Form and Content
Ah! Wilderness is a domestic comedy in four acts, centering on Eugene O’Neill’s nostalgic memories of turn-of-the-century family life in New England. The play is structured around the growing-up experiences of Richard Miller as he rebels against small-town morality in his reading, politics, and idealistic romance. Strong family ties and patient parental attention help Richard to resist temptation and accept the positive qualities of his domestic situation.
The action takes place over a two-day period, beginning on the Fourth of July, 1906. In act 1, as family members prepare to celebrate the holiday, Richard is at odds with the others as he lashes out, idealistically, against capitalism and quotes passages from authors considered to be “racy” and avant-garde. His reading is the springboard for the play’s development. When some quotations that Richard has shared with his sweetheart, Muriel McComber, are discovered by her father, Mr. McComber not only tries to prevent Muriel from further contact and communication with Richard but also demands that Mr. Miller discipline Richard harshly.
Richard’s reaction to his father’s reprimand and the break-up with Muriel constitute idealistic martyrdom. In act 2, during the family meal—with comic relief from the interactions of the old suitors, Sid Davis and Lily Miller—Richard maintains his pose of disdain and pessimism about life. He rebelliously looks forward to a forbidden...
(The entire section is 462 words.)