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Long Day’s Journey Into Night


BY Michael Manheim
FROM Eugene O’Neill’s New Language of Kinship, Syracuse University Press, 1982


In talking about Long Day’s Journey, as in talking about The Iceman Cometh, one must begin, not end, with its despair. This play grows not out of O’Neill’s autobiographical agony, but out of his triumph over that agony, a triumph which is obvious in the very fact of the play’s searing explicitness—especially regarding Mary Tyrone. The whole point about her addiction is that in this play it is no longer seen as the most shameful of horrors. Mary’s affliction and her accompanying guilt are treated here with a detachment made all the more effective by being anything but clinical. But O’Neill’s objectivity has come at a price, the price paid by Larry Slade in his great struggle and victory. The price is the loss of all illusions and the inevitable sense of universal emptiness that accompanies such a loss. The “night” that this play, and O’Neill’s entire creative career, has been a “long journey into” is one of now-uncynical disbelief in everything. At the end of the play there are no rights and wrongs, goods or evils, ups or downs, panics or manias — only the image of four beings linked together around a faintly lit electric light in an illimitable ocean of darkness.


There are, as in The Iceman Cometh, two stages in the despair of this play. First there is the cynicism born in both sons by the deprivation of motherly affection when it was crucially needed. That their mother is a “dope fiend,” a. “hop head,” is only their adult shame. The real failure has been Mary’s withdrawals themselves, quite apart from the social stigma attached to her addiction. And the play’s most poignant utterance of this fact is Jamie’s in his quotation from Swinburne’s ‘A Leave-Taking” near the end: “Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear, She would not hear.” The needed love withheld, the sons have come to know feelings of intense bitterness which are expressed typically in their cynical humor. Jamie observes that he has been made a “cynical bastard” by his mother’s repeated “leave-takings.” He reveals through his reference to her addiction as “a game” the real source of his renowned iconoclasm. His gambling and drink are simply extensions of her narcotic. Still more explicitly does Edmund see his mother’s condition as the source of his despair. Learning of her addiction, he says, “made everything seem rotten.” The psychologist O’Neill has learned, of his brother and himself, that their negative feelings about life resulted quite simply from a very early, critical deprivation of mother-love—a deprivation which was followed in their adolescence by rational disillusionment with their addicted mother and by shame before society at the evidences of her condition.


But the “night” of the play’s ending goes beyond despair—as do all O’Neill’s last plays. Jamie’s evoking of Swinburne also speaks of a state of despondency “without fear”:

Let us rise up and part; she will not know.


Let us go seaward as the great winds go,

Full of blown sand and foam; what help is there’?

There is no help, for all these things are so,

And all the world is bitter as a tear.

(Yale edition, p. 173. Emphasis added1)

It is the acceptance of fact that is so important about this quotation. It is O’Neill’s acceptance of his, and man’s, incapacity to direct his life by moral ideals. Whatever life is, it is—and man’s only means of survival is to live it. We move away from moral decision-making, away from hope, away from disappointment, away even from the irony which is tied to the failure of ideals—and we move toward an acceptance of life rooted in its processes. And the main process associated with that acceptance is the relating of humans to one another, a process which it has been Mary’s sole real failure to have been so little a part of. This play is primarily about human isolation, seen mostly through Mary, and human kinship, seen mostly through the men. It is a play which sees in human kinship man’s sole means of survival in the vast night that both man’s reason and his ideals have led him to.


There is not a single scene or episode in which the basic rhythm of kinship is not heard or felt in this play.2 Even in the frenzied second and third acts—where we see the characters pulling away from one another in torrents of deception, suspicion, and recrimination  there are recurrent outbursts of the most genuine if anguished love. The love exists in and may be expressed by any of the three men, but it must come first from Mary, who turns the flows of kinship on and off in these acts as her fears and affections dictate. When she is haltingly and desperately able to admit her awareness of her condition, or Edmund’s, the feelings of kinship are immediately apparent. But such admissions by Mary are invariably followed by panic and withdrawal. Nothing is more isolating for the men than her persistent “stubborn denials” of the facts regarding her affliction and her son’s illness. The alternation of these denials with Mary’s outbursts of affection and appeals for sympathy constitute the basic rhythm of kinship in the middle acts of this play, but as those outbursts and appeals are highly repressed and increasingly hopeless because of Mary’s progress into her narcotic state, so the sense of isolation in these acts is the most intense in the play. The rhythm of kinship is always present, but in these most desperate scenes of the play, it is overwhelmed by the bitterness of deception and hurt.


