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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Throughout Homecoming, characters either struggle against societal roles, or they break conventions and roles, resulting in relief, understanding, personal advantage, or growth. Dicey lives outside of conventional gender roles: she is a fighter so ferocious that none of her peers dare to fight her. At the very opening of the book, she plays into a policeman's assumption that she is a boy, taking advantage of her unconventional appearance and gaining less persistent attention than she would if he thought she were a girl. Eunice, on the other hand, clings to her habits, and the children's presence in her life upsets those habits greatly. Eunice's primary desire had been to become a nun (which would allow her literally to cloak herself in a habit) and subject herself to a set of religious conventions. Her decision to take the children in, however, is no less born of a sense of her duty than her desire to be a nun. The children see Eunice for what she is—a small and judgmental woman with a constricted view of people who do not fit into her value scheme. Eunice is bound and limited by her adherence to others' expectations of her. In a way, Gram is also bound by conventions and habits. She stood by her husband, according to her marriage vow, even when she found him to be cruel and unbending. Her refusal to forgive herself for her failure of her children and her reluctance to let the Tillerman children into her life also suggest that she adheres to her own assumptions about herself and what she is like. Gram experiences perhaps the greatest emotional transformation in the novel when she gives up her notions about her desires and capabilities and allows her love and growing sense of connection to the children to wash away some of her stubbornness.
When the Tillerman children realize that Momma has left them, they are terrified, not only because they have lost Momma, but also because they are homeless. To them, home consists of both a place and an adult caretaker, both of which serve the purpose of keeping the outside adult world at bay and holding them together. As the children embark on their long and disheartening trek, they come to realize that their home exists in their fierce devotion to each other and their unbending determination to survive and protect each other. When the children reach Bridgeport, they find both a place to live and an adult advocate, but, to their disappointment, these do not provide the sense of personal safety and emotional freedom they longed for. For example, Eunice provides for them but expects gratitude and rigid obedience, and she constantly threatens that the children will be taken away from each other and labeled. As they begin their journey to Crisfield, Dicey gives up her hope for a place and an adult caretaker to hold them together, but she begins to realize that the children have the strength and tenacity to hold the Tillermans together. Her travels also teach her how quickly circumstances change and how easily a safe situation turns into a perilous one. More than anything, the children's hard summer teaches them great flexibility in adapting to new situations. Thus, their own ability to take care of themselves and their deep devotion to each other, forged by the long and harrowing summer, have come to replace the physical space and adult caretaker they so desperately missed at the novel's outset.
Just as the children's lack of protection from the outside world causes them to forge deep and lasting bonds between each other, the very act of abandonment that opens the novel results also results in personal freedom. Dicey negotiates a delicate situation when she finds the children alone without anyone to protect them. Her first reaction is similar to how she has reacted to all threats her entire life: she closes herself off, she regards all around her with suspicion and mistrust, and she learns to fight. Indeed, often Dicey's suspicions are well grounded and her tenacity rewarded, as both result in them escaping dangerous situations and in their surviving challenges on their own. For example, Dicey has the children earn money by carrying bags, row across a river with no bridges, and leave Eunice's stultifying household on their own. However, the children do not make the mistake of shunning the help and interest of the rest of the world. They accept much-needed help from and find friends in Stewart, Windy, Will, and Claire. The help and warmth of these people make Dicey realize that the initial calamity at the novel's outset has launched them on an amazing journey in which they touch the lives of and are touched by others. Dicey comes to relish the poignancy of change and travel, hellos and goodbyes.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Homecoming!