The Hairy Ape opens in the overheated stokehold of a steamer, ocean-bound from New York. The stokers raise a cacophony of sailor-like chatter. The dim-witted Yank has most of the speeches, and he soon reveals himself as relatively content where he is. He feels as if he belongs; his life suits him. In the first scene, he is revealed to be a person of strong feelings that are not based on reason or on real knowledge of how society works. In the stokehold, he is removed from society, insulated from ideas that might challenge his own. If there is any conflict in his life, it is over whether beer or whiskey is the preferable drink.
Scene 2 takes place on the deck of the ship, where two women, a girl just out of college and her aunt, sit in deck chairs. The girl, Mildred Douglas, is restless and craves excitement. She has made arrangements with the second engineer to visit the stokehold and see how the ship is fueled and made to run. The dialogue shows that, superficially at least, Mildred is an iconoclast. Dressed in a delicate white dress, she greets the second engineer, who tries to dissuade her from going into the stokehold, especially dressed as she is. She is insistent and ignores his objections and those of her aunt.
The following scene is back in the stokehold, where Yank has a few more substantial speeches that show his contempt for society and his resentment of those at social levels superior to his: virtually the whole civilized world. The scene’s climax comes when Mildred is shown into the stokehold. She is hit by a sweltering gust of air. Before her she sees sweating stokers, stripped to the waist, black from coal dust. Yank’s blazing eyes meet hers, whereupon she demands to be taken away, calls the stokers dirty beasts, and faints.
Yank’s life is stoking steamship boilers. When his fellow stoker Paddy laments the passing of sailing vessels, Yank upbraids him, saying that Paddy does not belong, while he himself does. Yank’s equilibrium is completely destroyed, however, by Mildred’s intrusion, because it makes him feel that he does not belong and that he is...
(The entire section is 865 words.)