Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
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.)
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The plot of Long Day's Journey into Night focuses on a dysfunctional family trying to come to grips with its ambivalent emotions in the face of serious familial problems, including drug addiction, moral degradation, deep-rooted fear and guilt, and life-threatening illness.
Alienation and Loneliness
The Tyrone family is fragmented, and each of its members to some degree is alienated from the rest. The most obvious estrangement exists between Tyrone and Jamie, both of whom allow their bitterness to overwhelm whatever residual love and respect they have for each other. Jamie holds his father's tightfistedness to blame for Mary's addiction to morphine, while Tyrone cannot forgive what he sees as his son's gutter-bound dissolution. The two are barely civil to each other, and knowing the recriminations their encounters habitually bring, they simply try to avoid each other, especially when drink has dissolved their masks of civility.
More subtle is the ambivalent alienation that Jamie feels towards Edmund. He confesses that a part of him hates Edmund, from jealousy and an irrational association of Edmund's survival with their mother's desperate plight.
Most estranged and alienated of all is Mary. Her struggle with her addiction is desperately lonely, most of the time beyond the others' understanding or sympathy. She talks at length of her isolation, placing much blame on Tyrone for the itinerant life his acting career...
(The entire section is 1175 words.)