Places Discussed

Leeds home

Leeds home. New England home in which the first two acts are set. The location suggests the domination of Nina’s puritanical father over her adolescence, and his priggishness is mirrored in his well-ordered study. In the second act, after Leeds dies, his study falls into disarray, suggesting that his values are not perpetuated in the modern world. Once he is gone, Nina is free to marry Sam Evans, a likable figure who, like Nina, worships the memory of Gordon Shaw, the fiancé she lost in World War I.

Evans homestead

Evans homestead. Decaying house that is an apt setting for Sam’s mother to reveal to the newly married Nina the dark secret of the Evans family—that the unborn child Nina now carries may grow up insane. After aborting her pregnancy, Nina seduces Ned Darrell in the Evans house so that she can bear a child to make her husband happy.

Evans apartment

Evans apartment. Well-appointed Park Avenue residence in New York City that suggests the level of affluence the Evans family has achieved. It contrasts, however, with the growing dissolution that Nina feels. Her son is more devoted to Sam Evans, whom he thinks is his natural father, than to her, At the same time, Nina continues to feel deep affection for Ned Darrell. In the apartment, her son sees a physical display of her affection for Darrell; afterward, he forms a hatred for Darrell and disgust for his mother....

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Historical Context

World War I
The United States entered World War I in April, 1917. Conscription was introduced, and the first U.S. troops arrived in Europe in June. By July, 1918, over one million American troops were in Europe. The war ended in November, 1918. The United States suffered a total of 320,710 casualties, including 116,708 dead. The fictional Gordon Shaw in Strange Interlude was based on the real-life soldier, Hobart Amory Hare Baker (1892–1918). Like Gordon, Baker was an outstanding college athlete, playing baseball, football and hockey at Princeton University. He enlisted in the army and departed for Europe in August 1917, and by April 1918 he was serving with the Lafayette Escadrille (103rd Aero Squadron). Just as in the play, in which Gordon Shaw is killed in an airplane accident, on December 21, 1918, Baker was killed when the plane he was flying crashed.

The Boom of the 1920s
Whereas Europe would take many years to recover from the four-year carnage of World War I, the impact of the war on America was less profound. There had been no fighting in the United States itself, American casualties were only a fraction of those suffered by the other belligerents, and the U.S. economy remained strong.

The 1920s was therefore an optimistic era, and there was an economic boom (which is the background for Sam Evans’s business success in Strange Interlude). Fortunes were made, ordinary people had money in their pockets to spend, and unemployment was low. Part of the boom was due to the growth in ‘‘assembly line mass production methods that created more consumer goods and made them available at lower prices. A Ford automobile cost $290 (average earnings were $1,236 per year).

Also, consumers were able to acquire more because of the introduction of credit plans, under which goods could be bought and then paid for over an extended period of time. The growth of mass advertising through radio, magazines, film and billboards also boosted consumerism (so it is not surprising that in the play, Sam Evans goes into advertising and makes a fortune from it).

Another reason for the boom of the 1920s was the introduction of high tariffs on the import of foreign goods. This system, which is known as protectionism, meant that American goods remained cheaper than those of their foreign competitors, thus ensuring that American industries continued to prosper.

The economic boom ended suddenly with the unexpected stock market crash of October 29, 1929, a day known as Black Thursday. From 1929 to 1931, stock losses were estimated at $12 billion, and the worst depression in American history began. By 1932 there were twelve million unemployed. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the New Deal, a series of economic and social measures designed to alleviate the effects of the depression.

Literary Style

Soliloquies and Asides
The major dramatic devices employed in the play are the soliloquy and the aside. A soliloquy is when a...

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Compare and Contrast

1920s: The movie industry based in Hollywood develops rapidly, and cinema replaces the theater as a means of mass entertainment....

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Topics for Further Study

• Are certain types of mental illness hereditary, as the play suggests, or was that an invention by O’Neill for dramatic purposes? Is...

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Media Adaptations

Strange Interlude was filmed by Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer in 1932. It was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starred Norma Shearer as...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Bogard, Travis, Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill, Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 297.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

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