Autobiographical Features in O’ Neill’s Plays
In the framework of the course Modern Drama I have assumed to make an assignment about the autobiographical features in O’Neill’s plays. I have chosen two of them: the Desire Under the Elms and the Long Day’s Journey into Night. In the pages that follow you can read my study of these two plays that were written from an increasingly personal point of view, deriving directly from the scarring effects of his family’s tragic relationships.
O’Neill’s life and plays offer a source of abundant material about the relation of autobiographical features and his writings. Dramatizing the family unit is the heart of his writings. The mothers and fathers of his plays are a choice originating from his own needs made to explain his mother’s and father’s behavior. Sons’ relationships are variations based on the structure of his own relationship with his parents as well as his children’s relationship with him. Moreover, the feminine figure plays a principal role. Most characters of his plays are similar or even identical to his family members.
In November 1924, after a short period of sorrow, O’Neill made the production of his play Desire Under the Elms. More powerful than Anna Kristie and Beyond the Horizon, it included all the typical features of O’Neill’s talent reflecting his anxiety about the human passionate nature and his inevitable fate. The play was O’Neill’s personal mourning for the loss of his family depicting the love and hate relations between father and son, couple and brothers. In this play, the son is in constant conflict with the father while the mother is the lovable and caring ally of the son. O’Neill, in this play, while making the portrait of Abbie’s feminine character, presented the opposing powers reflecting his mother’s character. Gelb characterizes the play Desire Under the Elms as “a non-conscious autobiography” while the play Long Day’s Journey into Night is characterized as a conscious one. “The Desire is the tragedy of the possessive and lamentable human desire to build his own paradise on the earth by satisfying his sense of power by possessing land, people, money and especially other people’s land and lives. It’s the creative desire of a non creative spirit, that never manages anything rather than seizing temporarily the equally temporary reality” . The description of this family served for the writer’s exploring his feelings of guilt, abandonment and love that haunted his family. James and Ella O’Neill find their place in this play and the three sons, Jamie, dead Edmond and Eugene are portrayed by the characters of the sons Simon, Peter and Eben Cabot. The play Desire Under the Elms has impressive similarities with the O’Neill family. Ephraim Cabot resembles to O’Neil’s father, since both had the same desire for goods especially land and both were in constant conflict with their sons. What is more important here is that Ephraim himself could be considered as one of the writer’s portraits: a demanding husband and a desperate father. Nevertheless, Eben reveals O’Neil’s obsession and emotional addiction to his mother as well as the corresponding hatred towards his father. O’Neil liked Ephraim Cabot very much: “I always liked Ephraim so much… He is so autobiographical!” . In Desire Under the Elms O’Neil described the primitive family: Ephraim incarnates the tough father, Abbie is the personification of tenderness and destructive motherhood, and Eben, like O’Neill, the victim of mother’s deprivation. Moreover, Eben is the first son-character in O’Neill’s plays who suffers a neurotic sorrow for his mother’s death. His emotional state is a result of the feeling of deprivation. Emotionally destroyed, Eben “attacked” Abbie when she adhered to the Cabot household, because she represented the femininity and motherly love he always desired. O’Neill used Abbie’s character to present the instinctive and spiritual world....
References: Gassner, John, O’Neill A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Gelb, Arthur and Barbara, O’Neill, 1962
Καραγκούνη, Κέλλυ, Ερμηνεύοντας το Θεατρικό Λόγο του Ο’Νιλ, Εκδοτικός Οργανισμός Λιβάνη, Αθήνα, 2007
Clark, Barrett, Ευγένιος Ο’Νιλ, Ο Άνθρωπος και το Έργο του, Μετάφραση: Νικολοπούλου, Β, Εκδόσεις Γκοβόστη
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