The Family Reunion
T.S. Elliott’s “The Family Reunion” is a play about the return to home, and the looking back at ghosts of the past. The play starts with Harry returning to his boyhood home for his mother’s birthday. The plot centers around Harry’s return, the mystery surrounding his wife’s death, and his family’s desire to have Harry take over the role as head of the household. It’s an anticipated return, one that they all have been waiting for. There are concurrent plots threading through the work, such as the mystery involving his own father’s death and disappearance, Harry’s schizophrenia and Mary’s return to the family as well as her inability to leave.
In Scene II of “The Family Reunion”, Mary and Harry meet in the drawing room, waiting for the family dinner (reunion) to begin. Mary ; Harry are second cousins, both growing up in Wishwood. Harry has returned after an absence of eight years, and mysterious death of his wife at sea. There’s a recurring thread of “waiting” that runs through the play: waiting for Harry’s return, waiting for dinner to begin, waiting for Harry’s brothers to appear, waiting for the other guests. In waiting for Harry’s return to Wishwood, everything in the house has been kept the way it was when he left. “I had only just noticed that this room is quite unchanged: The same hangings…the same pictures…even the table, the chairs, the sofa…all in the same positions. I was looking to see if anything was changed, but if it is so, I can’t find it.” The unchanged room symbolizes the Harry of his youth, and the person that Harry is hoping to find when he returns. It also symbolizes his family’s inability to accept the fact that Harry has moved on. Their longing to keep life the same. In this scene Mary and Agatha have been waiting for Harry to appear for dinner. Agatha exits and Mary alone says, “Waiting, waiting, always waiting, I think this house means to keep us waiting.”
Harry, returning from Wishwood after eight years discusses his longing to return back to his childhood home. (The home theme this semester.) His return to Wishwood is actually his need to make peace with his past, his loss of his father and the confines of his childhood. By returning to Wishwood he also is looking to escape his recent past, and his inability to live in the present. “But I thought I might escape from one life to another, and it may be all one life, with no escape.” He speaks about returning home for the school holidays as a young man and escaping the family gatherings to go down to the river, their only place of freedom. “I made my escape as soon as I could, and slipped down to the river to find the old hiding place.”
T.S.Elliott has a poetic and descriptive voice. He uses the metaphors of nature and the senses to describe Harry & Mary’s constricted and contrived upbringing at Wishwood. They describe the hollow tree in the wilderness as their place of escape. “It’s absurd that one’s only memory of freedom should be a hollow tree in a wood by the river.” In a speech between Mary and Harry, he describes his lost hope “Where the dead stone is seen to batrachian, the aphyllous branch of ophidian.” Mary tells Harry that “You bring your own landscape, no more real than the other. And in a way you contradict yourself.” “You deceive yourself like the man who believes that he is blind while he still sees the sunlight.” Harry rebukes her by saying “You have staid in England, yet you seem like someone who comes from a very long distance, or the distant waterfall in the forest, inaccessible, half-heard. And I hear your voice as in silence between two storms, one hears the moderate usual noises in the grass and leaves, of life persisting, which ordinary pass unnoticed. Perhaps you are right, though I do not know how you should know it. Is the cold spring is the spring not an evil time, that excites us with lyric
The Family Reunion