood. When Ruth uses water to make aggressive advances toward Lenny, she asserts her feminine power over him. He is taken aback because he is used to being dominant over women, not subject to them.

Sam's Car

Sam is a chauffeur, and when Jessie and Max were younger, Sam would often drive Max's wife Jessie around, entertaining her when Max was working. On at least one of those drives, Jessie had sex with MacGregor, Max's best friend. Sam has kept this secret for many years, but when Max is being especially insulting, Sam often mentions how he used to drive her around and how charming she was on those evenings. For Sam, the car has come to symbolize the secret of Jessie's infidelity.

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