Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1248
Act 1, Scene 1
Beyond the Horizon begins on a country road that runs through the bustling Mayo family farm, where the entire play takes place. Robert, a delicate, poetic young man, sits on a fence by the road, reading a book. His hardy older brother, Andrew, whom most people call Andy, comes in from working in the fields and stops to talk to Robert, who is leaving the next morning to go away on a sea voyage for three years with their uncle. Andy says that everybody will miss him, including Andy, who, as a farmer, does not understand Robert’s dream to see the world.
It is obvious from the behavior of the two brothers that they are both in love with Ruth Atkins, who is coming to Robert’s farewell dinner with her mother. Andy leaves to wash up before dinner, and Ruth stops by to talk to Robert. She tells him that her widowed, invalid mother nags at her constantly. Ruth says she will miss Robert while he is on his trip. He tells her that the trip has been a dream of his ever since he was a sickly child, but he also says that he is going because he loves her and does not want to interfere with her future with Andy. Ruth is shocked and says that she loves Robert, not Andy. She talks him into canceling his voyage, but he looks wistfully over his shoulder at the horizon.
Act 1, Scene 2
Later that night, Andy sits with his father James, his mother Kate, and her brother Captain Dick Scott, who is telling an old sea story. Everybody else is distracted and sad over the thought of Robert’s leaving. Robert, meanwhile, has gone with Ruth to wheel her mother home. Andy leaves to check on one of the cows, and Mr. Mayo tells the others he hopes that Andy and Ruth get married, since the Atkins farm is next door to the Mayo farm, and Andy could manage both. Mrs. Mayo says that she does not think Ruth loves Andy. Robert walks in and announces that he is canceling his voyage, since Ruth has told him she loves him. Everybody is glad except Scott, who is losing a shipmate, and Andy, who has been quietly listening from the doorway. Andy forces a smile and congratulates Robert, then says that he is going to take Robert’s place on the voyage. Scott is overjoyed, but Mr. Mayo is shocked and accuses Andy of running away because Ruth did not choose him. Andy lies, saying that he hates the farm and wants to get away. His father disowns him and storms out. Robert knows Andy’s decision is because of Ruth but says that if he were in Andy’s place, he would do the same thing.
Act 2, Scene 1
Three years later, the signs of neglect on the farm are evident from the condition of the farmhouse. Mrs. Mayo and Mrs. Atkins sit at the table, talking about Robert’s mismanagement of both farms, Andy’s expected arrival, and whether or not Mr. Mayo forgave Andy before he died. Both women agree that Ruth and Andy would have made a better match. Ruth, who looks much older after three years, comes in with Mary, her sickly child. All three women talk about Andy, whom they expect will stay to help renovate the farm. Mrs. Atkins and Mrs. Mayo go outside to escape the heat of the farmhouse. Robert comes in, and they argue about Robert not eating dinner, Ruth’s pining over Andy’s letters, Mary not taking a nap, and Robert’s preference for books instead of work. Ben, the farmhand, comes in, announcing that he is quitting because he is embarrassed to work on such a poor farm. Robert and Ruth have a vicious fight, telling each other that their marriage has been a mistake. Robert says he wishes he had gone to sea, and Ruth says that she loves Andy and wishes Robert would leave. Andy arrives.
Act 2, Scene 2
Later that day, Robert sits on a boulder on the farm, gazing off toward the horizon. Andy comes up and says he is giving up his career at sea to move to Argentina and invest in the lucrative grain business in Buenos Aires. Robert is dismayed that Andy is not staying on at the Mayo farm, and they talk about the farm’s bad condition. Andy offers to give his savings to Robert to save the farm, but Robert refuses and becomes infuriated. Ruth stops by and it is evident that she has put on makeup and gotten dressed up for Andy. Ruth sends Robert and Mary away on a work task and tells Andy that she cannot wait until he takes over. Andy tells Ruth that he is leaving but that he is going to hire some help to run the farm. He also tells Ruth that he loves her like a sister. Ruth is distraught over Andy’s unexpected leaving as well as over the fact that he no longer loves her, and she rebukes him. Andy is confused at these outbursts and thinks he is not wanted. They are interrupted by Captain Scott, who tells Andy a ship is ready to leave for Argentina the next morning. This is the only ship that is going to Argentina for months, so Andy decides to take it. Andy and Captain Scott leave to walk toward the Mayo farmhouse, and Ruth breaks down crying.
Act 3, Scene 1
Five years later, the farmhouse is in total decay. Robert, who is obviously sick, talks with Ruth about Andy’s imminent arrival, Mary’s death, his sickness, and their money problems. Ruth puts Robert back to bed and talks to her mother about Jake, the hired hand who has just quit because Robert owed him money. Andy and a medical specialist, Doctor Fawcett, arrive. While the doctor examines Robert, Andy and Ruth talk about Robert’s condition. Ruth says they could not afford to contact Andy sooner and that Robert has steadily lost interest in everything since Mary and his mother died. Andy says he needs to go away again, because he has lost most of his money on speculative investments, but that there is enough left over in his savings to fix the farm. Doctor Fawcett comes out of the room and says that Robert is dying. Robert says that his dying wish is to have Andy marry Ruth, then he goes to lie down again. Andy is confused over this request until Ruth tells Andy about the fight she and Robert had over Andy five years ago. Ruth goes to the bedroom to tell Robert that she does not love Andy and cannot marry him, but Robert has climbed out the window.
Act 3, Scene 2
A few minutes later, Robert stumbles into the same section of country road where the play started, although the fields are no longer healthy. Andy and Ruth rush up to Robert, who tells them he wants to die outside. Robert is happy because with his death, he says, he will finally be able to journey beyond the horizon. Robert dies, saying once again that Andy needs to take care of Ruth. Andy looks at Ruth, telling her they have both screwed things up but that perhaps in the future, things will be better, suggesting that maybe they will get married. Ruth, however, is exhausted and gives no sign that she agrees.
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