Critical Context

In power, insight, scale, and ambition, Eugene O’Neill is unsurpassed among American dramatists. In addition, Long Day’s Journey into Night is his most magnificent work, generally regarded as the American theater’s highest achievement. It demonstrates his capacity to dig beneath the illusions and lies of everyday behavior, to assert a profoundly tragic sense of man’s shortcomings, but also to reconcile himself to the melancholy state of a flawed and often unjust universe. Like tragedians from Aeschylus to Samuel Beckett, O’Neill has a desolate view of life. His talent for dramatizing that view was sometimes flawed by self-conscious portentousness, as in Lazarus Laughed (pb. 1927) and Mourning Becomes Electra (pr., pb. 1931). In at least two plays—the bleak The Iceman Cometh (pr., pb. 1946) and Long Day’s Journey into Night—O’Neill climbed artistic heights scaled by only a handful of world-renowned modern playwrights: Ibsen, Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, and Beckett.