The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Moon for the Misbegotten begins on a hot, clear day at roughly noon at the Hogans’ run-down farm, the house weathered gray and congruous with the parched and barren land that surrounds it. Attached to the house’s left side is a small bedroom, its walls and roof covered with tar paper; three steps lead up to the door of this room, and it is from this door that a very large woman emerges, her feet bare and her body clothed in a sleeveless cotton dress. She is Josie Hogan, and she is obviously anxious about something as she looks around the right corner of the house toward the field and then sighs with relief when she sees Mike Hogan, her younger brother, running toward her. They have planned Mike’s escape from the farm, just as—the audience learns—she did for her other two brothers years earlier.

Because much of the dialogue in act 1 serves as exposition, the audience learns from Mike’s puritanical chiding of his older sister that she has a bad reputation in town for being promiscuous, has never seemed to care about her virtue, and is like her father, Phil Hogan, insofar as she helps him cheat people in various ways. In fact, Mike says, he would not be surprised if Josie and Hogan try to trick their landlord, James Tyrone, out of some of his recent inheritance: Mike imagines Josie will lure Tyrone into her bedroom some night and then, while he is there, have Hogan burst into the room with a shotgun, accuse Tyrone of compromising his daughter, and blackmail him into giving them some restitution. Although she proudly acknowledges her reputation, Josie denies having thought of such a scheme, says she would never take part in such a plot, and—suddenly seeing their father walking toward the house—commands Mike away to his freedom.

After Hogan’s initial rage over Mike’s escape has dissipated, he dismisses the boy as annoyingly prudish, especially considering the way Mike chastised Josie for her putative liaisons with local men. Josie tells Hogan about the scheme Mike accused them of plotting. Hogan seems interested in this idea, saying that Tyrone’s promise not to sell the farm out from under them cannot be trusted, because when he gets drunk he becomes forgetful. Besides running the risk of losing the farm, Hogan says, there is this to think about: Josie and Tyrone are two of a kind, they like each other, and Josie could reform Tyrone and keep him sober. Nevertheless, Josie will have no part in any scheme, and she believes that Tyrone will keep his word about not selling the...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

An autobiographical play about Eugene O’Neill’s alcoholic older brother, A Moon for the Misbegotten is dramatic realism direct in its simplicity and—like the Hogans’ life and farm—stripped of all but what is essential to its integrity.

The play’s set itself is stark: What the audience sees in all four acts is a side view of the Hogans’ small farmhouse; all of it but Josie’s bedroom is a weathered-gray clapboard, and the bedroom itself is covered with tar paper. Before the house and the three steps leading to the door of Josie’s room is a dirt yard in the middle of which is a large, flat-topped boulder that Tyrone uses as a sort of table on which to set his whiskey during act 3. O’Neill calls for the removal of the house’s living room wall for all of act 2. With the wall removed, the audience is allowed to watch Josie rise from the front steps, as the act opens, and stumble around in the living room until she lights a kerosene lantern, revealing the room’s sparse furnishings and, on a bureau, an alarm clock that indicates the time, five minutes past eleven—two hours after Tyrone was supposed to have come to visit her. Clearly O’Neill intends to show that, while the little the Hogans own is old and rudimentary and not worth much, what they themselves bring to it makes it a home. Most important, the playwright intends for the house to be emblematic of Hogan and Josie, insofar as, like them, it is “placed so perfectly in...

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(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Carpenter, Frederic I. Eugene O’Neill. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

Falk, Doris V. Eugene O’Neill and the Tragic Tension: An Interpretative Study of the Plays. 2d ed. New York: Gordian Press, 1982.

Frank, Glenda. Review of A Moon for the Misbegotten. Theatre Journal 44 (December, 1992): 527-528.

Gassner, John, ed. O’Neill: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964.

Gelb, Arthur, and Barbara Gelb. O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo. New York: Applause, 2000.

Houchin, John H., ed. The Critical Response to Eugene O’Neill. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Miller, Jordan Y., and Winifred L. Frazer. “Eugene O’Neill: From Nobody to the Nobel.” In American Drama Between the Wars: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Raleigh, John Henry. The Plays of Eugene O’Neill. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965.

Ranald, Margaret Loftus. The Eugene O’Neill Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984.

Tiusanen, Timo. O’Neill’s Scenic Images. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.