Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do you agree that nearly all O’Neill’s protagomists wear a mask, hide their true selves from the world and from themselves ?

Exercise in Unmasking
The idea underlying the device of using masks is not, limited ‘to mask plays proper. Figuratively speaking, nearly all O’Neill’s protagonists wear a mask, hide their true selves from the world and from themselves. The dramatist’s “dogma for the new masked drama”–“one’s outer life passes in a solitude haunted by the masks of others ; one’s inner life passes in a solitude hounded by the masks of oneself––applies to a good deal of his non-mask plays as well. For, as Waith points out borrowing a phrase from the playwright himself, the typical O’Neill’ play is “an exercise in unmasking”.

Even as a visual idea––our concern at present––the mask is old with O’Neill. In a number of plays the face of the characters are compared to masks in the stage directions. When this is done, the characters invariably find. themselves in a state of fatalism or extreme grief.
Defesnive Function of Mask
In other cases its defensive function is more pronounced. When Caleb is rejected by Emma (in Diff’rent) his face “sets in its concealment mask of emotionlessness” ,  and thirty years later we still find the same mask-like expression on his face, belied only by his eyes, which “cannot conceal an inward struggle”. Clearly, Caleb’s mask-like expression visualizes, not merely the grimness of his fate but also his attempt to cope with it, to harden himself against it. But to harden oneself is to die a little. Thus the “mask” designed to protect against disruptive emotions would lead to self annihilation, substitutes death-in-life for death, slow destruction for an instantaneous one. Ephraim Cabot (in Desire Under the Elms), a stoic like Caleb, “hardens his face into a stony mask”, when he learns from Abbie that the child she has just killed was not his but Eben’s and he explains the significance of facial change himself when thinking aloud : “I got t’be––like a stone––a rock o’jedgment !”
Use of Mask Implies Death
Wherever O’neill employs the mask, there is a note of death. Emma Crossby (in Diff’rent) finally realizing that she has wasted her own life as well as Caleb’s, “dies” before she takes her life her face “is frozen into an expressionless mask, her eyes are red-rimmed, dull and lifeless.”
The same holds true, generally, about O’Neill’s masked characters. When dealing with the mask-face symbiosis, we -should not think so much in terms of surface and depth of persona and shadow as in terms of conflicting impulses of death and life, hatred and love, pride and humility. The division is not merely psychological ; it is also ideological. The characteristic development of the O’Neill hero from pride to humility, from self love to love is not just a ‘case study’ ; it is amoral prescription, an act of exorcism.
The Genesis of the Masks
The genesis of the masks, as used by O’Neill in such plays .as Great God Brown, Mourning Becomes Electra and Days Without End, may be described as follows :
Before man discovered sin, while he still enjoyed primordial unity with the “old God”––Nature––there was no need for hiding, no need to wear ‘masks’. When man was separated from nature the situation changed. Unable to return to his harmonious origin, unable likewise to accept his new, painful status, man became divided against himself, one part of him––the open, naive, romantic side––longing to return to the lost paradise, the other, rational part of him trying to adjust to the earthly hell. At times one side or other becomes so predominant that the total character is nearly fused with it.
Thus the Mannons are almost identified with the ‘mask’, whereas Marie and Christine are closely related to the ‘face’. In Lavinia the two are fatefully balanced, as her circular development from ‘mask’ to ‘face’ and back to ‘mask’ illustrates.
Symbolism of Masks
On this symbolic level the characters can no longer be viewed as individuals ; instead they typify the two dispositions of the human soul just described. The marriage between Ezra and Christine, by the same token, becomes a symbol of the unhappy state of man ; her attempt to free herself from him equals man’s attempt to free himself from his ‘mask’ ; and her love for Brant, so like the young Ezra, is an ironical illustration of man’s inability to escape his ‘mask’. The men, similarly, although they long to discard their ‘masks’ and revert to naked, primordial unity, find life too hard to bear without this protective armour ; not until they die, when life’s hostility is no longer a threat to them, can they unmask themselves ?  Moreover, as an alienating effect, the masks help the audience to see that the
Exercise in Unmasking
The idea underlying the device of using masks is not limited to mask plays proper. Figuratively speaking, nearly all O’Neill’s protagonists wear a mask, hide their true selves from the world and from themselves. The dramatist’s “dogma for the new masked drama” –“one’s outer life passes in a solitude haunted by the masks of others ; one’s inner life passes in a solitude hounded by the masks of oneself––applies to a good deal of his non-mask plays as well. For, as Waith points out borrowing a phrase from the playwright himself, the typical O’Neill play is “an exercise in unmasking”.
Mask as a Visual Idea
Even as a visual idea––our concern at present––the mask is old with O’Neill. In a number of plays the face of the characters are compared to masks in the stage directions. When this is done, the characters invariably find themselves in a state of fatalism or extreme grief.
Defensive Function of Mask
In other cases its defensive function is more pronounced. When Caleb is rejected by Emma (in Diff’rent) his face “sets in its concealment mask of emotionlessness”, and thirty years later we still find the same mask-like expression on his face, lied only by his eyes, which “cannot conceal an inward struggle”. Clearly, Caleb’s mask-like expression visualizes not merely the grimness of his fate but also his attempt to cope with it, to harden himself against it. But to harden oneself is to die a little. Thus the “mask” designed to protect against disruptive emotions would lead to self-annihilation, substitutes death-in-life for death, slow destruction for an instantaneous one. Ephraim Cabot (in Desire Under the Elms), a stoic like Caleb, “hardens his face into a stony mask”, when he learns from Abbie that the child she has just killed was not his but Eben’s ; and he explains the significance of facial change himself when thinking aloud : “I got t’be––like a stone––a rock o’jedgment.
Use of Mask Implies Death
Wherever O’Neill employs the mask, there is a note of death. Emma Crossby (in Diff’rent) finally realizing that she has wasted her own life as m ell as Caleb’s, “dies” before she takes her life : her face “is frozen into an expressionless mask, her eyes are red-rimmed, dull and lifeless.”

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