What was Eugene O' neill's contribution to modern literature?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Recognized as the first great American dramatist [he won the Nobel Prize in 1936] Eugene O'Neill brought artistic honesty and realism to the theatre.  He was the first to use American vernacular.  In a monologue from "The Hairy Ape," Yank speaks in strong dialect as he writes of personal struggle:  "Lemme alone.  Can't youse see I'm tryin' to t'ink?"

O'Neill wrote of people from the "fringes of society" who engage in depraved behavior.  They struggle to maintain hopes ,but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair.  Critics point to O'Neill's use of the moral and physical entanglements much like those of Greek drama to express the complexity of modern family life.  His "Long Day's Journey Into Night" deals with the entanglements of a son with his morphine-addicted mother and his conflicts with his despondent father.  This play is so realistic because it reflects the early years of O'Neill's life.  And, since O'Neill lived with many of the "fringe," sailors, dock-workers, etc., his are realistic and emotionally probing dramas.

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