Ah! Wilderness Critical Context - Essay

Eugene O’Neill

Critical Context

Although not primarily intended for young adults, Ah! Wilderness can be enjoyed by this age group because of its sensitive depiction of adolescent and parental interactions. Perhaps for young readers the most accessible of O’Neill’s plays, the drama effectively reveals the positive qualities of American nostalgic family comedy and provides an interesting comparison to other works in the genre, including such plays as Clarence Day’s Life with Father (1920) and John Van Druten’s I Remember Mama (1944) and such television shows as Happy Days or The Waltons. What sets Ah! Wilderness apart from many other American nostalgic family comedies, however, is O’Neill’s refusal to allow the work to become overly sentimental. By including Sid’s unrelenting alcoholism and its codependency effect on the other family members, O’Neill keeps the tragic elements that are so pervasive in his other plays close to the surface of this comedy and keeps the drama from becoming hopelessly maudlin. O’Neill’s tragedy Long Day’s Journey into Night can be profitably read as a contrasting but parallel play about a family (O’Neill’s own) whose members fail to come to grips with relationships in the constructive manner portrayed by the Millers.