Eugene O'Neill and the Influence of Religion on His Work

Topics: Buddhism, Religion, Hinduism Pages: 5 (1878 words) Published: November 2, 2011
As a child we are thrown into, with no say in it mind you, the religious views and beliefs of our parents. Catholicism, Christianity, Muslim, Buddhism, etc., whatever it is that our parents were taught, we are now taught by them. In this paper I will give a brief family history of Eugene and where their faith lies as well as look at the effect religion had on him throughout his life and, of course, on all of his work. Eugene’s father, James O’Neill, and his mother, Mary Ellen Quinlan (known as Ella) had two very different backgrounds. James grew up Irish Catholic and came over to the States with his family to escape the famine (Black pgs. 1-2) while Ella had a very wealthy and stable household. Eugene also had to older siblings, Jamie and Edmund. Edmund would contract the measles as an infant and die before Eugene’s birth. Some scholars believe, such as Black mentions, that Edmund’s death and the abortions that Ella had between 1885 and 1887 led to her losing her religion. This plays an important role in Eugene’s view on her and religion as she also becomes addicted to morphine because of his birth. At the age of seven, Eugene was sent off to a Catholic boarding school, Mount Saint Vincent. Because of this Eugene did not have the opportunity to spend time with his family and was forced to spend his childhood almost utterly alone. For seven years, O’Neill would stay at Mount Saint Vincent following the strict rules of his Catholic “faith”. This loneliness and coldness he would experience from Mount Saint Vincent would be the way Eugene faced religion and life for the rest of his life. This is just a small look at his family and childhood to show a few justifications in his religious exploits throughout the paper. From now on it will focus primarily on Eugene and the effect of religion on his works and his own life and thoughts. (Black 1-5, 40-50) I will now discuss Eugene’s reading and understandings of several Eastern religions and philosophies and who influenced him into furthering his knowledge on them, beginning with Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion that revolves around finding one’s true self to escape a constant cycle of life and death (reincarnation) and transcend above the cycle (Minnesota State University website). As a young boy, O’Neill had already read several of Emerson’s essays which had Hinduism undertones throughout them, but O’Neill was unaware of this. O’Neill had found influence from another man while joining up with the Bohemian crowd in Greenwich Village and from some of his fellow actors in Provincetown. This influence was Terry Carlin, in which O’Neill had said about him “the man most responsible for my success as a writer” and also “the man who would become my bright light” (O’Neill Newsletter Vol. XI, No. 1 Spring, 1987). Carlin was a former roommate of O’Neill in 1916 in Provincetown. He introduced Eugene to several readings but the one of most importance was probably Theosophist pamphlet, Light on the Path by Mabel Collins. When the two moved in together, O’Neill wrote a section from this work on the ceiling of their apartment. “Before the eye can see it must know blindness. Before the ear can hear it must be deaf to the noise of the world: before the heart can learn to love it must have known the agony of emptiness.” After reading Robinson’s work and seeing that this was not the actual passage but a somewhat different version from Eugene’s ex-wife, Agnes Boulton, in her book, Part of a Long Story, Carpenter had a shorter version of it in his book as well but it was the exact quote from Collins’s Light on the Path. I decided to look up the actual version from the text itself (attached at end of paper). O’Neill was just hitting the surface of the Hindu religion and was not yet satisfied with his limited knowledge of it at the time so he purchased several books within the next few years to deepen his knowledge on this subject. One of the major books he purchased was Max Müller’s Six...
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