For Carlotta, on our 12th Wedding Anniversary
Dearest: I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand. I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enable me to face my dead at last and write this play? Write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.
These twelve years, Beloved One, have been a Journey into Light into love. You know my gratitude. And my love!
The play is deeply autobiographical. O’Neill, like Edmund, was the child of a Broadway actor. The O’Neills were Irish-American, as are the Tyrones. Catholicism looms large in both families, with a religious father appalled by his sons’ apparent rejection of the Church. O’Neill’s father was an alcoholic, and like James Tyrone, he gave up a promising career as a Shakespearean actor for a part in a commercial but artistically worthless play called Monte Cristo. In the play, Tyrone speaks of this commercial success but never names it. O’Neill’s mother in real-life was a morphine addict, and like Mary, became one after the birth of her youngest child. Jamie is also modeled after O’Neill’s real-life brother, a dissolute alcoholic whoremonger who failed miserably at everything he put his hand to. And
had an older brother named Edmund who died as a baby; in the play, the dead middle son is named Eugene . Eugene
Like Edmund, Eugene O’Neill sailed for years, taking odd jobs. And O’Neill also had fragile health; he was forced to rest for six months in a sanatorium so that he could be treated for tuberculosis, which in those days was a very dangerous disease.
A play of such a private nature would have been too painful to produce during O’Neill’s life. The play was first performed in 1956, three years after O’Neill’s death. It won a Pulitzer Prize and has often been hailed as O’Neill’s greatest play. Certainly, the play is invaluable for scholars seeking to understand O’Neill’s work; Long Day’s Journey Into Night reveals the most formative forces of O’Neill’s life, as well as the values and virtues he valued most. The play also represents an established artist making peace with his troubled past, forgiving and understanding his family and himself.
Edmund Tyrone: Son of Mary and James Tyrone. Brother of Jamie Tyrone. Edmund is Eugene O’Neill’s double, a sensitive young man who has sailed around the world but now is sick with consumption. Edmund, as a part, has no more stage time or lines than any of the other Tyrones. But he is nonetheless the center of the play: his forgiveness of his brother and father are the play’s climax. He has aspirations of becoming a writer.
Mary Tyrone: Wife of James Tyrone. Mother of Edmund and Jamie Tyrone. Mary is a morphine addict, and throughout the course of the clay we watch as she sinks farther and farther into a morphine-induced fog. Her hands are nervous, and they reveal her constantly agitated state. She is in deep denial about Edmund’s illness. As the play progresses, she retreats farther and farther into the past.
James Tyrone: Husband of Mary Tyrone. Father of Edmund and Jamie Tyrone. James Tyrone is a Broadway actor and alcoholic. He is a religious Catholic, although he no longer attends Church. He is appallingly stingy, and his miserliness has lead to many problems for the Tyrone family over the years.
Jamie Tyrone: Son of Mary and James Tyrone. Brother of Jamie Tyrone. Jamie is a dissolute alcoholic whoremonger. He is ten years older than Edmund, but he has never amounted to anything. He spends his days in
chasing whores and drinking. New York
Cathleen: One of the servants. She is largely oblivious to the troubles of the family for whom she works. She provides comic relief in Act Three by becoming drunk.
The Past, as refuge and burden:
The Past, along with forgiveness, is one of two dominant themes in the play. At different parts, the Past plays different roles. On one hand the past is a burden. Mary speaks with a terrible fatalism, claiming that nothing they are can be helped: past sins and mistakes have fixed their present and future irrevocably. The past also takes the form of old hurts that have gone unforgiven. We hear the same arguments again and again in this play, as the Tyrone’s dredge up the same old grievances. Letting go is impossible, and so the Tyrones are stuck.
The past also becomes a refuge, but not in a positive way. Mary uses an idealized recreation of her girlhood as escapist fantasy. As she sinks further and further into the fog of morphine, she relives her childhood at the Catholic girls’ school. The past is used to escape dealing with the present.
Forgiveness: Forgiveness is the other pivotal theme of the play. Although old pains cannot be forgotten and the Tyrones are, in a way, a doomed family, Edmund is able to make peace with his past and move on to what we know will be a brilliant career. His ability to do so is based in part on his capacity for forgiveness and understanding. The four Tyrones are deeply, disturbingly human. They have their jealousies and hatreds; they also remain a family, with all the normal bonds of love, however troubled, that being a family entails. Unlike his brother, Edmund is able to forgive and understand all of the Tyrones, including himself
Breakdown of communication: Breakdown of communication is a very apparent theme. We are forced to listen to the same arguments again and again because nothing ever gets resolved. The Tyrones fight, but often hide the most important feelings. There is a deep tendency towards denial in the family. Edmund tries to deny that his mother has returned to morphine. Mary denies Edmund’s consumption. Often, avoidance is the strategy for dealing with problems.
Religion: Although Tyrone professes to keep his faith, his two sons have long since abandoned the Catholic religion. Tyrone’s religion spills over into his taste in art. He considers Edmund’s favorite writers to be morbid and degenerate. Mary’s loss of faith also recurs as an issue. Although she still believes, she thinks she has fallen so far from God that she no longer has the right to pray.
Drug and alcohol abuse: Mary’s morphine addiction is balanced by the men’s alcoholism. Although the morphine is perhaps a more destructive drug, alcohol does its fair share of damage to the Tyrone men. It is Tyrone’s great vice, and it has contributed to Mary’s unhappiness. Drunkenness has been Jamie’s response to life, and it is part of why he has failed so miserably. And Edmund’s alcohol use has probably contributed to ruining his health.
Isolation: Although the four Tyrones live under the same roof this summer, there is a deep sense of isolation. Family meals, a central activity of family bonding, are absent from the play. Lunch happens between acts, and dinner falls apart as everyone in the family goes his separate way. Mary’s isolation is particularly acute. She is isolated by her gender, as the only woman of the family, and by her morphine addiction, which pushes her farther and farther from reality.
The entire play takes place in the family room of the Tyrones’ summer home. The year is 1912, the time is one August morning, and Mary and James enter after breakfast. We soon learn that Mary has recently returned from treatment at a sanatorium for her morphine addiction. In Act One’s opening, we also learn that Edmund has been away traveling, and that recently his health has been deteriorating. He’s developed a terrible cough. Jamie and Edmund enter, and James and Tyrone can’t seem to resist fighting. A bit of teasing becomes bitter arguing, but Edmund and Mary intercede and calm them down. Edmund tries to tell a humorous story about one of their tenants, but Tyrone doesn’t appreciate and Edmund’s interpretation of events. Tyrone calls him a socialist and an anarchist, and Edmund, sick of being criticized, goes upstairs coughing. Mary is worried but refuses to hear talk that Edmund might be truly sick. She goes into the kitchen to supervise the help. With her gone, Jamie and Tyrone talk frankly about Edmund: he might have consumption. The two men fight bitterly, going through a series of arguments we will hear many times before the end of the play: Tyrone accuses Jamie of being without direction, and Jamie accuses Tyrone of being miserly. He blames Mary’s morphine addiction on his father’s bargain hunting and the consequent shoddy medical care. Mary returns, and the two men shut up. They go out to work on the lawn. Edmund comes down, and he tries to talk to Mary. She’s concerned about his health, and he’s concerned about hers. He tries to talk frankly about her problems with morphine, because he feels she should confront her past. She seems to prefer to avoid the topic. She complains about Tyrone’s miserliness, and how because of it she has never had a real home. He goes out to the lawn to lie in the shade while the other two men work, and Mary is left alone.
