Part One, Chapters 7–8
After waking the next morning and deciding that they must return to Route 1, a less pleasant but more efficient road than the roads near the shore, Dicey finds herself wondering at a poem on a gravestone, which describes the grave as home. After reflecting on her own life and the restlessness both born in her as a result of and represented by the ocean, Dicey concludes that perhaps the grave is our only true place of rest. The days begin to blur together as the children travel along Route 1 under an overcast sky: sleeping in parks, carwashes, and even huddled up against the backs of buildings. The children become withdrawn, fearful, and obedient. By the time they reach New Haven, they are completely out of money, but Dicey, focused as always on the most immediate goal, herds them forward, determined to cross the city before nightfall.
As they pass through run down and dirty streets, rain begins to fall. By the time they reach Yale's campus, night has fallen, and Dicey finds a bush in a park under which the children can sleep. She keeps watch on a nearby bench, and suddenly, despite all her attempts to contain herself, she finds herself crying. At this point, however, a young man sits on the bench next to her, introducing himself as Windy and explaining that he is a Yale student and has been lost and on his own before, like Dicey. Before long, his gentleness and friendliness prompts Dicey to confide their immediate situation to him. Windy leads the children to a nearby diner, where he treats them to hamburgers and fries, and after which he takes them back to his dorm room to sleep. The younger children fall asleep immediately, but Dicey stays up talking to Windy and his roommate Stewart, and divulges their entire story to the two friendly students.
In the morning, Dicey wakes first and luxuriates in a hot shower. While the younger children shower, Stew offers to drive the children to Bridgeport after his eleven o'clock class. Dicey's elation is shattered, however, when Stewart finds twenty dollars missing from his wallet. She turns immediately and vehemently on Sammy, who merely shakes his head, and then she whirls to face the reddening James, unleashing bitter anger and reprisal upon him. James admits he has taken the money and returns it without a struggle, but insists that his immoral act does not really matter, as everything in the universe is relative and all humans are destined, after a short time, for the grave. Stew talks to James gravely, arguing that James has only hurt himself with his theft, and that he owes it to himself to be a good man. Dicey, chagrined, turns to leave, prepared to walk to Bridgeport, but Windy insists that Stew will still take them in his car.
After breakfast, Stew plays "Greensleeves" on his Dobro, and Maybeth sings along. He continues to play for the spellbound children, teaching them a short song about singing, death, and friendship. After his class, Stew drives the children to Bridgeport, insisting, however, on going beyond Bridgeport to Fairfield to have lunch and to stop at the beach. Dicey and Stew talk while they are on the beach, and Dicey, after thanking him, admits to Stew that she does not know what they will do if Aunt Cilla does not want them around. After an hour, they drive back to Bridgeport, and Stew leaves them on the steps of Aunt Cilla's house.
The Tillerman's stay in Rockland State Park and their stay in New Haven mirror each other, but in the end have very different outcomes. Both are places of rest and music—the children stay for three days in the park, resting from their trek and enjoying Louis and Edie's music and the sea, and Sammy's thievery provides them with food. Similarly, the generous Yale students supply food, rest, and music to the children, and this time James responds by stealing money. Lou and Edie not only encourage but model thievery, rationalizing theft by asserting that the victim has no real need for the stolen money or food. Stew and Windy, on the other hand, do not really need the money James attempted to steal, but insist that stealing constitutes an affront to one's personal integrity, which is ultimately more valuable than anything a person could steal. Stew and Windy offer the children not only help in their journey, but an example of generosity, fairness, and integrity.
Homecoming contains elements of both a young adult problem novel and an adventure/accomplishment romance. As a problem novel, Homecoming represents a shift in young adult literature that occurred in the middle of the 20th century. Prior to this time, books for young people were fantastical adventures, domestic novels, and mysteries. In the 1960s, however, publishers and writers alike turned to more realistic and less romanticized visions of the world. The young adult problem novel often features poor or lower class protagonists, a realistic and often hostile setting, colloquial language, and an attempt to depict the struggles of young adults making the transition to adulthood. The problems represented in the novels tend to deal with family relationships, friends, body image, and sexuality. Homecoming focuses almost exclusively on family relationships: just as Dicey is entering adolescence, she finds herself solely responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of her siblings, as well as for their ability to stay together, on top of which she must come to terms with the implications of her mother's abandonment of them.
At the same time, however, Homecoming embodies characteristics of an adventure/accomplishment romance, in which the protagonist is separated from family or loved ones in the form of some sort of quest. The protagonist faces a test or series of tests of courage, and finally is reunited with friends and family in a slightly different role, after being transformed by the trials he or she endured. Dicey's journey clearly represents a drastic separation from her childhood family, as first her father and then her mother abandoned her, and she faces an almost constant series of trials along the way—she must buy food, earn money, avoid the police, decide whom to trust and whom to avoid, and assess the health and mental well-being of her siblings. The novel's title itself suggests the resolution and reunion that will occur at when Dicey reaches the end of her journey, but the realism that characterizes the plot suggests that part of Dicey's homecoming will have to do with her ability to revise her understanding of both family and home.
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