The play is overtly autobiographical, with O’Neill calling his father James Tyrone, his mother Mary Tyrone, his older brother James Tyrone, Jr., and himself not Eugene but Edmund Tyrone--thereby assuming the first name of the youngest brother, who died in infancy when exposed to measles by the oldest. In the preface, dedicated to his third wife Carlotta, O’Neill thanks her for the “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.”
Two events propel the action: Mary Tyrone, despite having recently been treated for drug addiction, relapses into her morphine habit; and Edmund learns (as O’Neill did) that he has tuberculosis and must enter a sanatorium. When other family members move urgently closer to Mary for her sympathy and support, she inexorably moves away from them into the fog of her illusions.
The family is shown as living in a closely symbiotic relationship, with each important attribute of one member affecting--usually for the worse--the behavior of the other three. The quartet is linked by resentment and guilt, but also by love and need. Anger and recrimination alternate with pity and understanding. Each character takes turns being victim and persecutor, aggressor and protector.
The drama rises above the confessional level to show the Tyrones as a universal family, whose soul-searing discoveries and dreams,...
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