O'Neill's Concept of Tragic Vision in Reference to "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

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Renaissance 1/6

Eugene O’Neill is the father of modern American drama. His vision of life was essentially tragic; the human dilemma is the theme of his plays, which are all, with one exception, tragedies. He is a great tragic artist, but with a difference. He writes tragedies of modern life which do not follow the traditional Aristotelian form. There are no tragic heroes, exceptional individuals with Hamartia, in the Aristotelian sense. His tragic characters are all drawn from the humblest ranks of society. Each of them has his own pipe-dream, his own romantic illusion which sends him to doom. The tragedies demonstrate that any kind of escape from the reality of life is self-destroying; they assert at every step, the beauty and joy of life which must be accepted with all its joys as well as with all its limitations. Tragedy results when in the pursuit of some cherished illusion man forgets the reality of life. His tragedies soothe, console and strengthen which make O’Neill a great tragic artist. They’re as much apotheosis of the human spirit, as say, the tragedies of Shakespeare or of the ancient Greeks.

O’Neill’s concept of ‘Tragic Vision’ means his philosophy of tragedy. According to him, “Tragedy is the very texture of rhythm of life”. His idea of tragedy is totally different from that of Shakespeare and ancient Greek. In Greek tragedies, tragedy happens because of Hamartia or error of judgment and in Shakespearean tragedy for inner fault of hero. Imbedded with the tragic sense of life, he aimed for a contemporary drama that had its roots in the most powerful of ancient Greek tragedies-a drama that could rise to the emotional height of that of Shakespeare.

O’Neill’s idea of tragic vision makes him an individual leading light of modern tragedy. To him, men have no control on this tragic vision because it occurs by the external forces. External forces include “Heredity and Environment”. So none can lame the characters of the play and the theme of forgiveness comes naturally here. Here in my term paper, I would like to focus on O’Neill’s concept of tragic vision in Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is undoubtedly a tragedy-it leaves the audience with a sense of catharsis through the fall of something powerful event that was once great. Though biographical in nature, the play has become a universal one representing the problems of a family that cannot live in the present, mired in the dark recesses of a bitter, troubled past.

The play covers one day in a family’s life. It’s a deeply tragic play, but without any violent dramatic action. The play is shattering in its depiction of the agonized relations among father, mother and two sons. Spanning one day in the life of the family, the play strips away layer after layer from each other of the four central characters, revealing the mother as a defeated drug addict; the father as a man frustrated in his career and failed as a husband and father’ the older son as a bitter alcoholic and the younger son as a tubercular disillusioned youth with only the slenderest chance for physical and spiritual survival. At the final curtain, they are still together, trapped y the past. Each of them is guilty and yet innocent. They scorn, love and pity one another. They realize and yet do not understand each other’s emotions. They forgive but are

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apparently doomed never to be able to forget the hurt they’ve inflicted on each other. Although they seem to hurt and destroy one another y their constant conflict, their true tragedy is caused by what life has done to them, by the forces of heredity and environment over which they have no control.

O’Neill’s tragedies are redefined in the light of absurd, existentialism, nihilism, philosophy of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, naturalism, Freudian-psycho-analytical theories, surrealism,...
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