Act Two, Scene One. Just before lunchtime. Edmund chats with Cathleen, the hired girl. Jamie comes in and sneaks a drink; Mary has been upstairs all morning, and Jamie fears that Mary is taking morphine. Edmund denies it, but when Mary comes downstairs her strange, detached manner confirms Jamie’s suspicions. Later, Tyrone enters and sees soon what has happened. Finally, even Edmund can no longer deny that Mary has slipped back into use of the drug.
Act Two, Scene Two. Just after lunch. Mary criticizes Tyrone for being addicted to bad real estate investments. They receive a phone call from Dr. Hardy, and Tyrone takes it. From his manner when he returns, we know that it is not good news. Mary goes upstairs to shoot up again, and the three men start to light. Edmund goes upstairs to try to speak to her, and while he is gone Tyrone confirms with Jamie that Edmund does, in fact, have consumption, Jamie worries that Tyrone, miser that he is, will send Edmund to a cheap sanatorium. Jamie goes out, waiting for Edmund so that he can accompany him to town. Mary comes down, and the Tyrone parents talk. We learn about their past: she had Edmund in part for the death of an older son, whose name was
. Edmund comes downstairs. He urges his mother to fight the morphine addiction, but she pretends to have no idea what he’s talking about. Edmund leaves, and then Tyrone, leaving Mary alone. First she is relieved, and then she is achingly lonely. Eugene
Act Three. in the evening, same day. Mary sits in the family room, waited on by Cathleen; again and again, she treats Cathleen to whiskey. She muses about her youth, and her childhood dreams of being a nun or a concert pianist. Mary also remembers meeting Mr. Tyrone, and how in love she once was. Cathleen is trying to focus, but she is not terribly sharp and she has become a bit drunk. Edmund and Tyrone come home. Mary receives the men happily, but they see quickly that she is lost in the dope. Mary warns Edmund that Jamie wants to make him a failure, like he is. She thinks about their childhood, and worries that Tyrone’s habits have started them on the path to alcoholism. Mary reminds Tyrone of the first night when they met. There is a brief, touching moment of tenderness. And then she returns to criticizing him. She then speaks nostalgically about her wedding dress, and how she fussed over it. She doesn’t know where the dress is now; it must be in the attic somewhere. Tyrone goes down into the cellar to get more whiskey, and Edmund and Mary are alone. Edmund tries to tell Mary how sick he is, but she refuses to listen. They talk about her problems with morphine, but talking so directly about the past hurts Mary, so they stop. Edmund leaves. Tyrone returns and asks her to have dinner with him. She decides to go upstairs instead, presumably to shoot up yet again.
Act Four. , that night. Edmund comes home to find his father playing solitaire. The two have the normal quota of fights and drinking, but they also manage to have an intimate, tender conversation. Tyrone explains his stinginess, and he also reveals to Edmund that he ruined his career by staying in an acting job for money. After so many years playing the same part, he lost the talent he’d once had. Edmund understands his father now better than he ever has. He talks to his father about his days sailing, and talks indirectly about his hopes to be a great writer. They hear. Jamie coming home drunk, and Tyrone leaves to avoid fighting. Jamie and Edmund have their own conversation, and Jamie confesses something: although he loves Edmund more than anyone else in the world, he wants Edmund to fail. And he’ll try to make Edmund fail. Then Jamie passes out, dead drunk. When Tyrone returns, he wakes up, and then they start to fight again. Mary comes downstairs, by now so doped up she can barely recognize them. She is carrying her wedding gown, lost completely in her past. The men watch in horror. She does not even know they are there.
Summary and Analysis of Act I, Scene One
in the living room of the Tyrone family’s summer home, August, 1912. The room is adjacent to the kitchen and dining room, and there are stairs leading up to the upstairs bedrooms. The living room is handsome and full of books; the collection is impressive, and all the more so because the books have the look of having been read. The Tyrone family has just finished having breakfast, and Mary and James Tyrone enter. Mary is fifty-four, striking, but with a worn look. Her hands are knotted from rheumatism, and she continuously wrings them nervously. James Tyrone is sixty-five but looks younger, handsome and healthy looking. He has a tine voice, a sign of his trade as an actor.
Tyrone and Mary discuss the weight she’s gained, although Tyrone thinks she could still stand to eat more. They end up talking about a friend of Tyrone’s who helps him with real estate investments, and Mary and Tyrone have a light argument about his unwise investments. Their talk is interrupted by the sound of Edmund’s cough in the kitchen. Mary is clearly concerned Tyrone tells Mary that she needs to take care of herself, and that it’s good to have her “old self again” since she “came back.” Repeatedly throughout their conversation, we see that Mary teases Tyrone lightly and he does not take it well; we also see that he is convinced his sons don’t respect him, as every time he hears them laughing in the kitchen he’s sure they’re making fun of him.
Edmund and Jamie enter. Jamie is thirty-four, but he has not taken good care of himself He is charming, but his face and body show signs of heavy drinking. Edmund is in very poor health. He is frail and sensitive looking.
Both of the boys seem awkward around their mother: eager to compliment, and afraid they might offend. The conversation turns to teasing Tyrone about his snoring, and Tyrone becomes angry. He begins picking on Jamie’s lack of direction in life, and Edmund leaps to his brother’s defense.
Edmund then goes into a story about Shaugnessy, one of Tyrone’s tenants. A poor farmer named Shaugnessy got into a fight with his oil tycoon neighbor. Shaugnessy verbally humiliated the millionaire. Tyrone doesn’t find the story amusing. He fears that Shaugnessy might get him involved in a lawsuit with the tycoon, and he accuses Edmund of exacerbating the situation. He also doesn’t approve of Edmund’s angle on the story, and he repeatedly tells the boy to keep his “anarchist” and “socialist” comments to himself. Sick of the abuse, Edmund goes upstairs in a fit of coughing.
Jamie lets out that Edmund seems to be really sick. Mary insists that it’s just a summer cold, and voices her distrust of doctors. Jamie looks at his mother, and his gaze causes her to be seized by a fit of nervousness. She thinks he’s thinking about how she has faded. But Jamie and Tyrone shower her with compliments, and they are charming enough to lift her spirits. She exits to supervise Bridget, their servant.
