The Homecoming summary and themes

The Homecoming summary and theme

Aged patriarch Max bickers with his second son, Lenny, in the living room of a North London house. The pair trade insults as Lenny tries to pick a winner from an upcoming horse race. Max’s brother, Sam, returns home from his job as a chauffeur and finds himself on the receiving end of Max’s ire too.

Max’s youngest son, Joey, joins the quarreling trio. Joey has just come home from training at the boxing gym. He hopes to become a professional fighter one day. Max complains about the burden these other three men place on him and then reminisces about the kindness of his own father.

That night, while this warring family sleeps, Max’s oldest son, Teddy, slips into the house with his wife, Ruth. The family has never met Ruth. She and Max married six years previously, when Teddy emigrated to America to pursue an academic career. They are on a surprise visit home after vacationing in Venice.

While Ruth goes outside to get some air, Teddy reunites with Lenny, roused from sleep by a mysterious noise. The pair discuss the nature of this noise before Teddy ascends to his old bedroom to sleep. Ruth comes inside and in turn chats with Lenny. Their talk becomes flirtatious, with Lenny asking to hold Ruth’s hand. Ruth takes the lead, and this confounds Lenny. He ends up shouting up the stairs after her as she heads off to bed too.

The next morning, the family is awake (and back to bickering) when Teddy and Ruth make their surprise entrance. Max is astounded and accuses Teddy of bringing a “slut” into the house. Teddy explains that Ruth is his wife, which fails to mollify Max. Max orders Joey to throw out Teddy and Ruth. When Joey hesitates, Max turns violent, walloping both Joey and Sam with his walking stick. This outburst seems to calm Max, and he reconciles with Teddy and Ruth.

After lunch, the men smoke cigars and Max fondly remembers his dead wife, Jessie. His mood quickly changes as Sam readies himself for work, and Max again complains about his difficulty supporting and steering the family, especially in Jessie’s absence. Max and Lenny grill Teddy and Ruth about their family in America (they have three sons of their own), as well as Teddy’s work.

Everyone leaves, granting Teddy and Ruth a brief moment alone. Teddy wants to cut short the visit and get home to the children as soon as possible. Ruth is more ambivalent and seems to be enjoying herself. Still, Teddy rushes upstairs to pack their suitcases.

When he comes back, he finds that Lenny has returned and is chatting intimately with Ruth. As Teddy stands there with coats and cases, ready to leave, Ruth and Lenny begin to dance and soon start kissing. At that moment, Max and Joey return home. Joey is wide-eyed and cuts in to sample Ruth’s affection too.

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The family begins to drink. Teddy struggles to leave. He becomes flustered and defends his life and career in America, which he claims make him different from the rest of his family and the way they live. However, he can only rage impotently as his family continues to seduce his wife.

By evening, Teddy seems to have calmed down and resigned himself to what is happening. Joey emerges, having spent two hours upstairs with Ruth. The men discuss Joey’s sexual prowess and Ruth’s proclivities—namely, that she might be a flirt who held out on Joey.

Max hits upon the idea of asking Ruth to stay, filling the void left in the household by Jessie’s death. To make this work, Ruth would have to contribute financially, not just by cooking and cleaning (as the men have planned for her). Lenny, it turns out, is a pimp. The men agree to put Ruth to work selling sexual services.

Both Ruth and Teddy accept this plan. The shock of it all prompts Sam to keel over. Ruth is enthusiastic about the arrangement and negotiates better conditions for herself. Teddy leaves. A shell-shocked Max begs Ruth for affection, but she, Lenny, and Joey stand over him and the fallen Sam, seemingly indifferent to their elders and empowered by their new “family.”


Max is in his seventies, a widower, and the patriarch of The Homecoming’s family. He lives with his brother and two of his sons in the North London house he once shared with his deceased wife, Jessie. Max walks with a stick, which he is not afraid to wield in violent attacks on his brother, Sam, as he attempts to impose his rule on a family more in competition with each other than they are loving.

Max himself is caught between these roles. Sometimes he bullies his family members or hurls abuse at them (including misogynistic epithets for Jessie and Ruth). At other times he reveals a longing for his family’s love and approval—especially that of Teddy, his highly educated son visiting from America. He is caught between embracing the cynicism of his society (as depicted by Pinter) and a more caring family role. Ultimately, he finds himself hoisted by his own petard as his sons Lenny and Joey turn against him.

In the original production of The Homecoming by the Royal Shakespeare Company at London’s Aldwych Theatre in June 1965, Max was played by Paul Rogers.


Lenny is the middle child of Max’s three sons and in his early thirties. He often treats his father with disdain, as when he insults his father’s cooking and scoffs at his racing tips in Act I, Scene 1. Lenny is cruel to others too, boasting to Ruth about his violent treatment of women, including a sex worker and an old woman who asked for his help moving a mangle.

