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...
(The entire section is 508 words.)