As soon as she is gone, Tyrone and Jamie begin to fight. Tyrone is furious that Jamie risked upsetting Mary, but Jamie stands fast. Edmund, he insists, has consumption. With no one else to moderate, the argument is unabashedly vicious. Jamie blames Tyrone’s stinginess: he continues to send Edmund to the cheapest doctor around. The talk turns to Jamie’s aimless lifestyle. Tyrone accuses him of being lazy and without ambition, dependent on his wealthy parents and an ingrate as well. Tyrone defends his use of Dr. Hardy: the man has treated Edmund since he was a child, so, cheap or not, he knows Edmund’s constitution. And Tyrone blames Jamie for Edmund’s sickness. Edmund is ten years younger and looks up to Jamie like a hero: ever since he left college, he’s been trying to live a lifestyle as wild and self-destructive as his brother’s. But he doesn’t have Jamie’s toughness, and his health is suffering At several points, Tyrone compares the two brothers to Jamie’s disfavor, and Jamie fights back a repressed jealousy.
The talk turns to Mary. We infer that she is a morphine addict, recently recovered. For a moment, the two men put aside their enmity and seem to talk fairly to each other. But it breaks down again, as Jamie accused Tyrone of being at fault. Mary’s addiction started after Edmund’s birth, and in part because of an incompetent doctor. The two men become quiet at Mary’s approach. Mary asks what they were arguing about, and Jamie avoids answering truthfully. He and Tyrone go out to work on the lawn.
Edmund comes downstairs. He and Mary have a tense conversation, avoiding real communication. She’s worried about his health, and he’s worried about hers. She doesn’t like to think about her previous problems with addiction, but Edmund thinks that confronting the past will help her to stay off the stuff. Mary’s a nervous wreck because she knows the three men are watching her every move. She admits to Edmund that she’s never liked the house: done the cheap way. She never has friends over, and she never goes out, all because of Tyrone’s anti-social tendencies. She has no friends to speak of, and she admits to being terribly lonely. Edmund finally goes out to read in the lawn while the others work. Alone, Mary tries to relax but finds herself seized by terrible anxiety, which shows in her constantly moving hands.
The first act sets up all of the central conflicts of the play. We will see these same arguments again and again. When Mary comes in and asks Tyrone and Jamie what they’re fighting about, Jamie replies, “Same old stuff” (41). These are old fights that never get resolved. Many times, the stage directions indicate that the bitterness breaks down into weariness. At times, the characters lack the energy to keep up their anger.
O’Neill makes extensive use of stage directions. We should remember that Long Day’s Journey into Night was never performed during his lifetime; he gave it to his wife on their anniversary as a kind of confession. Arguably, the play is meant to be read as much as it is meant to be performed. O’Neill’s stage directions give directors strong insights into how to interpret the work; they also make the play able to stand up well as a piece of text. We get extensive notes describing the four central characters, and the stage directions are detailed, often poetic.
We learn from the opening stage directions that the Tyrone family is well educated. Texts ranging the whole Western canon are on the shelves; moreover, the books look well-used. The house is also clearly the home of a wealthy family. Later, we learn that in detail much of the construction is shoddy, due to Tyrone’s stinginess, but the summer home remains nevertheless a place of the privileged. Money, however, is a constant source of conflict. Jamie aggressively picks at Tyrone for his stinginess. Although Tyrone has the chance to defend himself; we are nonetheless shocked to learn that he has probably skimped on his family’s medical needs out of nothing more than stinginess.
Communication’s breakdown is a constant theme. Argument rage on, but no closure is achieved. The conversations are full of half articulated fears. Everyone is terrified that Mary will lose her battle with morphine addiction, but only Edmund dares broach the subject directly. The other two men talk around it, repeating, in a way that must be maddening for Mary, how good it is that she has back “her old self again.” Avoidance is the strategy for dealing with the major health problems of the play. Edmund’s consumption is denied by both Mary and Tyrone. Strangely, the men have decided to keep the probable diagnosis of consumption a secret from Mary; in an amazing feat of denial, the men stick to the idea that keeping it a secret longer will soften the blow when Mary inevitably learns the truth. Edmund hints at it with Mary, but even so he dares not confront her too long or too directly about it. Regarding his “summer cold,” he says to her: “I want you to promise me that even if it should turn out to be something worse, you’ll know I’ll soon be all right again, anyway, and you won’t worry yourself sick, and you’ll keep on taking care of yourself” (49). Remember here that consumption (now more commonly known as tuberculosis) was a serious illness in 1912, treatable but still potentially fatal. The indirectness of Edmund’s plea is typical of the play, as everything is veiled here. Unable to say “consumption,” Edmund settles for calling it “something worse,” and he downplays both the probability and the seriousness of the illness. Also, he talks obliquely of her illness, and he is the most direct of any of them. He refers to staying away from morphine as “taking care of yourself.” Even that is too much. Mary cuts him off
In part due to this constant failure to communicate, both parents show signs of paranoia. During his opening conversation with Mary, Tyrone interprets every bit of laughter from the kitchen as the boys enjoying a joke at his expense. Mary becomes even more anxious as she perceives the three men watching her every move, fearing that she might be slipping away. Mary suffers from extreme isolation: she is a lone woman in a house of boys, unvisited by friends and unable to go out. If anything, her loneliness has heightened her anxiety and paranoia, because she has long hours to fill with worry and fear.
The treatment of the characters is balanced. None of the four Tyrones is the villain. Edmund is probably the most well balanced of the characters, and receives the most favorable treatment, but even he has his moments of cruelty. Jamie’s repressed jealousy of Edmund is balanced by his deep love for the boy. In his fight with Tyrone, Jamie dances awkwardly from fighting on Jamie’s behalf to letting out sneering, jealous comments, as when discussing Edmund’s new job:
Jamie: (Sneeringly jealous again.) A hick town rag! Whatever bull they hand you, they tell me he’s a pretty bum reporter. If he weren’t you’re son (Ashamed again.) No, that’s not true! They’re glad to have him but it’s the special stuff that gets him by. Some of the poems and parodies he’s written are damned good.
Jamie’s jealousy of Edmund is the darkest element of his character, and will figure prominently later in the play. But we see here also a clear love and loyalty for his brother. The two sons are very close, and Edmund has no inkling of Jamie’s jealousy.
The play is deeply autobiographical, and many of the new details we learn about the characters corresponds with the facts about O’Neill and his real-life family, Here, we learn that Edmund traveled extensively as a sailor, which contributed to ruining his health. Eugene O’Neill’s story is the same. For more Information on these parallels, refer to the Context section of this Classic Note; the parallels are two numerous to point out repeatedly in each section of analysis, so the autobiographical element of the play has been dealt with there.