Kinship in this play largely derives from what we see and hear not in its middle acts but in its opening and closing acts. And it is now more a true language rather than merely a recurrent rhythm of kinship we are talking about since O’Neill seems so consciously and primarily concerned with the emotional ups and downs his dialogue traces. In the opening act we hear a language of everyday kinship, while in the last we hear the language of a far deeper kinship elicited by severe emotional pressure. It is that opening language I wish to examine first, and to examine in a way I have not heretofore employed.


In discussing O’Neill’s dialogue, I have followed the customary procedure of making interpretive observations and supplementing them with appropriate illustrations aimed at suggesting the rhythm. So many emotional variations are packed into the dialogue of these later plays, however, that the number of illustrations which might really be needed to show the complexities is precluded by the amount of time and space available. Nevertheless, to do justice to O’Neill’s art, I believe that in one instance an extended passage should be included which might, regardless of length, more fully suggest the emotional shifts and changes typical of the dialogue generally in these plays. I would like therefore to examine two episodes from Act One from the point of view of the emotional interactions and variations they contain. The first is the family scene in which Edmund tells the anecdote about Shaughnessy’s pigs—that anecdote which is enlarged and made central to the first half of A Moon for the Misbegotten—and the second is the extended exchange which follows between Jamie and James. I shall not discuss these episodes in the abstract but shall instead seek to annotate them with indications of the sharply varying emotions underlying their dialogue. Both episodes evoke a sense of the close kinship which exists among these people—the second, in the sharpness of its anger and the bitterness of its recriminations no less revealing of the closeness than the first, with its mutually enjoyed joke. In fact, the hostile scene may be more revealing of that closeness because the subjects discussed are critical to the family’s survival.


To begin the first of the two episodes in Long Day’s Journey then, Jamie and Edmund enter laughing from the dining room to interrupt James’s and Mary’s opening conversation:

MARY(turns smilingly to them, in a merry tone that is a bit forced) I’ve been teasing your father about his snoring. (To Tyrone) I’ll leave it to the boys, James. They must have heard you. No, not you, Jamie. I could hear you down the hall almost as bad as your father. You’re like him. As soon as your head touches the pillow you’re off and ten foghoms couldn’t wake you. (She stops abruptly, catching Jamie’s eyes regarding her with an uneasy, probing look. Her smile vanishes and her manner becomes self-conscious) Why are you staring, Jamie? (Her hands flutter up to her hair) Is my hair coming down? It’s hard for me to do it up properly now. My eyes are getting so bad and I never can find my glasses.

Mary’s concern for her hair is the first overt evidence of her return to her addiction.

JAMIE(looks away guiltily) Your hair’s all right, Mama. I was only thinking how well you look.

Jamie, in fear and suspicion, reveals his feeling with his eyes, but uncharacteristically he disguises his fear.

TYRONE(heartily) Just what I’ve been telling her, Jamie. She’s so fat and sassy, there’ll soon be no holding her.

James puts up his usual “front.”

EDMUNDYes, you certainly look grand, Mama. (She is reassured and smiles at him lovingly. He winks with a kidding grin) I’ll back you up about Papa’s snoring. Gosh, what a racket!

JAMIEI heard him, too. (He quotes, putting on a ham-actor manner) ‘The Moor, I know his trumpet.” (His mother and brother laugh)

Jamie parodies his father.

TYRONE(scathingly) If it takes my snoring to make you remember Shakespeare instead of the dope sheet on the ponies, I hope I’ll keep on with it.

James, hurt, counterattacks.

MARYNow, James! You mustn’t be so touchy. (Jamie shrugs his shoulders and sits down in the chair on her right)


EDMUND(irritably) Yes, for Pete’s sake, Papa! The first thing after breakfast! Give it a rest, can’t you’? (He slumps down in the chair at left of table next to his brother. His father ignores him)

Edmund, hurt on behalf of Jamie, overreacts. This is typical of the brothers’ relationship with their parents.

MARY(reprovingly) Your father wasn’t finding fault with you. You don’t have to always

take Jamie’s part. You’d think you were the one ten years older.


