Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
By 1940, O’Neill had won three Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize in Literature, but the work for which he is remembered and praised and revered as America’s foremost dramatist is Long Day’s Journey into Night, his autobiographical work dealing with the torment of his own family. It earned for him a final Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1956. In the dedication of the play to his wife Carlotta, O’Neill says:I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play—write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.
O’Neill was fascinated with the family unit and with the effects of heredity as well as relationships upon the generations. If one generation is poor, the second becomes miserly, and the third contemptuous, what remains for the fourth generation? O’Neill’s outlined cycle of plays, which he was never to complete, explored the past and future of a single family through three hundred years and many generations. Long Day’s Journey into Night also expresses the idea that bonds of blood are inextricable. Each of the characters is in conflict over the role of the independent self and the role of dependent family member. In their ambivalence, feelings of love and hate surface and clash. The family unit is confined, a self-contained universe, and beyond is only the void.
(The entire section is 865 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Some have called Long Day’s Journey into Night not only Eugene O’Neill’s greatest play but also one of the finest American plays of the twentieth century. More courageously than any American play before, this powerful drama chronicles the ways in which people’s identities emerge, for better or worse, from the family unit and develop through the choices they make as adults. “The past is the present. It’s the future too,” says Mary Tyrone, the mother in this family tragedy.
“Written in tears and blood,” the play is based on O’Neill’s own dysfunctional family, stricken by narcotic addiction, bitter recriminations, alienation, and the seductive lure of the American Dream. Despite the family’s undeniable love for one another, this play is about the paralyzing and heartbreaking way in which each member yearns to escape from, but is forever tied to, painful regrets and one another. The predominant image of the play is a blanket of fog that cushions and isolates the family from themselves and each other and is occasionally pierced by the foghorn, summoning the characters to confront their pain, loss, and denial.
Set in 1912 Connecticut during eighteen hours, the play has four main characters: father James Tyrone, a semiretired actor whose insensitive, compulsive cheapness torments his family; mother Mary, denying yet succumbing to morphine addiction (caused by James’s hiring of an incompetent doctor when Edmund was...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After breakfast on a warm summer day in August, 1912, as brothers Jamie and Edmund Tyrone joke in the dining room, their mother, Mary, teases her husband, James Tyrone, about his real estate bargains and expresses concern about Edmund’s illness. Tyrone reassures her about Edmund’s health and compliments her on her own healthy appearance. After the young men join their parents in the living room, the lighthearted family conversation turns increasingly critical among them until Edmund repeats a humorous story told to him by their farm tenant Shaughnessy, who had managed to get the best of Harker, the Standard Oil millionaire, and the tension is broken.
With Edmund upstairs, the others discuss his illness. Mary claims it is only a cold, but Tyrone admits privately to his elder son, Jamie, that the doctor suspects tuberculosis. Jamie responds by accusing his father of not sending Edmund to a real doctor but to a quack. The conversation escalates into an argument that ends with both father and son feeling ashamed and guilty, and with Jamie revealing his suspicion that Mary has relapsed in her drug addiction. Tyrone and Jamie decide to go outside and clip the hedge. When Edmund tries to express to Mary his concern about her health, she accuses him of not trusting her and spying on her, and she declares that she is going to lie down before lunch.
Not long before lunchtime, restless with hedge clipping, Jamie joins Edmund for a clandestine drink...
(The entire section is 833 words.)
Long Day's Journey into Night is set in the living room of the Tyrones' shoreline summer home in New London, Connecticut, in August of 1912. The play begins in the morning and ends late at night on the same day.
The work is divided into four acts. It largely consists of painful disclosures and acrimonious exchanges among the four family members, as major crises mount and finally engulf the family in despair. Of central concern are Mary's relapse into morphine addiction, Jamie's continued descent into irreversible dissipation, and Edmund's grim discovery that he has tuberculosis and must enter a sanatorium.
The play, which opens just after breakfast, begins on a hopeful note, evident in the affectionate exchange between James and Mary Tyrone, but it is clear that Mary is being carefully watched by her family. Neither her morphine addiction nor Edmund's obvious ill health are honestly discussed. Instead, the characters fence around the truth with evasive banter, though, at times, resentment and disappointment surface. Tyrone upbraids Jamie, his eldest son, for encouraging Edmund, the younger son, to follow in Jamie's dissolute footsteps. Jamie, ever critical of "the Old Man," in turn derides Tyrone as a miser, ultimately to blame for Mary's addiction and Edmund's ill health because of his penny-pinching reluctance to pay for competent doctors. To the father and sons, it becomes obvious that Mary is growing unstable, but...
(The entire section is 1423 words.)