Summary and Analysis of Act II, Scene One
Quarter to one, the same day. Edmund sits in the family room, reading. Cathleen, the second servant, sets up the table for lunch. She charms him into chatting with her a bit, and then calls the other men. Jamie comes in, sneaking a drink of whiskey and replacing the booze with water. Tyrone is outside, chatting with a neighbor. The two brothers discuss Edmund’s illness; apparently, Edmund does not yet know that it might be consumption. They also talk about Mary, who has been upstairs all morning. Jamie fears she is taking morphine. Edmund insists she is only taking a nap
Mary comes downstairs, dreamy and detached. Edmund does not notice: he sees what he wants to see. But Jamie recognizes immediately that she has taken morphine. The knowledge makes him tense, and he and Mary argue a bit: about Tyrone, mostly. Mary criticizes Jamie for always being hard on his father, and reminds him that thanks to Tyrone Jamie has never had to work hard in his life. But she then says something cryptic about all of them being powerless to change what they are. Mary’s behavior is strange: she vacillates between a strange, dazed detachment and anger. She complains bitterly about Tyrone’s inability to make a real home. Ile is too stingy to build a real home, with good servants, and so she has suffered all her life.
Edmund goes out to the porch to call in Tyrone, and Jamie indirectly accuses Mary of having lapsed. She denies it. When Edmund returns, he sees the upset look on Mary’s face, and is angry with Jamie for accusing her. Mary leaves the room, and Edmund continues to deny to Jamie that she has lapsed. Tyrone comes in, and Tyrone and Jamie argue a bit about Jamie’s drinking, although the three men go on to have a drink anyway. Tyrone notices the gloomy atmosphere. After Mary returns and scolds him for being late and then launches into a tirade about his inability to make a home, he realizes what has happened. Mary continues to be out of it, vacillating bizarrely in mood, detached one moment and earnest the next. Tyrone is deeply upset. Edmund, finally, can no longer deny what has happened. Tyrone, resigned and upset but understanding the need to support his wife, goes with her to the parlor.
Act Two begins with preparation for lunch, but we never see the meal. Instead of eating together, the four members of the Tyrone family satisfy themselves with either alcohol or drugs. We can infer that the three men are heavy drinkers. Edmund, though sick with a cough, continues to take whiskey. Jamie has elaborated a system for stealing whiskey from his ever-watchful father. Escape and avoidance constitute one of the central themes of the play.. Mary retires to the upstairs room for her shot of morphine. The men booze it up downstairs. The Tyrones seem unable to confront reality without chemical help.
Jamie and Tyrone in particular seem dependent on alcohol. The Tyrone men comfort themselves with folk wisdom about whiskey’s supposed health benefits: “It’s before a meal and I’ve always found that good whiskey, taken in moderation as an appetizer, is the best of tonics” (68). Alcohol has contributed to Jamie’s failures. It has hurt Edmund’s health. And it becomes a source of conflict between Jamie and Tyrone, as Jamie continues to steal his father’s booze.
What’s more, the alcohol solves no problems. The three men share a drink, but none of the social magic of alcohol seems to work. The three men remain as miserable as ever Tyrone says to Jamie, “You got the drink you were after, didn’t you? Why are you wearing that gloomy look on your mug?” (69). Mary’s words indicate that drinking all day is a common Tyrone activity: “I know what to expect. You will be drunk tonight. Well, it won’t be the first lime, will it or the thousandth?” (72). Just as the same arguments are repeated throughout the course of the play, the day is illustrative of a larger pattern. The cycles of drinking, fighting, and exhaustion are part of the Tyrones lives.
Now that she has lapsed back into taking morphine, Mary is repeating a mantra of fatalism: “But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can’t help it. None of us can help the things that life has done to us” (63). Mary is setting guilt and accountability to rest. Certainly for an addict, life becomes something where choice seems to no longer be an issue. But by giving in so readily, and using this fatalism to excuse her sons and husband, she is also taking the path of least resistance. She is avoiding responsibility for her problem with morphine.
Certainly, there are painful issues between her and Tyrone. She blames him for her loneliness, and for her addiction. She lashes out at him for never wanting the kind of home she has always longed for: “You should have remained a bachelor and lived in second-rate hotels and entertained your friends in barrooms . . . Then nothing would ever have happened” (69). So part of Mary, like Jamie, blames Mary’s addiction on the cheap doctors Tyrone prefers.
The morphine has sent her into tailspin. She is blaming Tyrone for ruining her life one moment, and then begging his forgiveness the next: “James! I tried so hard! I tried so hard! Please believe!” (72). Mary’s fatalism helps her to deal with her guilt, but it does not absolve her. And doped up, she cannot stay focused or stable enough to feel one way about anything for long.
Summary and Analysis of Act II, Scene Two
The family comes in from the parlor a half hour later. Mary complains wearily about the difficulty of finding good help for a summer home. She chides Edmund for not having eaten enough. She continues to complain about how she has never had a home since she married Tyrone. She also complains that Tyrone is planning yet another bad real estate investment. Dr. Hardy calls, and from Tyrone’s manner it seems that the news is not good. Mary launches into a tirade against Tyrone’s preference for cheap doctors. She speaks bitterly of their inability to help her, and the part they played in her addiction. She goes upstairs, presumably to shoot up again. The men argue: Edmund attacks Jamie’s pessimism, Jamie attacks Edmund’s taste m philosophers, and Tyrone attacks both of them for abandoning their faith in the Catholic Church. Tyrone no longer goes to Church, but he retains his faith.
Edmund goes upstairs to try to talk to Mary. While he is gone, Tyrone reveals to Jamie that Edmund does, in fact, have consumption: Dr. Hardy just gave him the news over the phone. The two men almost immediately start arguing: Jamie worries that Tyrone will send Edmund to a second-rate sanatorium, and Tyrone, appallingly, defends his thrift and argues that a more expensive place is not necessarily better. Jamie decides to go into town with Edmund to see the doctor.
As he is leaving, Mary comes downstairs. She urges Tyrone to go easier on Jamie (she saw his unhappy expression); she also takes a shot at him (and herself) by saying that Jamie would be a better man if he’d been raised in a real home. Tyrone tries to persuade Mary to go for a drive, but it turns into an argument about Tyrone’s stinginess, his unwillingness to spend money on anything, and Mary’s loneliness and problems with morphine. Mary lost many friends when she married Tyrone, because he was an actor, and because there was a scandal when an old mistress sued him. We also learn that between Jamie and Edmund, Mary had another baby, Eugene, who died. Edmund was born in part to replace
: Mary wanted another baby badly, but she was terrified that something would go wrong again. It was after Edmund, when she was in pain, that the cheap hotel doctor gave her morphine. Eugene
Edmund comes downstairs. He and Mary have a tense discussion; he is unable to tell her that he has consumption. Edmund makes one last plea with Mary to battle the morphine addiction. She tells him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and then pretends that she doesn’t know what he means. She then speaks of having lost her soul, and of the painful hope she has that somehow, through faith, she’ll be able to regain it.
