How does The Hairy Ape represent the Irish?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In reality, the play The Hairy Ape, by Eugene O'Neil is not intended for an Irish audience, nor does it isolate social issues that are unique to Ireland. In fact, the only character that we could connect to the Irish is Paddy, who is a fellow cattle-class passenger in the train.

The real purpose behind The Hairy Ape is to expose American society after the Industrial Revolution, and to show how the increase in industrial technology can create a culture of masters and servants in terms of economics. Those who were wealthy in the early 1920's were extremely wealthy and controlled most of the community. Those who were poor, were also extremely poor and began to feel resentful about the wealthy classes.

O'Neil uses the character of Yank to represent the lower stratus of society which is pushed under the ranks of the rich with nowhere to go. No education means no opportunities. No opportunities means a perpetual state of poverty and need. Yank represents the working classes that basically enslave their lives for the benefit of the rich. They are destitute of society with little rights and very little hope. That is the central idea behind The Hairy Ape: A social view of America in a time of change.

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