JAMIE(boredly) What’s all the fuss about’? Let’s forget it.


TYRONE(contemptuously) Yes, forget! Forget everything and face nothing! It’s a convenient philosophy if you’ve no ambition in life except to —James, in turn, overreacts, his anger having accumulated over the years.


MARYJames, do be quiet. (She puts an arm around his shoulder—coaxingly) You must have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. (To the boys, changing the subject) What were you two grinning about like Cheshire cats when you came in? What was the joke’?

Mary in this scene consistently demonstrates her mastery of the maternal art of peacemaking, one of the many admirable qualities her addiction denies her.

TYRONE(with a painful effort to be a good sport) Yes, let us in on it, lads. I told your mother I knew damned well it would be one on me, but never mind that, I’m used to it.


JAMIE(dryly) Don’t look at me. This is the Kid’s story.


EDMUND(grins) I meant to tell you last night, Papa, and forgot it. Yesterday when I went for a walk I dropped in at the Inn—


MARY(worriedly) You shouldn’t drink now, Edmund.

Edmund’s and Jamie’s mutual delight in this tale is very much part of the emotional ambience of their closeness, as is Mary’s motherly care.

EDMUND(ignoring this) And who do you think I met there, with a beautiful bun on, but Shaughnessy, the tenant on that farm of yours.


MARY(smiling) That dreadful man! But he is funny.


TYRONE(scowling) He’s not so funny when you’re his landlord. He’s a wily Shanty Mick, that one. He could hide behind a corkscrew. What’s he complaining about now, Edmund—for I’m damned sure he’s complaining. I suppose he wants his rent lowered. I let him have the place for almost nothing, just to keep someone on it, and he never pays that till I threaten to evict him.

James’s attack on Shaughnessy is born in part of the hostility he still feels toward Jamie and in part on his Con Melody-like aristocratic pretensions. In his heart James admires the Irishman and shares his contempt for the arrogant rich.

EDMUNDNo, he didn’t beef about anything. He was so pleased with life he even bought a drink, and that’s practically unheard of. He was delighted because he’d had a fight with your friend, Harker, the Standard Oil millionaire, and won a glorious victory.


MARY(with amused dismay) Oh, Lord! James, you’ll really have to do something—


TYRONEBad luck to Shaughnessy, anyway!

James’s carping reactions here form a counterpoint to the family’s enjoyment—and their kinship.

JAMIE(maliciously) I’ll bet the next time you see Harker at the Club and give him the old respectful bow, he won’t see you.


EDMUNDYes. Harker will think you’re no gentleman for harboring a tenant who isn’t humble in the presence of a king of America.


TYRONENever mind the Socialist gabble. I don’t care to listen—


MARY(tactfully) Go on with your story, Edmund.


EDMUND(grins at his father provocatively) Well, you remember, Papa, the ice pond on Harker’s estate is right next to the farm, and you remember Shaughnessy keeps pigs. Well, it seems there’s a break in the fence and the pigs have been bathing in the millionaire’s ice pond, and Harker’s foreman told him he was sure Shaughnessy had broken the fence on purpose to give his pigs a free wallow.


MARY(shocked and amused) Good heavens!

Mary, “shocked and amused,” is contributing to a harmony they will shortly lose.

TYRONE(sourly, but with a trace of admiration) I’m sure he did, too, the dirty scallywag. It’s like him.

EDMUNDSo Harker came in person to rebuke Shaughnessy. (He chuckles) A very bonehead play! If I needed any further proof that our ruling plutocrats, especially the ones who inherited their boodle, are not mental giants, that would clinch it.

TYRONE(with appreciation, before he thinks) Yes, he’d be no match for Shaughnessy. (Then he growls) Keep your damned anarchist remarks to yourself. I won’t have them in my house. (But he is full of eager anticipation) What happened’?

James’s sense of identity with Shaughnessy breaks out, but he quickly stifles it. The positive response represents his instinct toward kinship with his family.

EDMUNDHarker had as much chance as I would with Jack Johnson. Shaughnessy got a few drinks under his belt and was waiting at the gate to welcome him. He told me he never gave Harker a chance to open his mouth. He began by shouting that he was no slave Standard Oil could trample on. He was a King of Ireland, if he had his rights, and scum was scum to him, no matter how much money it had stolen from the poor.