The men leave. Mary, talking to herself, speaks of how glad she is that they’re gone. But then she wonders why she suddenly feels so lonely.
Note that though we have the build-up towards lunch and then the aftermath, we never see lunch. Family meals are a time of real intimacy; it is the one time of day when people are more or less forced to stay at the same table for an extended period of time. Appropriately, we never see this time with the Tyrones.
The old arguments are repeated, by now as familiar to us as they are to the Tyrones. This time, the participants have changed, as Mary picks up where Jamie left off in attacking Tyrone for being stingy. Mary is also beginning to insist on a point that she will stick to for the rest of the play: living with Tyrone, she has never had a home. These arguments are also expositional. We learn much about the Tyrones’ past. Mary came from a rich family, and she fell in love with James Tyrone even though he was an actor. She has spent most of her married life following Tyrone on tour, from cheap hotel to cheap hotel. Resentment is one of the themes of the play: so many hurts have been inflicted in this family, and the pain does not simply go away. Most of the hurt comes from failure rather than malice: though James Tyrone never intended to hurt Mary, his stinginess probably led to her being graven morphine. Though Jamie does not want to hurt his parents, he has nonetheless wounded them because he is such a failure. And Mary, though she loves her family, is not strong enough to combat the morphine addiction. Wounding others by failing them is a theme for the Tyrone family.
Religion comes up for the first time in this scene. The Tyrones are Irish Catholic, but we see quickly that both sons have abandoned the Church. The parents no longer attend mass regularly, but they both keep some semblance of faith. Tyrone prays, Mary no longer can pray. She believes, but she feels as if she has turned her back on God, and that she can no longer face him.
Although the play is forgiving and compassionate with all of its characters, Tyrone’s stinginess is rather hard to forgive. During his conversation with Jamie, the audience can infer that Tyrone is going to send Edmund to a cheaper sanatorium to save money, and this at a time when he is planning to make yet another real estate investment.
jamie: Well, for God’s sake, pick out a good place and not some cheap dump!
tyrone: (Stung) I’ll send him wherever Hardy thinks best!
jamie: Well, don’t give Hardy your old over-the-hills-to-the-poorhouse song about taxes and mortgages.
tyrone: I’m no millionaire who can throw money away! Why shouldn’t I tell Hardy the truth?
jamie: Because hell think you want him to pick a cheap dump, and because hell know it isn’t the truth especially if he hears afterwards you’ve seen McGuire and let that flannel-mouth, gold-brick merchant sting you with another piece of bum property! (82)
Tyrone does not seem to learn anything. He also does not display any feelings of guilt over his wife’s addiction, even though it was his stinginess that put her at the mercy of an incompetent doctor. Apparently, he has learned nothing. He is once again considering cheaper medical care for his son, whose life might be threatened. And he is doing so at a time when he’s sufficiently rich to make yet another real estate investment.
Summary and Analysis of Act III Scene One
Half past six in the evening, same day. Mary sits in the family room, waited on by Cathleen. She complains about the foghorn. She does not mind the fog, but the noise of the horn is terribly gloomy to her. She is clearly keeping the girl around just so that she won’t be lonely, Cathleen is cheerful and kind, but also oblivious to Mary’s problem. Mary keeps offering Cathleen whiskey. She uses Jamie’s trick: whenever she takes whiskey, she refills the bottle with water to keep the level the same. Mary complains about some of Tyrone’s quirks, and Cathleen lightly defends her employer. Mary bristles when Cathleen implies that Edmund seems to be very sick. Cathleen mentions that in town, the pharmacist offended her: Mary had Cathleen get the medicine for her, and the pharmacist initially questioned where Cathleen had gotten the description. Mary tells her the medicine is for the rheumatism in her hands.
Mary muses about her youth. She used to want to be a nun. Her other dream was to be a concert pianist, but now her hands are so damaged she can barely play. Mary also remembers meeting Mr. Tyrone, and how in love she once was. Cathleen is trying to focus, but she is not terribly sharp and she has become a bit drunk.
Cathleen leaves to help Bridget in the kitchen, and Mary wonders to herself about her lost faith. She tries to recite the Hail Mary, but she feels that she is too repulsive to pray. She scolds herself bitterly: “You expect the Blessed Virgin to be fooled by a lying dope fiend reciting words! You can’t hide from her!” (109). A moment later, she hears the boys coming back home. For a moment, she is resentful of their return. The next instant, she is happy that her loneliness will end.
Edmund and Tyrone have clearly been drinking. Jamie is still out. Mary receives the men happily, but they see quickly that she is lost in the dope. Mary warns Edmund that Jamie wants to make him a failure, like he is. Tyrone seconds the thought. Mary talks about how Jamie was such a happy baby, as was Eugene, the baby who died. Edmund was always over-sensitive. Mary keeps talking, and then she blames Tyrone for Jamie’s drinking Tyrone was always drinking when the boys were young, and anytime the boys were sick he’d give them a teaspoon of whiskey.
Mary reminds Tyrone of the first night when they met. There is a brief; touching moment of tenderness. And then she returns to criticizing him, talking about the many times when he came home drunk over the years. She then speaks nostalgically about her wedding dress, and how she fussed over it. She doesn’t know where the dress is now; it must be in the attic somewhere.
Tyrone tastes the whiskey, and becomes angry when he realizes how watered down it is. He goes down into the cellar to get more, and Edmund and Mary are alone. Edmund tries to tell Mary how sick he is, but she refuses to listen. She talks about how much she hates Doctor Hardy: his poor methods nearly drove her mad. Edmund well remembers the night she did go mad, running out of the house and screaming for dope. It was soon after he found out about her addiction, which Tyrone and Jamie hid from him for many years. Talking so directly about the past hurts Mary, so they stop. Edmund leaves. Mary, alone, wishes that one day, she might take too much morphine and overdose by accident. Tyrone returns, and has a brief run-in with a completely soused Cathleen. Tyrone asks Mary to come and have dinner with him. She tells him she’s not hungry, and that she’s going to take more medicine. He says bitterly that shell be mad as a ghost before the night is over, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s saying: it’s only medicine for her rheumatism, after all.
One of the most important activities of the family is eating together; before, lunch was cancelled. And now, dinner falls apart. Tyrone ends up eating alone, as Mary goes upstairs to take morphine and the boys are in town, presumably getting drunk.
