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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Some have called Long Day’s Journey into Night not only Eugene O’Neill’s greatest play but also one of the finest American plays of the twentieth century. More courageously than any American play before, this powerful drama chronicles the ways in which people’s identities emerge, for better or worse, from the family unit and develop through the choices they make as adults. “The past is the present. It’s the future too,” says Mary Tyrone, the mother in this family tragedy.
“Written in tears and blood,” the play is based on O’Neill’s own dysfunctional family, stricken by narcotic addiction, bitter recriminations, alienation, and the seductive lure of the American Dream. Despite the family’s undeniable love for one another, this play is about the paralyzing and heartbreaking way in which each member yearns to escape from, but is forever tied to, painful regrets and one another. The predominant image of the play is a blanket of fog that cushions and isolates the family from themselves and each other and is occasionally pierced by the foghorn, summoning the characters to confront their pain, loss, and denial.
Set in 1912 Connecticut during eighteen hours, the play has four main characters: father James Tyrone, a semiretired actor whose insensitive, compulsive cheapness torments his family; mother Mary, denying yet succumbing to morphine addiction (caused by James’s hiring of an incompetent doctor when Edmund was...
(The entire section is 503 words.)