Eugene O'Neill's Play, Long Days Journey into Night
On June 25, 1939, Eugene O'Neill began an outline for a literary masterpiece that would reach its completion on April 1, 1941. The title of his autobiographical drama is Long Days Journey into Night. He wrote it for his wife on the occasion of their 12th wedding anniversary in 1940. The play was written in part as a way for O'Neill to show the world what his family was like and in what sort of environment he was raised. The story of one day, 8 a.m. to midnight, in the life of a family of four-father, mother and two sons-takes place in 1912. The mother, Mary Tyrone, is the shadow of a once bright and promising concert pianist. James Tyrone, her husband, is a fallen actor who occasionally revisits his aspiration to be an accomplished performer. Their sons are Jamie, the eldest who followed in his father's footsteps, and Edmund. The latter has consumption, but doesn't believe he will recuperate. Although their commonplace exterior may seem "normal," the complexities within this family are profound and deep-rooted.
Set in the Tyrone's summer house, we witness an unveiling of family dynamics and hidden secrets. What might seem like a familiar domestic setting actually becomes a prison on many levels. As we enter into the world of the Tyrone family, exploration of convoluted relationships and the filtering of each character's perception will be ours to judge. The very essence of this play is a combination of poetry, denial, abuse and eventually acceptance. Following is a list of topics which will be covered in Long Day's Journey into Night: the analysis of birth order and how it pertains to Mary's connection with Edmund, drug abuse and its relation to denial, and broken communication. Also, we'll explore Eugene O'Neill's life during his construction of this piece and the historical period of the play set in 1912. Much like a genre painting, O'Neill's depiction of the family circle closely resembles real life. Wrapping these topics together will be our tracking down the production history of this play from past until present. According to Dr. Nystul, parents tend to be more lenient and give special favors to the baby. Youngest children usually appreciate these special considerations and learn early in life that other people will take care of them and protect them from life's difficulties" (182). Mary mentions in Act III, "Edmund has always been the baby...[Jamie] will never be content until he makes Edmund as hopeless a failure as he is." Immediately, we witness her favoritism toward the youngest child and in her eyes his inability to do anything wrong. Consequently this, along with other contributors, makes Mary oblivious to Edmund's life threatening illness and her acceptance unfathomable. In Act IV, Edmund confronts his father about sending him to an inexpensive institution for his consumption. He expected to be guarded from "life's difficulties," but in an attempt to save money, James was willing to compromise his son's life. Although these events quite closely parallel the true life of O'Neill, perhaps Eugene wanted to be loved and fawned over as the baby indefinitely more in reality.
Mrs. Tyrone's secret dope addiction is gradually exposed through the course of the play. We ascertain her need to escape from reality is a direct result of the building of life altering occurrences. Her disappointment that James wasn't a better husband, combined with feelings of loneliness and letting her children down, transformed this devout Catholic lady into an incoherent, broken woman. Mary refuses to acknowledge her addiction, meanwhile drifting in and out of dazes. "It is very common for individuals to deny problems with alcohol or other drugs and resist treatment even when the problem is having a serious adverse effect on their health, family, social life, and work" (Nystul 428). When Mary has yielded to the drug in Act II, Tyrone cries out to his wife, "For the love of...
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