This act starts and finishes with two moments illustrating Mary’s isolation. In the opening, she is keeping the empty-headed Cathleen because she is starving for companionship. Part of Mary’s isolation comes from the absence of female friends or family; she has spent decades now as the lone woman in a family of men, deprived of friends in part because of her husband’s profession, and in part because of her years of morphine addiction.
Social isolation is paralleled by isolation from reality. Mary manages to convince herself of her own lies: the morphine, in her fantasy world, is painkiller for her rheumatism. Her story is more than a lie she tells to Cathleen: when Edmund is horrified that Cathleen might tell people about his mother’s affliction, Mary switches into denial mode:
edmund: For God’s sake, Mama! You can’t trust her! Do you want everyone on earth to know?
mary: Know what? That I suffer from rheumatism in my hands and have to take medicine to kill the pain? (118)
Illusion is one of Mary’s primary defenses.
Part of the play’s power is the juxtaposition of brutal fighting and tender moments. If the play were non-stop bickering from beginning to end, it might be hard to sympathize with the Tyrones. We have a tender moment between Mary and Tyrone, as she reminds him of the day they met. The long, dark decades since have been terrible. The past is a powerful theme, both as a burden and as an escape. Mary is now using the past as a refuge. She is fondly remembering her courtship and her days at the Catholic boarding school, and the more morphine she takes, the more trapped in the past she becomes. Ghost imagery is key here. At the end of the act, Tyrone warns her that she’ll be mad as a ghost if she continues. The word is not accidental: metaphorically, she’s a phantom. She wanders around the house, detached from the world of the living, isolated and constantly reliving past moments. The wedding dress is another symbol: it represents lost promise, a day of hope that becomes ironic when viewed in the context of everything that has followed.
But the past is also a terrible burden. Mary is reminiscing nostalgically one moment, and then lashing out at Tyrone the next: “But I must confess, James, although I couldn’t help loving you, I would never have married you if I’d known you drank so much” (115). She also launches into a story about something that was repeated many times over the years: during their honeymoon, Tyrone came home drunk.
Between Tyrone’s stinginess and Mary’s accusations, most audience members tend to feel less sympathy for Tyrone by this point in the play. Edmund lashes out at his father, saying it was no wonder that Mary turned to dope.
All of this reliving of the past parallels the work done by the play itself: O’Neill does not try to hide the autobiographical nature of the work. For example, we learn that the name of the Tyrone child that died was
; in real life, gene O’Neill had a brother who died in infancy whose name was Edmund. See “Context” for a more detailed description of the autobiographical nature of the play. Eugene
Summary and Analysis of Act IV, Scene One
Midnight. Tyrone is playing solitaire. He’s drunk Edmund comes home after a long walk; he, too, is drunk. Edmund turns on one of the lights in the chandelier, and Tyrone and Edmund start to light about electricity bills. The battle turns into a light about Tyrone’s tendency to believe whatever he wants to believe. Tempers heat up, and Tyrone threatens Edmund with physical violence. Suddenly, Tyrone feels ashamed of himself. Tyrone then turns on the rest of the bulbs in the chandelier, saying dramatically that since he’s going to end up in the poor house sootier or later, it might as well be sooner. Tyrone asks where Jamie is, and Edmund says he doesn’t know; Edmund has been out alone, in the fog. Tyrone starts to criticize Jamie, but then Edmund threatens to walk out. Tyrone gives up the topic, and offers Edmund a drink.
Edmund speaks beautifully about the feeling of being in the fog; he feels like a ghost who drowned long ago, wandering in the mists, and he likes the feeling. Tyrone doesn’t approve of these morbid thoughts. Edmund begins to recite Baudelaire’s poem “Epilogue,” about the sinful pleasures of the city; the poem reminds him of Jamie. Tyrone hates Edmund’s taste in literature: he says that Edmund’s favorite writers are all “atheists, fools and madmen ... whoremongers and degenerates” (138). Father and son begin to play cards, but the game is slow-moving: Edmund and Tyrone are drunk and are distracted by their deep conversation. Both men are tense, but there is a real effort to have an honest discussion. Edmund and Tyrone talk, and Tyrone tells Edmund that Mary tends to idealize her past. Although she always speaks of her father as a generous, loving man, she glosses over that he was an alcoholic. Mary’s dream of being a concert pianist is unreal, too; she was simply flattered by nuns who knew little of the real world. And her other girlhood dream of becoming a nun was unrealistic for different reasons: she was simply too much in love with loving to be a celibate woman. Both men constantly think that they hear her getting ready to come downstairs. Neither man likes the idea of having to deal with Mary in her doped up state.
Suddenly, Edmund’s anger is sparked. He blames Tyrone’s stinginess for Mary’s current state. Tyrone defends himself Back then, he didn’t even know what morphine was. For years, he thought that it was just medicine Mary needed to take. Edmund’s accusations continue. When Tyrone accuses Edmund of being an ungrateful son, Edmund says cryptically that they’ll talk of all Tyrone has done for him later. Tyrone says that despite what Mary says, she always wanted to accompany him as he went on tour. For company, she had all of his fellow actors and a nurse. Edmund keeps up his attacks. Tyrone says that if they believe everything Mary says while on dope, he should also believe that Mary wouldn’t be a dope fiend if he’d never been born.
The two men stop arguing for a moment. Both of them have gone too far, and feel ashamed for it. Edmund tries to assure his father that he likes him, in spite of everything. There is a peaceful moment, and the two of them even tease each other a bit. But then the argument flares up again over the issue of a sanatorium. Edmund has learned from Jamie, who talked with Dr. Hardy, that they’re planning to send Edmund to Hilltown, a cheap state-run sanatorium. The two men argue. Tyrone defends himself, but Edmund says that he is humiliated. Edmund learned the value of a dollar when he was traveling as a sailor, and it has only made him hate his father’s miserliness all the more. Everyone is going to speak of how Tyrone is skimping on his own son’s care.
Tyrone tells Edmund that he doesn’t need to go to Hilltown. He can go anywhere he likes, within reason. Tyrone tries to explain his stinginess. His childhood was very hard, and he is always in fear of dying in the poorhouse. He makes real-estate investments because he has a peasant-like awe of land: he believes, irrationally, that land is something no one can take away. He tells Edmund that though Edmund struck out around the world, it was a privileged child’s adventure. Edmund strikes back miserably that he was miserable enough to attempt suicide.
Tyrone talks about his own father, who abandoned the family when Tyrone was ten years old. Tyrone worked twelve hours a day in a machine shop. His mother and sisters worked their fingers to the bone, and still they never had enough to eat. So Tyrone had to learn to search for bargains, to stretch every dollar to its limit, and he has never been able to unlearn this lesson. Tyrone tells Edmund he can go anywhere he likes for his sanatorium, “any place I can afford” (152). He suggests a slightly less cheap sanatorium. Edmund says that it sounds fine. Ile is smiling now, accepting his father’s shortcomings.
