By 1940, O’Neill had won three Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize in Literature, but the work for which he is remembered and praised and revered as America’s foremost dramatist is Long Day’s Journey into Night, his autobiographical work dealing with the torment of his own family. It earned for him a final Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1956. In the dedication of the play to his wife Carlotta, O’Neill says:I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play—write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.
O’Neill was fascinated with the family unit and with the effects of heredity as well as relationships upon the generations. If one generation is poor, the second becomes miserly, and the third contemptuous, what remains for the fourth generation? O’Neill’s outlined cycle of plays, which he was never to complete, explored the past and future of a single family through three hundred years and many generations. Long Day’s Journey into Night also expresses the idea that bonds of blood are inextricable. Each of the characters is in conflict over the role of the independent self and the role of dependent family member. In their ambivalence, feelings of love and hate surface and clash. The family unit is confined, a self-contained universe, and beyond is only the void.
In this family drama the O’Neills become the Tyrones: father James, a famous actor known for his role as the count of Monte Cristo; mother Mary, a thinly disguised portrait of Ellen Quinlan O’Neill; and the two sons Jamie and Edmund, mirrors of Eugene’s brother Jamie and the playwright himself. Set in New London, Connecticut, the time is 1912, the year of O’Neill’s suicide attempt and his brush with tuberculosis.
Like The Iceman Cometh, the structure is classical; the events are compressed into one August day. The first act occurs in the morning, the second before and after lunch, the third at 6:30 p.m., and...
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