Themes and Meanings
The Hairy Ape explores two common, interrelated themes in modern literature: personal isolation and alienation. Eugene O’Neill masterfully translates these themes into Darwinian terms, choosing a protagonist so low on the evolutionary scale as to be almost indistinguishable from the real apes. Yank has found his place, his womb, as it were, in the protected environment of the stokehold, a place where no more developed human would care to be.
As a simple stoker, Yank makes his meager contribution to society, and it, in turn, takes care of him until the fateful day that Mildred Douglas, a do-gooder, a not-so-liberal liberal, leaves her protected world to enter Yank’s for a brief moment. In the twinkling of an eye, Mildred makes Yank see what he really is. Having already been shown to be prone to fixations, he develops an obsession about Mildred and her kind that ultimately destroys him. He wants to destroy all that Mildred is and stands for, but her society is stronger than his. It is organized against the likes of Yank, and he does not stand a chance against it.
The great irony in the play is that Mildred’s society barely knows that the Yanks of the world exist. A day after she sees Yank and faints from the shock, Mildred will be back in her normal routine; the dirty, sweating, half-naked stoker will remain but a vague, mildly unpleasant memory for her. Meanwhile, the poison of Yank’s hatred for the Mildreds of the world boils...
(The entire section is 455 words.)