The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Beyond the Horizon was Eugene O’Neill’s first full-length play to merit production. Set in and around the Mayo farm, the play chronicles the story of Robert and Andrew, two brothers closely allied to each another but totally disparate. Andrew is the born farmer, “husky, sun-bronzed son of the soil,” while Robert is the dreamer with a “touch of the poet about him, delicate of feature and refined.”

As the curtain rises, Robert is sitting on the property’s fence line contemplating the horizon in the distance. He has long dreamed of leaving the farm and traveling so he will not take root in any one place. This, in fact, is his last night on the farm, as he will embark the next morning to sail with his uncle, Captain Dick Scott, on the bark Sunda, finally having the opportunity to visit the exotic places that he has only dreamed and read about. A brief interchange with Andrew solidifies the established roles each brother has assumed in the family. Clearly each has different dreams and aspirations respectfully supported by the other. Ruth Atkins now appears. Although Ruth is engaged to Andrew, Robert confesses his love for her on the eve of his departure. Likewise, Ruth confides that she has also loved him for many years and was only settling for Andrew because it seemed that Robert was not interested in her. Reassured that “love” must be the “secret calling him from over the world’s rim—the secret beyond every horizon,” Robert decides that their love is “sweeter than any distant dream.” He will stay and work the farm with Ruth at his side.

The next scene reveals to the family the recent events between Ruth and Robert that the audience has just witnessed. Andrew, upset and jilted, makes the hasty...

(The entire section is 719 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The three-act play follows a traditional climactic play structure with each of the three acts separated into two scenes: one exterior and one interior. Although O’Neill received criticism for this device, his basic aim was to illustrate the two opposing forces at work on Robert Mayo. The interior scenes provide visual reinforcement of deterioration and decay manifested by Robert’s inability to orchestrate successfully the management of the farm. The main reason the critics faulted the scenic changes was that they interrupted the flow of the dramatic action and, according to American drama critic Alexander Woollcott, exterior scenes are not always as visually stimulating in practice as they are in the mind of the playwright. Eugene O’Neill, much like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, wrote stage directions that exhaustively describe the environment in which his dramas should be set. Although a lofty idea to juxtapose the beauty and illusiveness of the “horizon” with the eventual decay of the interior farmstead, the playwright’s vision was not realized at the Morosco Theatre.

Another difficulty with the structure of the play is that the endings of acts 1 and 2 seem too abrupt, with little foreshadowing of potential action in the next act, as if O’Neill has not quite escaped the format of the one-act. This difficulty also adds to the interruption of dramatic flow, especially with the extended periods of time lapsing between acts. In...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Although O’Neill wrote the tragic Beyond the Horizon in 1918 it features no reference to the biggest tragedy of the time World War I...

(The entire section is 768 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon was a striking departure from most of the melodramatic dramas of the...

(The entire section is 914 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

Late 1910s–Late 1920s: Because of technological advances in farming, many farm workers lose their jobs, while many farms...

(The entire section is 292 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

O’Neill gives his play an ambiguous ending, leaving the audience to wonder what happens to Ruth and Andy. Write a plot summary for a fourth...

(The entire section is 274 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Beyond the Horizon was adapted as a television movie by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1975. The film, directed by Rick...

(The entire section is 48 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

In Beyond the Horizon, Robert offers to take Ruth with him on his three-year voyage; in addition, Captain Dick Scott is worried that...

(The entire section is 644 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Ben-Zvi, Linda, ‘‘Freedom and Fixity in the Plays of Eugene O’Neill,’’ in The Critical Response...

(The entire section is 762 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Black, Stephen A. Eugene O’Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Eugene O’Neill. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Carpenter, Frederic I. Eugene O’Neill. Boston: Twayne, 1964.

Floyd, Virginia. The Plays of Eugene O’Neill: A New Assessment. New York: Ungar, 1987.

Gelb, Arthur, and Barbara Gelb. O’Neill. New York: Harper Brothers, 1962.

Harding, Helen Elizabeth, ed. Tragedies Old and New,...

(The entire section is 89 words.)