The Fog of Substance Abuse
As the fog descends around the Tyrone's summer home, another fog falls on the family within. This fog is that of substance abuse, in which each of the four main characters of Eugene O'Neill's play, Long Day's Journey into Night face by the end of Act IV. Long Day's Journey into Night is a metaphoric representation of the path from normalcy to demise by showing the general effects of substance abuse on human psychology and family dysfunctions through the characters Mary, Jamie, Edmund and Tyrone.
Mary Tyrone makes the transition most clearly throughout the entire play. In Act I, her hands move restlessly, and she seems to be quite nervous. When she appears in Act II "one notices no change except that she appears to be less nervous,
but then one becomes aware that her eyes are brighter and there is a peculiar detachment in her voice and manner" (O'Neill 58). These subtle signs of her relapse back to chemical dependency continue until the final scene, where she is most obviously under the influences of a chemical substance. The morphine seems to make her reminiscent of the past. In Act III, she talked about her two childhood dreams of becoming a concert pianist or a nun. By Act IV, she has dragged her old wedding dress from the attic and attempted to play the piano again. This presents a psychological reasoning for her relapses. She considers herself to be growing old and ugly, and often refers to the how she was at one time young and beautiful. "To her, the ugliness of the hands is the ugliness of what she has become over the last twenty-five years, which is why she uses the pain of the rheumatism in them as her reason for the morphine" (Chabrowe 181). Thus, it can be correlated that at one time she used the morphine to escape pain, and when she realized that it made her feel youthful again she became addicted.
Her failure to desist is also connected with her interfamily relationships. When she was accused of relapsing she said, "It would serve all of you right if it was true" (O'Neill 47)! This suggests that she is seeking justification to continue her drug addiction by using her family's suspicions as a reason to relapse (Bloom 163). Not only are her actions influenced by her family, but they also influence the men, namely Edmund. He is quite aware of his diminishing health, and suspects that he may have Tuberculosis. He feels, however, that he can overcome his illness as his mother overcame her addiction. His optimism is crushed when he realizes that she has indeed relapsed. Mary and Edmund are connected in more ways than a mother is to her youngest son. Michael Hinden notes that besides the fact that they share the same physical features, they have both tried to kill themselves and are both linked to sanitariums (62). Because they are so similar, it is not unusual that he uses her strength as motivation to persevere within his own problems, while her failure ensures his own failure in his mind.
Jamie is the disappointment of the family. He enjoys the company of whores and other alcoholic degenerates. He was expelled from college, and was a seemingly bad influence on his younger brother. Mary blames Tyrone for Jamie's alcoholism, since he fed Jamie a teaspoon of whisky as a child whenever he was restless. Yet, Jamie blames his mother. "[His] alcoholism is tied directly to [her] morphine addiction: over the years his drinking has risen and fallen in relation to Mary's cures" (Hinden 54). He had hoped that if she could beat it, so could he. It is apparent that his alcoholism is also the cause for his failure in life.
In Act IV, Jamie admits that he has glorified his lifestyle in order for his brother to fail. This apparently worked, since Edmund too has a problem with alcohol. Although their relationship seems healthy, it is obviously poisoned. It is not uncommon between two brothers that the younger looks up to the...
American Lung Association. "Who Get 's It." Tuberculosis (TB.) On-line. Internet. 1 March 2001. Available: http://www.lungusa.org/diseases/lungtb.html
Chabrowe, Leonard. "Rituals and Pathos: The Theatre of O 'Neill." Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.
Bloom, Steven F. "Empty Bottles, Empty Dreams: O 'Neill 's Use of Drinking and Alcoholism in Long Day 's Journey Into Night." Critical Essays on Eugene O 'Neill. 1984 ed.
Collins, R. Lorraine, Kenneth E. Leonard, and John S. Searles. Alcohol and the Family. New York, London: The Guilford Press, 1974.
Hinden, Michael. Long Day 's Journey into Night: Native Eloquence. Boston: Twane Publishers, 1990.
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