Eugene O’Neill’s seminal, Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Beyond the Horizon, was written in 1918 but not produced or published until 1920, when it made its debut in New York. Beyond the Horizon was O’Neill’s first successful full-length play, and it signaled a change in American drama. Critics and audiences responded favorably to O’Neill’s dark, tragic vision, which contrasted sharply with the unrealistic, melodramatic plays of the day. The play drew heavily on O’Neill’s own experiences, including his tuberculosis and his sea voyages. During one of these sea trips, he met a Norwegian sailor who criticized his choice of going to sea as opposed to staying on his family’s farm. Taking this idea as a starting point, O’Neill crafted a tale of missed opportunities and failed dreams, involving two brothers. Robert, a poetic but sickly dreamer, wants to go to sea to strengthen his health and see the world. His brother, Andrew, is a born farmer who wants nothing more than to work on his family’s farm. Because they love the same woman, both brothers choose to go against their natures. Robert stays on the farm, and Andrew goes to sea.
While some critics have interpreted the play’s tragic ending to mean that one should follow his or her own dreams, others have seen a darker message: it does not matter what choice one makes because even dreams that come true are not fulfilling. Although O’Neill’s later autobiographical tragedies, namely The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night, have surpassed Beyond the Horizon in many critics’ eyes, most still acknowledge the earlier play as the first success in O’Neill’s career and one that had a strong influence on his early development as a playwright. The play has been widely anthologized and is available in Four Plays by Eugene O’Neill, published by Signet Classic in 1998.