Edmund’s rendition of the story’s detail suggests both his joy and ability in conveying its quality as well as reporting its facts. The story is a good deal simpler than Edmund’s sophistication in the telling of it.

MARYOh, Lord! (But she can’t help laughing)

EDMUNDThen he accused Harker of making his foreman break down the fence to entice the pigs into the ice pond in order to destroy them. The poor pigs, Shaughnessy yelled, had caught their death of cold. Many of them were dying of pneumonia, and several others had been taken down with cholera from drinking the poisoned water. He told Harker he was hiring a lawyer to sue him for damages. And he wound up by saying that he had to put up with poison ivy, ticks, potato bugs, snakes and skunks on his farm, but he was an honest man who drew the line somewhere, and he’d be damned if he’d stand for a Standard Oil thief trespassing. So would Harker kindly remove his dirty feet from the premises before he sicked the dog on him. And Harker did! (He and Jamie laugh) The family is in complete, if temporary. harmony. This excerpt continues in a similar vein. Edmund then “withdraws” in reaction to renewed carping by James, which is followed by exchanges in which Mary reveals her anxiety over the seriousness of Edmund’s illness. Then follows the James­-Jamie sequence, which begins in mutual hostility growing out of Mary’s refusal to accept facts.

JAMIE(shrugging his shoulders) All right. Have it your way. I think it’s the wrong idea to let Mama go on kidding herself. It will only make the shock worse when she has to face it. Anyway, you can see she’s deliberately fooling herself with that summer cold talk. She knows better.

TYRONEKnows? Nobody knows yet.

JAMIEWell, 1 do. 1 was with Edmund when he went to Doc Hardy on Monday. I heard him pull that touch of malaria stuff. He was stalling. That isn’t what he thinks any more. You know it as well as I do. You talked to him when you went uptown yesterday, didn’t you’?


TYRONEHe couldn’t say anything for sure yet. He’s to phone me today before Edmund goes to him.


JAMIE(slowly) He thinks it’s consumption, doesn’t he, Papa’?

The two are briefly brought together by their mutual concern for Edmund,

TYRONE(reluctantly) He said it might be.


JAMIE(moved, his love for his brother coming out) Poor kid! God damn it! (He turns on his father accusingly) It might never have happened if you’d sent him to a real doctor when he first got sick.

But the subject of doctors quickly separates them.

TYRONEWhat’s the matter with Hardy’? He’s always been our doctor up here.


JAMIEEverything’s the matter with him! Even in this hick burg he’s rated third class! He’s a cheap old quack!


TYRONEThat’s right! Run him down! Run down everybody! Everyone is a fake to you!

As James’s attacks on Jamie center on Jamie’s failures, Jamie’s on his father center on the older man’s supposed miserliness, especially concerning health care, and on his real estate speculations.

JAMIE(contemptuously) Hardy only charges a dollar. That’s what makes you think he’s a fine doctor!


TYRONE(stung) That’s enough! You’re not drunk now! There’s no excuse—(He controls himself—a bit defensively)  If you mean I can’t afford one of the fine society doctors who prey on the rich summer peopleThe pattern now is one of straight attack and counterattack dealing with oft-repeated motifs.


JAMIECan’t afford’? You’re one of the biggest property owners around here.


TYRONEThat doesn’t mean I’m rich. It’s all mortgaged—


JAMIEBecause you always buy more instead of paying off mortgages. If Edmund was a lousy acre of land you wanted, the sky would be the limit!


TYRONEThat’s a lie! And your sneers against Doctor Hardy are lies! He doesn’t put on frills, or have an office in a fashionable location, or drive around in an expensive automobile. That’s what you pay for with those other five-dollars-to-look-at-your-tongue fellows, not their skill.


JAMIE(with a scornful shrug of his shoulders) Oh, all right. I’m a fool to argue. You can’t change the leopard’s spots.

These attacks, like most attacks in O’Neill, build in intensity until something happens to stop them. Someone may turn violent, as Edmund does later and Jamie and James both almost do on several occasions. Someone may get hurt sufficiently to weep or in some other way appeal to the other’s sympathy. Or some subject may get introduced which appeals to the sympathy of both. In each case, the hostility is broken and feelings of good will are set free. The pattern of kinship is thus completed. What follows reveals both the breakdown of hostility through the appeal for sympathy by the more vulnerable character in a particular exchange and the breakdown of hostility through mutual affection for another individual, Edmund or Mary.

