Themes and Meanings
Eugene O’Neill has composed a lyric of lamentation, in rhythms of agonizing pain, about a ravaged family that not only mirrors his own but also bears on the condition of all mankind. This is a family tied together not only by resentment, guilt, betrayal, and recrimination but also by compassion and love. As in Henrik Ibsen’s plays, the present and past blend in a search—never fully satisfied—for the source of the misfortunes that afflict the blighted house of the Tyrones. Each Tyrone is somehow, but not solely, responsible for his or her wretchedness. A tainted legacy contaminates generation after generation. Edmund’s attempted suicide, prior to the action proper, parallels the actual suicide of Tyrone’s father, just as his tuberculosis apes the illness from which Mary’s father died. Alcoholism courses through three generations. Each protagonist may be partly responsible for his or her fate, because of emotional cowardice or self-deception, but each protagonist is primarily a victim of his fate, whether inherited or inherent in the hellish mystery called life.
Mary’s words carry O’Neill’s message at several crucial moments. Having chastised Jamie for sneering at his father, she then reflects:But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can’t help it. None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes...
(The entire section is 440 words.)