‘She’ll be nothing but a ghost haunting the past by this time’ (Edmund, Act 4, p82) In Long Day’s Journey into Night, how far and in what ways is the past presented as destructive?
Edmund’s poignant quote that encapsulates the character of Mary Tyrone shows evidence of one of the play’s main underlying themes; the destructive power of the past and the horrors that not being able to let go of it can bring. Each member of the Tyrone family will delve into their past to try and escape the hellish environment surrounding them, which they themselves have made. By delving deeper into the past to escape themselves and their family members, they only worsen the situation, paralyzed by a painful double bind that drags them into a downwards spiral of depression. The semi autobiographical play was written by O’Neill between 1941 and 1942 but only published in 1956, 3 years after his death. The fact that he prevented the play from being published shows that the scenes are based on true scenes of pain and suffering that he and his family endured which made him feel vulnerable if out in the open. Perhaps he, just like the characters in Long Day’s Journey into Night, was afraid of his past and the destructive power that it holds. Edmund’s description of Mary Tyrone as a “ghost haunting the past” is a near perfect encapsulation of her character later in the play. Plagued by her morphine addiction, Mary Cavan Tyrone (based on the O’Neill’s mother Mary O’Neill who faced a real morphine addiction) tries to escape into the ‘good old days’ of her past. The morphine acts as a kind of time machine that brings her back to being the “naive, happy, chattering schoolgirl of her convent days”. However by falling into the trap of the past with her own personal drug, like all the family members, she loses the will to fight against her problem in the present and takes more morphine to counter this effect, freezing herself in a deadly double bind and showing the destructive nature of...
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