Long Day's Journey into Night

by Eugene O’Neill

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 712

James Tyrone

James Tyrone, who is sixty-five years old but looks ten years younger. This strikingly handsome, vital man is based on the playwright’s father, James Tyrone, a popular actor. Of Irish peasant stock, this character has never been sick and is impatient with those who are, like his wife and younger son. Because of his poverty-stricken youth, he is incredibly stingy, compulsively turning off light bulbs and reluctant to pay for anything except the cheapest goods and services, except when he is investing in land. His stinginess has brought on the play’s central tragedy, the morphine addiction of his wife, for whom he called a quack doctor rather than getting qualified medical help when she was sick after bearing her younger son. Now that the son has tuberculosis, James wants to send him to the cheap state sanatorium rather than pay for decent medical services. Although he loves his family, he is the victim of his own ingrained compulsions. They have damaged him as well: He was a promising Shakespearean actor and thinks he could have become a great actor but squandered his talent by buying the rights to a potboiler play in which he performed for a generation to secure a comfortable income. Consequently, he is a disappointed man who drowns his frustrations in drink.

Mary Cavan Tyrone

Mary Cavan Tyrone, his wife, fifty-four years old. Her figure still is young and graceful, but her once beautiful face is thin and pale, her hair is white, and her hands are disfigured by rheumatism. She was educated by nuns in a Catholic school and wanted to become a nun herself. Instead, she met James Tyrone, fell in love, married him, and became addicted to morphine prescribed by an inexpensive doctor. Her hope to be a concert pianist was ruined by her rheumatic hands. As the play opens, she has been home for two months from a sanatorium, where she supposedly became free from her addiction, but the fear that her younger son’s illness may be tuberculosis rather than a recurrence of malaria and that her husband will be too stingy to pay for proper medical care for Edmund causes her to relapse. The long day’s journey is her gradual retreat into addiction until, at midnight, she is insane from drowning herself in the drug.

James (Jamie) Tyrone, Jr.

James (Jamie) Tyrone, Jr., their older son. Although he is only thirty-three years old, he is ravaged by dissipation. Generally, he is cynical, though he can have a beguiling charm that makes him attractive to women and popular with men. Like his father, he is an actor, but he lacks his father’s vitality and squanders his talent on alcohol and prostitutes. Like his brother Edmund, he is fond of quoting decadent poetry. A manic-depressive, like the rest of his family, he has a love-hate relationship with them. In a moment of truth, he confesses to Edmund that he loves him but will try to destroy him by setting a horrible example and warns Edmund to break free of him.

Edmund Tyrone

Edmund Tyrone, the younger son, twenty-three years old, tall, thin, and wiry, with large dark eyes, a hypersensitive mouth, a thin Irish face, and a nervous sensibility. He is a portrait of the playwright as a young man. As the play opens, he is in ill health. The crisis is in part brought about by the discovery that he has tuberculosis and must go to a sanatorium. He has been a common seaman and has subsequently lived a bohemian life as an occasional actor and poet. His father complains of his left-wing politics and his morbid taste for decadent literature but admits grudgingly that he has a genuine touch of the poet. Hero-worshiping his dissolute older brother, Edmund has been imitating Jamie’s dissipation. It is possible that the enforced stay in a sanatorium will turn his life around and help him become a serious artist.


Cathleen, the hired girl, in her early twenties, “a buxom Irish peasant” with black hair and reddish cheeks, described as “amiable, ignorant, clumsy.” A minor character, she provides some exposition and serves occasionally as someone to whom Edmund or Mary can talk before the other members of the family arrive.

Edmund Tyrone

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Edmund, the youngest son of James and Mary Tyrone, is twenty-three, ten years younger than his brother, Jamie. Thinner, and a bit taller than Jamie, Edmund more closely resembles his mother than his father. He also shares some of his mother's nervousness, evident in his hands. A fledgling journalist, he is also a poet. He is more of an intellectual than his brother and quickly becoming better read, but he has also seen something of the world, working on merchant ships as a common seaman and drifting through waterfront bars and flophouses. He has a deep and abiding love of the sea, but he also has a morbid view of life that his father finds deeply distressing. He has a special bond with Jamie, for whom he has a great affection. He is ill with tuberculosis, and the consumptive disease is evident in his gaunt frame, wracking cough, and sallow complexion.

James and Mary Tyrone

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James Tyrone
The sixty-five year old family patriarch, James Tyrone is a financially successful and handsome actor whose robust looks and bearing make him appear more youthful. His popular success has not spoiled him, partly because he is a self-made man from a poor immigrant Irish family deserted by his father. His resulting fear of poverty has turned him into a man obsessed with money and owning property, always looking for bargains, even at the expense of his family's health. From that same heritage comes a lack of snobbery and pretension. He wears clothes to "the limit of usefulness," and thus appears somewhat shabby and careless in his dress. However, he does reveal the "studied technique" of an experienced actor and takes some pride in his powerful, resonant voice and his command of language. His wife's morphine addiction and his sons' profligate lives have made him both resentful and angry. Whiskey offers him some solace, but he is never able to escape the recrimination of his sons, who hold him partly responsible for their mother's drug addiction.

Mary Tyrone
Mary, wife to James Tyrone, at fifty-four, is several years younger than her husband. She is described as having a "graceful figure" with a distinctly Irish face, once pretty and "still striking." From the outset, it is clear that she is on edge, nervously fluttering her fingers, once beautiful but now gnarled by rheumatism. She has been addicted to morphine for several years, and has been in out of sanitariums, desperately trying to get free of her dependency. Under the influence of the drug, she escapes into an idealized version of her girlhood at a convent school, with dreams of becoming a nun or a concert pianist. She finds the real world lonely and depressing, offering little hope or joy. She cannot deal with unpleasant truths; for example, that her son Edmund might be suffering from something more serious than a cold. Still, she retains the "unaffected charm" and "innate unworldly innocence" of her youth, explaining her family's protective loyalty and love and crushing disappointment when she once more falls victim to her addiction.

James Tyrone, Jr.

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James Tyrone, Jr.
The oldest son of James and Mary Tyrone, Jamie, at thirty-three, shows the physical signs of his dissipation. He favors his father in appearance, but lacks the Old Man's robust vitality and graceful presence. He is an unabashed and unapologetic drunk, with a history of failing at most everything he has tried. He is also a womanizer, spending much of his time haunting saloons and brothels. Afflicted with a caustic cynicism and sneering manner, he mocks his father at every turn, blaming Tyrone's miserly ways for most of the family problems. Though protective towards Edmund, he admits to a desire to corrupt him, to shape his brother in his own image, and he knows why. His beloved mother's use of morphine had begun after bearing Edmund, and a part of Jamie hates his brother as the source of her pain. For Tyrone, Jamie is nothing but a free-loading, ungrateful bum, quickly slipping beyond redemption. Jamie is at least honest enough to agree with that assessment of his character.

Other Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 78

The "second girl," Cathleen is the Tyrone household maid, "a buxom Irish peasant" of about Edmund's age. She is dull, awkward, and slow but very amiable and totally unaffected. She shows no awareness that her familiarity is inappropriate for a servant, and her ingenuousness encourages Mary to treat her almost like an old school chum and confidant.

See James Tyrone.

See James Tyrone, Jr.

The Kid
See Edmund Tyrone.

The Old Man
See James Tyrone.

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