In Beyond the Horizon, Robert offers to take Ruth with him on his three-year voyage; in addition, Captain Dick Scott is worried that his crew will think Robert’s empty cabin was intended for a lover who jilted him. Wives and mistresses are two of the many roles that women have held in naval history. Women also served as nurses and in some cases disguised themselves as male sailors. In his Women Sailors and Sailors’ Women: An Untold Maritime History (2001), noted nautical historian David Cordingly examines the rich history of women at sea, focusing mainly on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In the play, life on the Mayo farm becomes a prison for Robert and Ruth. However, as Michael Dregni shows in his nostalgic collection This Old Farm: A Treasury of Family Farm Memories (1999), family life on farms in both the United States and Canada was enjoyable for many. The essays, fiction, photography, and artwork detail the various aspects of the farming life and include everything from a radio monologue by noted commentator Garrison Keillor to a commentary on tractor repair.
Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman (1949) features the story of Willy Loman, a salesman who dreams of being successful. Through the examination of one day in Loman’s life, Miller exposes the American dream that many people have and the tragedy that can result when this dream is not achievable.
O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, first published in 1946, is considered by many to be his best play. The story, which drew heavily on the tragedies in O’Neill’s own life, details life in a skid row saloon in 1912, where society’s losers—including drifters, prostitutes, and con artists—drown their failures in alcohol and talk about the successes they plan to have in the future. The one highlight in their lives is the annual visit of Hickey, a salesman who normally brings good times. However, this year, Hickey is a changed man who attempts to get the bar patrons to give up their unrealistic dreams and get their lives back on track.
O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize–winning autobiographical play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, was written in 1940, but the playwright was so concerned about the stark depictions of his dysfunctional family that he originally intended it to be published twenty-five years after his death. However, since the members of the O’Neill family portrayed in the play had already died, O’Neill’s widow authorized the publication of the play in 1956. This harrowing play features one day in the life of the Tyrone family. The youngest son Edmond suffers from tuberculosis and hates his father, the mother is addicted to drugs, and the older son is an alcoholic.
Before he wrote Beyond the Horizon, which only refers to the sea, O’Neill wrote a number of oneact plays that take place on a steamship at sea. The Long Voyage Home and Other Plays, published in 1995, contains four of these plays, including the title work, first published in 1917; Bound East for Cardiff (1916); The Moon of the Caribbees (1918); and In the Zone (1919).
O’Neill wrote letters to various people in his life, but none are more telling than those he wrote to his second wife, Agnes Boulton. In A Wind Is Rising: The Correspondence of Agnes Boulton and Eugene O’Neill (2000), editor William Davies King collects these letters, which detail O’Neill’s personal view of life in the spotlight. The book also includes a brief background of the lives of Boulton and O’Neill.
Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) details the relations among Blanche DuBois; her sister, Stella Kowalski; and Stella’s husband, Stanley. When Blanche, an aging southern belle, comes to stay with the Kowalskis, her idealistic dream world clashes with Stanley’s brutish realism, which threatens to destroy her.