Perhaps partially explaining this violence towards women, Lenny reveals in the second act that he is a pimp with several women working for him in Soho: “I’ve got a number of flats all around [Greek Street]” he says (72), as the family plots the same fate for Ruth. Lenny’s exploitative nature is rewarded when Ruth accepts the plan devised for her, and with Joey’s help, Lenny usurps Max as the family’s leader. This says something about Pinter’s perception of 1960s Britain and the kind of people prospering in it: Lenny is an entirely cynical new breed.


Teddy is the family’s prodigal son. The oldest of Max’s three sons (and in his mid-thirties), he left England for the US six years previously with his new wife, Ruth, in tow. Although it is not specified where in the US he now lives, he has met with academic success there, finishing a doctorate and publishing numerous critical articles.

Teddy has returned to London with Ruth for a surprise visit to his family, having just visited Venice on vacation. What he finds in the North London home could not be further from the genteel life he leads in America. In the absence of his dead mother, Jessie, the family has become a node of masculine impulses, many of them toxic. His introduction of Ruth to this milieu proves the undoing of his own family. Teddy surrenders Ruth to his father, uncle, and brothers, ultimately leaving his own three sons in America bereft of a mother. The Homecoming ends with his exit and Ruth staying in London, suggesting that Teddy’s three sons may end up mirroring Teddy, Lenny, and Joey as they grow up.

Teddy’s story is essentially one of social mobility, represented not only by his move to a country mythologized as a land of opportunity but also by his intellectual profession. His return to his childhood home risks sucking him back into a realm he thought he had escaped, and he succumbs to its depravity in trading away his wife to make good his escape for a second time.


Ruth is Teddy’s wife and in her early thirties. She married Teddy somewhat secretly before he left for the US, but it is unclear if she herself is British or American. Nonetheless, Ruth has built an outwardly happy life in America, where she has birthed and raised the couple’s three children. She even helps Teddy with tasks related to his job, like organizing his lecture notes. As Teddy says of her, “She’s a great help to me over there. She’s a wonderful wife and mother. She’s a very popular woman” (50).

However, something is gnawing at Ruth. From the moment she and Teddy arrive at the house, she seems to be out of sync with her husband: He wants her to go to bed, but she wants to stroll, and so on. She seems no longer bound to Teddy in the way a partner might be, following her own instincts throughout. This leads to some shocking moments—for example, her casual reaction to Lenny’s violent anecdotes, none of which deter her from flirting with him and Joey or ultimately from abandoning her own family to fill the void in the London household.

This portrayal might not seem wholly realistic, but Pinter uses Ruth to explore ideas about agency. Ruth surprises the men throughout the play by finding agency when they expect her to submit to male desires. In Act I, she turns the tables on Lenny, riling him when she suggests he lie on his back while she pours water in his mouth—a position with sexual, but more specifically passive and feminized, connotations. In the second act, she stuns Max by embracing her planned exploitation. To what extent these ideas might read as feminist is debatable, but they reflect the evolving sexual mores of the 1960s and illustrate one of the societal factors that might be contributing to the crisis of masculinity The Homecoming’s men face.


Joey is the youngest of the three brothers (i.e., Max’s sons), a demolition worker and would-be boxer in his mid-twenties. He is a taciturn character compared to Lenny and seems less intelligent than his brothers and father. However, this lends to the pathos of his relationship with Ruth over the course of the play.

Joey, as the youngest, seems to be the son most affected by Jessie’s absence. Rather than receiving what Max, at least, describes as Jessie’s moral instruction, Joey has been brought up and influenced by Lenny and (especially) Max. They take pride in having made a brute of him, as they show when they recount a tale of his cavorting with a sex worker and forcing unprotected sex on her. This kind of performance belies what Joey seems to most need: a mother rather than a lover.

He spends two hours alone with Ruth, in what the other men assume will be an opportunity for sex with her. When he says he didn’t have sex with her, the others immediately jump to the conclusion that Ruth is at fault—that she is a “tease.” What goes unspoken is that Joey might not have needed sex as much as simple affection or advice or nurturing. Joey does not correct the others, perhaps ashamed that he has not lived up to his macho image or his family’s expectations of how he should treat or interact with women. However, he does defend Ruth and seems satisfied that she will stay.


Sam, 63, is Max’s long-suffering brother and the uncle of Lenny, Joey, and Teddy. Max treats Sam extremely poorly, goading him over everything from how well he does his job to how skilled he is in comparison to their old friend MacGregor to how he cleans the kitchen to and even his sexuality. At one point, Max turns this abuse physical and thumps Sam in the guts with his walking stick.

Despite this abuse, Sam is the most “normal”-seeming of the play’s characters. Were this a comedy (and some critics would argue that it is, albeit a pitch-black one), Sam would be the straight man—the “normal” character against whom jokes are thrown into contrast. Uniquely in The Homecoming, Sam’s behavior feels plausible or recognizably motivated. He does his best to earn a living, is proud of a job well done, does his bit for the upkeep of the home, and tries to connect emotionally with Teddy, the cherished nephew he hasn’t seen in so long. For example, he tells Teddy, “You know, you were always my favourite, of the lads. Always” (62). He also thanks Teddy for writing to him from America and invites him to stay for a few weeks. Unlike the more calculating Max or Lenny, Sam’s motivation for wanting Teddy to stay is not exploitative. He simply wants to “…have a few laughs” with his nephew (63).



