Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 238

North Atlantic seacoast

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North Atlantic seacoast. Eugene O’Neill’s depiction of the seacoast is based on his own youthful experience as a seaman during a time when he had dropped out of college. The barge on which most of the action takes place stops in New York City, Provincetown, and Boston, moving from the Long Island Sound to the Nantucket Sound, around Cape Cod, and ending in Boston Harbor. While the barge hugs the coast, the greater sea intrudes in the person of Matt Burke, a virile sailor rescued from an open boat after the wreck of his steamer. For Anna, the sea and her seaman are rejuvenating and spiritually transformative. For Chris, however, the sea is an “old devil” which will destroy all who venture onto it.

Simeon Winthrop

Simeon Winthrop. Commercial barge that is the home and livelihood of Christopher Christopherson, a Swedish immigrant of fifty. The play’s stage directions describe the barge in some detail. For Chris, the barge is a retreat, but the barge inspires Anna with new possibilities.

Johnny-the-Priest’s Saloon

Johnny-the-Priest’s Saloon. Rough waterfront bar on New York City’s South Street, where Anna first reunites with her father. This location is based on O’Neill’s own memories of a bar known as Jimmy-the-Priest’s. Stage directions indicate double swinging doors and half barrels of cheap whiskey drawn by spigots, characteristic of saloons of its time and place.

Historical Context

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

The Emergence of the American Theatre
At the end of the nineteenth century, a group of playwrights that included James A. Herne, Bronson Howard, David Belasco, Augustus Thomas, Clyde Fitch, and William Vaughn Moody started breaking away from traditional melodramatic forms and themes. As a result, American theatre began to establish its own identity. These and other playwrights in the early part of the twentieth century were inspired by the dramatic innovations of Henrik Ibsen August Strindberg, and George Bernard Shaw. During this period, experimental theatre groups made up of dramatists and actors encouraged new innovative American playwrights. In 1914, Lawrence Langner, Helen Westley, Philip Moeller, and Edward Goodman created the Washington Square Players in New York, and in 1915, playwright Susan Glaspell helped start the Provincetown Players in Massachusetts. The goal of both of these groups was to produce plays that the more conservative Broadway theatres rejected. The most important member of this latter group was Eugene O’Neill, who wrote plays with a uniquely American voice. George H. Jensen, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, notes that ‘‘before O’Neill began to write, most American plays were poor imitations or outright thefts of European works.’’ Jensen insists that O’Neill became the ‘‘catalyst and symbol . . . of the establishment of American drama.’’

In the late nineteenth century, playwrights turned away from what they considered the artificiality of melodrama to a focus on the commonplace in the context of everyday contemporary life. They rejected the flat characterizations and unmotivated, violent action typical of melodrama. Their work, along with much of the experimental fiction written during that period, adopts the tenets of realism, a new literary movement that supported the creation of believable characters with sometimes problematic interactions with society. Dramatists, like Henrik Ibsen, discard traditional sentimental theatrical forms as they chronicle the strengths and weaknesses of ordinary people confronting difficult social problems, like the restrictive conventions nineteenthcentury women endured. Writers who embraced realism use settings and props to reflect their characters’...

(The entire section contains 1866 words.)

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Critical Essays


Teaching Guide