Tyrone then admits something to Edmund that he’s never told anyone. His love of money ruined his career as an actor. Ile was m a commercially successful play for many years: the money was simply too good to pass up. But finally when he realized that the play had taken over his life, no other productions wanted him. He’d been typecast. And, Tyrone admits, he’d lost much of his talent by neglect.
When Tyrone had been starting out, he’d acted in Shakespeare. And he’d loved the art so deeply and sincerely that he would have acted in Shakespeare for nothing. Once, after a performance where he played Othello to Edwin Booth’s Iago, Booth told someone that young Tyrone was playing Othello than he ever had himself. (Booth was the greatest actor of his day.)
Edmund is touched and grateful that “Tyrone has shared this story with him. He understands his father much better now. But Tyrone immediately seems worried that he’s shared too much. Furthermore, he worries that his story will undermine the lesson of the value of the dollar. He looks up, and decides they should shut off some of the chandelier bulbs Edmund finds it funny. Tyrone admits to admit that he’d give up all his money if he could become the great artist he once had the potential to be.
Edmund shares one of his memories with Tyrone: of being at sea, in the fog. He speaks eloquently, and Tyrone is impressed, even though he does not approve of the morbidity of Edmund’s sentiments. He tells Edmund that he has the makings of a poet. Edmund replies that if he lives, he’s not good enough to be a poet. He’s an artist who stammers. But his art will have a faithful realism.
This long conversation between father and son is one of the most important moments of the play. It begins as a series of arguments, most of which we have already heard. But we do get several important new pieces of information.
First, we learn that Mary’s version of her past is probably idealized. She blames meeting Tyrone for ending all of her childhood dreams, but Tyrone explains to Edmund that her dreams were not suited to her: she was too much of the world to be a nun, and she was not gifted enough to be a concert pianist. Mary wants to blame Tyrone for many things, and perhaps she has good reason to on many issues, but the loss of her childhood dreams is not one of them. Since so much of the past is a burden to her, her only refuge is to retreat farther into the past, into history so remote that she can refashion it after her own liking.
We also learn, in-depth, about the formation of Tyrone’s character. Up to this point in the play, Tyrone has probably lost some of the audience’s sympathies. But the point of the play is not condemnation. Forgiveness is a central theme, and here Tyrone has a chance to justify himself. We open the act with a humorous moment illustrating Tyrone’s stinginess. He barks at Edmund about leaving a few light bulbs on, but then, in a show of extravagance, he turns them all on. Edmund can’t help but laugh at his father: so much of his stinginess, as we have seen, is irrational. We then learn the origins of this streak in his character. The light may also be a metaphor: the lights are all on during this conversation between father and son, and for once this conversation breaks new ground. Edmund and Tyrone come to understand each other, to see each other, better than they ever have before. At the end of the conversation, the lights are turned off again.
Important in this scene are Edmund’s reactions. We see as he forgives his own father: laughing at his stinginess, accepting a stay at a second-rate sanatorium as a compromise, grateful to Tyrone for telling his story. As the son forgives the father, so does the audience.
Summary and Analysis of Act IV, Scene Two
Jamie comes in, rip-roaring drunk. Tyrone leaves before Jamie enters, fearful that Jamie’s sharp drunken tongue will lead to a light between the two men. Jamie now has a conversation with Edmund.
At first, he doesn’t let Edmund touch the booze, but at Edmund’s insistence Jamie relents. Jamie criticizes Tyrone’s stinginess; Edmund defends him, but Jamie insists that Edmund is too easily fooled. Jamie, reciting poetry intermittently, recounts his adventures at Mamie Burns’s whorehouse. He went with Fat Violet because he felt sorry for her. He was terribly drunk He cried quite a bit, and the Madame thought he’d gone mad.
Jamie continues to speak sentimentally, talking about the weariness and his failure, and Edmund warns him to stop; if not, Jamie will be crying in a minute. Jamie keeps talking, barely coherent and still drinking. He asks cruelly, “Where’s the hophead?” Edmund, shocked that Jamie would refer to their mother so callously, punches Jamie in the face. Jamie apologizes, but then explains his anger. He’s so angry that she’s failed again. This time, he really believed she’d beaten it. Both men start to cry, Jamie remembers when he found out: he caught her in the act with the needle. Jamie also worries about Edmund. Edmund is more than his brother. He’s the only friend he’s got.
Then he stops crying, and he begins to speak bitterly. He tells Edmund that he knows their parents will try to poison his mind against Jamie. They’ve probably told him, says Jamie, that Jamie is hoping Edmund will die, so that hell have a bigger inheritance. Jamie is so used to having the worst said about him, that he can’t help to start to feel it sometimes. Then, he begins to attack Edmund bitterly, telling him that lie’s pretentious, that he’s writing for a hick-town rag, and that Jamie’s own writing in college was better. Suddenly, Jamie catches himself, and apologizes. He then says he has reason to be prouder than anyone: he taught Edmund, raised him in a way, turned him on to poetry and planted the idea of writing in Edmund’s head. Jamie accepts this all with a smile.
Once again, he forbids Edmund to drink. He takes Edmund’s hand and tells him not to be scared about the sanatorium. He suggests jokingly that Edmund is not even sick, and that the doctors are all part of a con game. Jamie pours one drink, and then tells Edmund to listen carefully. He may not have the chance to confess again.
He tells Edmund that part of Jamie, a big part, wants Edmund to fail. In part, he tried to get Jamie turned on to whores and booze because he wanted his brother to fall into dissolution, as he has. Edmund tries to get Jamie to stop, but the confession keeps coming. In part, he blames Edmund for Mary’s morphine addiction: it was after Edmund’s birth, after all.
He wants Edmund to succeed. He wants Edmund to be great. But he’s going to try to make him fail. When Edmund comes back, Jamie warns him to be on guard. Jamie asks Edmund to forgive him, and to always remember that he warned Edmund, risking the loss of the only person he has left Then Jamie passes out.
Tyrone re-enters. He has heard the last part of the conversation. He looks down on his son pityingly. Jamie wakes, and immediately starts to initiate a fight with Tyrone The two of them exchange bitter words until, at Edmund’s pleading, they stop.
Suddenly, the lights come on. They hear the sound of a piano being played awkwardly. Mary enters, carrying her wedding dress. Jamie calls out, “The Mad Scene. Enter Ophelia!” and Edmund slaps him for it. Jamie apologizes, and then starts to sob. Tyrone is furious, but at Jamie’s sobbing, he softens, and pleads with his son to stop.
Mary does not know them. She speaks like she is still in Catholic school, and when she sees her ugly hands, she says quietly that she’ll have to go to the infirmary. The men try to talk to her, but she does not know where she is. Tyrone takes the dress from her to protect it from being ripped. Jamie recites from Swineburn’s “A Leave-taking.” Edmund tries to reach out to Mary, but she is lost. She tells him he must not touch her, because she is going to be a nun.
