Home by Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks is best known for her poetry, but she also wrote a novel, Maud Martha. Her frequently anthologized short story, Home, is actually chapter 8 of this novel.
It tells the story of a poor family that is worried about losing not only their house, but what the house represents.
Summary of Home
The main character is Maud Martha, a girl who’s probably in her early teens. She is sitting with Mama (her mother) and Helen (her sister, probably in her late teens) in rocking chairs on the front porch of their house.
The family is waiting for Papa to come home from work. On his lunch break, he was planning to go to the mortgage company to try to get an extension on their payments. The family is tense; they’re thinking about what they’ll do if Papa’s request is rejected.
Optimistically, Mama suggests they might move to an apartment that’s better than the house. The girls know that would be too expensive for them, but Helen says her friends might visit more if she lived in a better neighborhood. Maud Martha comments on how nice it was having a fire going in the fireplace during the winter. This makes everyone sad.
Maud Martha exclaims that losing the house would kill Papa. Helen contradicts her, claiming Papa loves them, not the house. Mama leaves the fate of the house in God’s hands.
Papa comes home, greets the family, and goes inside. Everyone is excited. Mama goes inside with him. Soon, Mama tells the girls that Papa arranged the extension and the house is safe. Helen says she wants to have a party, so her friends will know they’re home owners, not renters.
Theme | Home
This is an easy one, since the story is titled Home. The story presents two possible meanings for home – the physical house and family togetherness.
The story opens with details that emphasize the actual house: the porch, plants, and gate. We’re told “What was wanted was this always, this always to last.”
Maud Martha also emphasizes the importance of the house when she says of her father, “He lives for this house!”. Even if this is an exaggeration, it implies that her father takes pride in being a home owner. It also implies that without the house, Papa would be figuratively dead, making it impossible for them to have a home in the sense of family togetherness.
Papa also put the house above his personal pride when he went to get an extension on the payments. He seems to view owning a house as an important, if not vital, part of providing a home for his family.
In contrast, home can also be wherever the family is. Helen’s contention that Papa loves the family above all and only cares about the house incidentally, because of them, supports the idea that even if the house is lost, they will be able to make a new home anywhere.
Likewise, Maud Martha’s declaration that her father lives for the house shows how much she cares for his feelings. On the surface, it emphasizes the importance of the house, but underneath it demonstrates the tender feeling between the members of the family, suggesting that they would recover from losing the house.
Theme | Class
In Home social class is related to owning property and living in certain neighborhoods. Papa exemplifies the first, Mama the second, while Helen expresses an awareness of both.
Even though Papa has steady work, his family is just getting by. Despite this, he wants to own property. This gives his family some kind of social standing. It also opens up the possibility of a rise to the middle-class in the future.
Mama links social standing to particular neighborhoods. When she comforts herself at the thought of losing the house, she dreams of moving to a place on Washington Avenue. She would no longer be a home owner, but she would be in a better neighborhood – a fair trade.
At first, Helen feels the same as Mama. She also entertains the idea of moving to a better neighborhood. She specifically mentions that her friends don’t like visiting the house, implying it’s in a lower-class area. Helen seems to be acutely aware of her social standing.
After the family gets the news that they won’t lose the house, Helen changes her mind. She talks about inviting her friends to a party at the house, so they’ll know they own their own place. Now she feels superior to her peers who rent, and maybe equal to those in fancier neighborhoods. Helen seems willing to take whatever social standing is available to her.
Home is a very short, easy to read story. The novel it is a part of, Maud Martha, is still in print. It lasted despite early negative reviews, and has had a resurgence in popularity since the death of Gwendolyn Brooks in 2000.