Pinter was writing at a pivotal moment in the 20th century, in the middle of a decade that would become synonymous with social upheaval. Although The Homecoming does not deal explicitly with stereotypical tropes of swinging London, a sense of societal and generational change pervades the play, wreaking havoc on the characters and their family.

Pinter’s London is a place still pockmarked by bomb sites—as Joey says, “We took them [the police] to a bombed site” (67)—but one in which the privations of World War II are fading away. Rationing, for example, ended in the United Kingdom in 1954 after 14 long years. While that kind of progress was cause for celebration, it also marked the return to a society riven by class—by haves and have-nots. The experience of World War II, including the indiscriminate bombing of the Blitz, had created a sense of solidarity in the UK that led to advances like the National Health Service (founded in 1948). The development of a welfare state acknowledged the equal suffering of all during the war and attempted to distribute resources to everyone fairly.

The Homecoming, however, anticipates how efforts towards collective justice would shift towards a hunger for personal freedom in the late 1960s. Baby Boomers would go through their hippie phase only to become the individualistic social-climbers of the 1980s. The solidarity of the postwar years would be forgotten or at least undermined by a segment of the population more interested in itself as the collective suffering of the war faded from view.

Pinter’s family in The Homecoming is a microcosm of this society. The bonds between its members are fraying as its leader, Max, swings between pining for a more caring past and embracing a new individualistic breeze he seems ill-placed to capitalize on. His sons, Lenny and Joey, are better adapted to the forces shaping this world, the former a brutal pimp, the latter a pugilist. Max’s fate in the play—to be subjugated by his sons (and Ruth)—is a warning to stand up for the values that bind a family or community together rather than to throw in one’s lot with the cynics or the selfish.


Hand-in-hand with the social tumult that The Homecoming depicts is the reassertion of the British class system. Class in Britain is not defined simply by how much you earn; rather there is a perceived inherent quality that goes with it, making it difficult to advance in society even if one’s material conditions improve. It is no wonder, then, that Teddy feels so fortunate to have made a life in America, a land where social mobility (for white Americans at least) has been a hallmark of society, mythologized in the notion of the “American Dream.”

Opportunities in Pinter’s Britain are more limited. Although the Harold Wilson government of the time was a high watermark for social progress, with increased funding for the welfare state and the liberalization of laws on everything from abortion to gay sex to the death penalty, Pinter senses a reactionary backlash to come—or, more precisely, the immovability of some of Britain’s underlying structures. Sam’s service in the war and lifetime of work have only elevated him to the rung of chauffeur. Lenny’s business is illegal and exploitative. Joey’s best bet for advancement seems to lie in sacrificing his body for the entertainment of others rather than in his job, which barely gets a mention.

Little wonder that Teddy is so reluctant to stay at the house when he finally arrives. The longer he stays, the hollower his upward mobility feels. His family cannot understand his work, which in any case seems specialized to the point of irrelevance: He responds to Lenny’s philosophical and religious questions with answer-dodging remarks and protestations that such things aren’t in his “province.” Meanwhile, he risks being dragged back into their situation, which seems to be corrupting their behavior or at least making betterment impossible. “I won’t be lost in it” (62), Teddy says. He leaves Ruth to his family in order to make good his escape and return to a supposed land of opportunity.

The family he leaves will have to contend with the strictures of the British class system as best they can. It seems Ruth will provide comfort in her role as the family’s new matriarch (and breadwinner). However, as money is not by itself enough to ensure social mobility in Britain, Ruth’s sex work (and Lenny and Joey’s part in it) seems destined only to trap the family even deeper in its predicament.


The men in The Homecoming feel compelled to compare themselves with other men. That might mean Sam’s moneyed American passenger, the fabled tough guy MacGregor, or even men who served with more distinction in World War II. The shifting of postwar society, as well as affecting the characters socioeconomically, is also challenging their beliefs about gender and what constitutes a man.

This is one reason why Lenny, for example, finds himself so confused about his treatment of women. The stories he tells Ruth in a bid to seduce her aim to paint him as gentle and kind, but both end in violence towards women—he spares a sex worker death only to beat and kick her, and he agrees to help an old woman but hits her when her mangle proves too heavy to move. Lenny’s confusion represents some ostensible shift towards a new, more compassionate masculinity, but Lenny, who still brutalizes the women in his life (not least, one suspects, his Soho sex workers), exposes how superficial that shift can be.

This crisis of masculinity extends to the men’s treatment of each other, which often devolves into insults questioning each other’s masculinity or straightness. As early as Act I, Scene 1, Max calls Lenny “…you bitch” (11). Later, Max questions Sam’s sexuality when he says, “Anyone could have you at the same time. You’d bend over for half a dollar on Blackfriars Bridge” (48). In the same tirade, Max questions Sam’s war record—“This man didn’t even fight in the bloody war!” (48)—explicitly linking Sam’s record in the war to his identity as a man. 


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