All God's Chillun Got Wings

by Eugene O’Neill
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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 268

All God’s Chillun Got Wings addresses many of the issues that concerned O’Neill throughout his career as a playwright. The Emperor Jones (pr. 1920) and The Great God Brown (pr., pb. 1926) treat the question of race. In Servitude (pb. 1958), Beyond the Horizon (pr. 1920), The First Man (pr. 1922), and Welded, he examines male-female relations. While this play reflects themes that O’Neill addressed earlier in his career, it reveals greater dramatic skill than he had shown before; his handling of music, setting, and characterization are surer than in previous pieces.

An interest in his characters’ minds appears early in O’Neill’s writing and informs his last work. One may even detect a foreshadowing of the autobiographical Long Day’s Journey into Night (pr., pb. 1956), for the main characters have the names of O’Neill’s parents, and in both plays the wife descends into a madness that is a form of revenge against a husband she cannot love. The second act, like Long Day’s Journey into Night, proceeds from a fine spring morning to a spring twilight. The repetition of location and season suggests that time is frozen, that nothing will change for the characters or their world, so that one year, or seventeen years, makes no more difference than a single day.

Scholar Michael Hinden observes that All God’s Chillun Got Wings was a transitional piece that indicated O’Neill’s growing skill and his promise of better works to come. It is also a powerful production that remains thematically relevant and dramatically effective, worthy of a respected place in the O’Neill canon.

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