Strange Interlude

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This convoluted play brings stream-of-consciousness techniques to the modern stage, achieving this effect through asides and soliloquies, which fill to some extent the role of the chorus in Greek plays.

Nina Leeds wished to marry Gordon Shaw, but her possessive father prevented it. Gordon’s death in the war leads to Nina’s promiscuity with soldiers.

Her father’s friend Charles Marsden, much her senior, wants to marry her, but his aged mother stands in the way. Dr. Edmund Darrell is attracted to Nina, but marrying such a neurotic woman would damage him professionally. When her father dies, Nina marries Sam Evans, scion of a well-to-do family, at the urging of Marsden and Darrell.

On becoming pregnant, Nina learns of insanity in Sam’s family. She aborts the child. She then becomes pregnant by Darrell, bears his child, and passes it off as Sam’s, naming it Gordon after her first love.

Fatherhood helps Sam’s self-image, and he becomes immensely successful, as do his backers, Marsden and Darrell. When Sam dies, Nina cannot marry Darrell. She turns to the aging Marsden for companionship and with him replicates the father-daughter relationship she had rankled under with her own father.

O’Neill explores the questions of unfulfilled love and heredity in this play. He explores people’s inability to control their destinies and hints at Nietzsche’s theme of eternal recurrence that concerned him earlier in ANNA CHRISTIE.


Alexander, Doris. Eugene O’Neill’s Creative Struggle: The Decisive Decade, 1924-1933. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. Attempts to trace the creation of the plays to probable sources. Sees O’Neill’s writing of plays as opportunities “to confront and solve” problems in his own life. Asserts that Strange Interlude evolved from O’Neill’s attempt to confront the family “lie” about his mother’s drug problem and inadequacies as well as his growing disillusionment with his second wife.

Bogard, Travis. Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Recognizes O’Neill’s plays as efforts of self-understanding. Attempts to analyze the plays in relationship to events in O’Neill’s life. Excellent commentary on Strange Interlude and its psychological, mythical, and autobiographical elements, especially in relation to gender conflicts and attractions.

Carpenter, Frederic I. Eugene O’Neill. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1979. An effective, short introduction to O’Neill’s life and plays, emphasizing the tragic dimension of the dramas. Sees Strange Interlude as a twentieth century morality play that lacks O’Neill’s usual high tragic vision. Emphasizes why the play has been successful in spite of weaknesses.

Greene, James J. Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude”: A Critical Commentary. New York: Monarch Press, 1980. A brief introduction to the plot, characterization, themes, staging, strengths, and weaknesses of the play.

Sheaffer, Louis. O’Neill: Son and Artist. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973. Authoritative biography of O’Neill, which emphasizes the personal and autobiographical details that helped to create Strange Interlude. Gives special attention to the psychological and theatrical elements in this experimental drama.

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Critical Evaluation