The men see it is no use. They settle down for another drink. Tyrone orders Jamie to stop quoting poetry; it’s too morbid for his house. Mary finishes the play with a story: when she went to Mother Elizabeth and told her she wanted to be a nun, and that she’d had a vision of the Virgin Mary, granting her consent. Mother Elizabeth told her that she must be even more certain. If she felt so sure, she should go home after school for another year, and try to enjoy herself with the other girls, dancing and going to parties. And if after a year she was still certain, then she should come back and take vows.
Mary was shocked by this advice, but she agreed to follow it. She struggles for a moment to remember what happened next, and then it comes back to her: “That was in the winter of senior year. Then in the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time.”
The conversation between Edmund and Jamie is the second vital conversation of the play. The play has little in the way of plot, but if it can be said to have a climax, that climax is Edmund’s forgiveness of his brother and father.
It is because of this climax that Edmund emerges as the play’s central character. In previous acts, he had as much or as little stage time as the other characters. And even here in Act Four, he speaks less than Jamie or Tyrone. What speech he does have is relatively unimportant. But the key to Edmund’s emergence as hero is that he listens. Listening and attempting to understand are Edmund’s great strengths. He is open to the stories of Tyrone and Jamie in ways that Tyrone and Jamie could never be open to each other. Edmund is able to escape the burden of the past, or at least deal with it, because of his capacity to forgive. Remember that Edmund is unmistakably, and undeniably, the younger Eugene O’Neill. So for all of the darkness and sadness of the play, all audience members would know that Edmund survived and became one of his country’s first great playwrights.
It is incorrect, therefore, to consider the play a tragedy. Tragedy is the fall of a great figure. Although there are fallen characters in the play, we see them all long after they have fallen. Mary could be said to lapse during the course of the play, but actually we infer that she has already been taking the morphine in secret. And the real story of the play is not a tragic fall, but an act of great compassion and forgiveness. Edmund’s story is ultimately one of triumph, the triumph of coming to terms with one’s past and forgiving one’s family. Even if one cannot simply forget the failures and suffering in his family’s history, Edmund’s victory is considerable.
Jamie’s confession is a powerful moment. On one hand, it confirms our worst fears about him. He wants his own brother to fail simply because he has. But the confession is also an incredible act of love. He risks losing his brother, and his brother is the only friend he has. Although the sentiment is deplorable, the act is ultimately more important. For that reason, Jamie, too, is forgiven. This scene shows a part of his compassion: he sleeps with the whore no one else wants. He is a ruined man, unable to care for himself, but all the same he tries to help or protect others. His warning to Edmund is a noble sacrifice.
The play still ends with a note of loss. Mary returns, now completely a ghost haunting the past, carrying the wedding gown and unable to recognize her own family. The gown has become a symbol for squandered potential, anticipated happiness that never came. The play’s final words are hers, and they are heart wrenching. She haunts the past and is therefore only partially aware of the irony in her words: “I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time.” We have moved from there to here. Finishing in this way indicates that despite Edmund’s triumph, not everything has been resolved. Many of the cycles of fighting, alcoholism, and drug abuse will continue. Although Edmund has forgiven his family, he cannot save them, nor can he force them to forgive each other.
Long Day’s Journey into Night is undoubtedly a tragedy–– it leaves the audience with a sense of catharsis, or emotional rebirth through the viewing of powerful events, and it depicts the fall of something that was once great. The play focuses on the Tyrone family, whose once-close family has deteriorated over the years, for a number of reasons: Mary’s drug addiction, Tyrone Jamie, and Edmund’s alcoholism, Tyrone’s stinginess, the boys’ lax attitude toward work and money, and a variety of other factors. As the play is set, the parents are aging, and while they always hoped that their sons would achieve great things, that hope is beginning to be replaced by a resigned despair.
The play is largely autobiographical; it resembles O’Neill’s life in many aspects. O’Neill himself appears in the play in the character of Edmund, the younger son who, like O’Neill, suffers from consumption. Indeed, some of the parallels between this play and O’Neill’s life are striking. Like Tyrone, O’Neill’s father was an Irish Catholic, an alcoholic, and a Broadway actor. Like Mary, O’Neill’s mother was a morphine addict, and she became so around the time O’Neill was born. Like Jamie, O’Neill’s older brother did not take life seriously, choosing to live a life of whores, alcohol, and the fast-paced reckless life of Broadway. Finally, O’Neill had an older brother named Edmund who died in infancy; in this play, Edmund has an older brother named
who died in infancy. Eugene
The play, published posthumously, represents O’Neill’s last words to the literary world. It is important to note that his play is not condemning in nature; no one character is meant to be viewed as particularly worse than any other. This is one of the play’s great strengths; it is fair and unbiased, and it shows that many character flaws can be seen as positives when viewed in a different light. Thus, Long Day’s Journey into Night invests heavily in the politics of language. It is a world in which there is a large weight placed on the weakness of “stinginess” versus the virtue of “prudence”.
The play also creates a world in which communication has broken down. One of the great conflicts in the play is the characters’ uncanny inability to communicate despite their constant fighting. For instance, the men often fight amongst themselves over Mary’s addiction, but no one is willing to confront her directly. Instead, they allow her to lie to herself about her own addiction and about Edmund’s illness. Edmund and Jamie do not communicate well until the last act, when Jamie finally confesses his own jealousy of his brother and desire to see him fail. Tyrone, likewise, can only criticize his sons, but his stubborn nature will not allow him to accept criticism. All the characters have bones to pick, but they have trouble doing so in a constructive fashion.
Most of the bones that need picking emerge in the past, which is remarkably alive for the Tyrones. Mary in particular cannot forget the past and all the dreams she once had of being a nun or a pianist. Tyrone too has always had high hopes for Jamie, who has been a continual disappointment. All the conflicts and the problems from the past cannot be forgotten, and, in fact, they seem doomed to be relived day after day. It is important to note that Long Day’s Journey into Night is not only a journey forward in time, but also a journey back into the past lives of all the characters, who continually dip back into their old lifestyles. We are left as an audience realizing that the family is not making progress towards betterment, but rather continually sliding into despair, as they remain bound to a past that they can neither forget nor forgive.
The play is all the more tragic because it leaves little hope for the future; indeed, the future for the Tyrones can only be seen as one long cycle of a repeated past bound in by alcohol and morphine. This play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published, and it has remained one of the most admired plays of the 20th century. Perhaps most importantly, it has achieved commercial success because nearly every family can see itself reflected in at least some parts of the play. The Tyrone family is not a unique family, and it is easy to identify with many of the conflicts and characters. The play has a unique appeal to both the individual audience member and to scholars of American drama, which explains its popularity and enduring acclaim.