The Long Loneliness Critical Essays

Dorothy Day

Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces The Long Loneliness Analysis

The Long Loneliness is at once a number of things. Viewed from the most obvious perspective, it is an account of a spiritual journey beset by obstacles that sent the pilgrim off the main highway onto side streets headed in a different direction. In each case, however, the detour in the end provided a new impetus to return to the highway and continue the journey.

Day viewed all of this as something other than a series of coincidences. On one of her detours, living a thoroughly sensuous life while cavorting with a variety of radicals and playwrights whose lives centered on the Provincetown Playhouse and the nearby saloons on Cape Cod, she first heard Francis Thompson’s haunting poem “The Hound of Heaven” recited in the unlikely “atmosphere of smoke and drink” by Eugene O’Neill. The idea of being pursued by God hit home and started her thinking once again of the meaning of life. In time she was back on the long-abandoned highway. As this is not the last time she mentions “The Hound of Heaven,” it seems clear that she came to view her life in the light of Thompson’s poem.

Literature in all of its forms played a vital role in shaping Day’s thought and actions, as the book makes evident. She was an avid and eclectic reader and became a very complex person. The works of Upton Sinclair and Pyotr Kropotkin were instrumental in focusing her attention on the plight of the working-class poor, and the latter, together with those of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Leo Tolstoy, helped set her in the direction of anarchism. At the same time, Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevski’s writings kept her faith in God alive, and Nikolai Gogol’s kindled it to a white heat. William James’s works awoke her to the value of voluntary poverty while Jack London’s nourished her radicalism.

Such readings alone, however, do not a Catholic make. The psalmists of the Old Testament and the writers of the New Testament were her frequent companions. The fifteenth century Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ) was a source of strength at crucial times, as were the works of Saint Augustine, whose life was so similar to her own. She read Augustine’s works in her teens and quoted him often, thus indicating his impact on her. In her autobiography, she refers to his negative view of the state to bolster her...

(The entire section is 962 words.)