TYRONE(with rising anger) No, you can’t. You’ve taught me that lesson only too well. I’ve lost all hope you will ever change yours. You dare tell me what I can afford’? You’ve never known the value of a dollar and never will! You’ve never saved a dollar in your life! At the end of each season you’re penniless! You’ve thrown your salary away every week on whores and whiskey!


JAMIEMy salary! Christ!


TYRONEIt’s more than you’re worth, and you couldn’t get that if it wasn’t for me. If you weren’t my son, there isn’t a manager in the business who would give you a part, your reputation stinks so. As it is, I have to humble my pride and beg for you, saying you’ve turned over a new leaf, although I know it’s a lie!


JAMIEI never wanted to be an actor. You forced me on the stage.


TYRONEThat’s a lie! You made no effort to find anything else to do. You left it to me to get you a job and I have no influence except in the theater. Forced you! You never wanted to do anything except loaf in barrooms! You’d have been content to sit back like a lazy lunk and sponge on me for the rest of your life! After all the money I’d wasted on your education, and all you did was get fired in disgrace from every college you went to!


JAMIEOh, for God’s sake, don’t drag up that ancient history!


TYRONEIt’s not ancient history that you have to come home every summer to live on me.


JAMIEI earn my board and lodging working on the grounds. It saves you hiring a man.

James’s hostility subsides, replaced first by self-pity,

TYRONEBah! You have to be driven to do even that much! (His anger ebbs into a weary complaint) I wouldn’t give a damn if you ever displayed the slightest sign of gratitude. The only thanks is to have you sneer at me for a dirty miser, sneer at my profession, sneer at every damned thing in the world—except yourself.


JAMIE(wryly) That’s not true, Papa. You can’t hear me talking to myself, that’s all.

Then by self-pity on Jamie’s part.

TYRONE(stares at him puzzledly, then quotes mechanically) “Ingratitude, the vilest weed that grows”!

But James quickly renews the hostilities.

JAMIEI could see that line coming! God, how many thousand times—! (He stops, bored with their quarrel, and shrugs his shoulders) All right, Papa. I’m a bum. Anything you like, so long as it stops the argument.


TYRONE(with indignant appeal now) If you’d get ambition in your head instead of folly! You’re young yet. You could still make your mark. You had the talent to become a fine actor! You have it still. You’re my son—!


JAMIE(boredly) Let’s forget me. I’m not interested in the subject. Neither are you. (Tyrone gives up. Jamie goes on casually) What started us on this’? Oh, Doc Hardy. When is he going to call you up about Edmund’?

Another brief break in the hostilities,

TYRONEAround lunch time. (He pausesthen defensively)

but James will not desist.

I couldn’t have sent Edmund to a better doctor. Hardy’s treated him whenever he was sick up here, since he was knee high. He knows his constitution as no other doctor could. It’s not a question of my being miserly, as you’d like to make out. (Bitterly) And what could the finest specialist in America do for Edmund, after he’s deliberately ruined his health by the mad life he’s led ever since he was fired from college’? Even before that when he was in prep school, he began dissipating and playing the Broadway sport to imitate you, when he’s never had your constitution to stand it. You’re a healthy hulk like me—or you were at his age—but he’s always been a bundle of nerves like his mother. I’ve warned him for years his body couldn’t stand it, but he wouldn’t heed me, and now it’s too late.

In persistently defending the Doctor, James is really defending himself. His tone here anticipates his long confession of Act Four.

JAMIE(sharply) What do you mean, too late’? You talk as if you thought—

TYRONE(guiltily explosive) Don’t be a damned fool! I meant nothing but what’s plain to anyone! His health has broken down and he may be an invalid for a long time.

JAMIE(stares at his father, ignoring his explanation) I know it’s an Irish peasant idea consumption is fatal. It probably is when you live in a hovel on a bog, but over here, with modern treatment—Now it is Jamie who seems unwilling to desist—his antagonism has been built up through years of his mother’s suffering, his father’s  callousness, and his own frustrations.

TYRONEDon’t I know that! What are you gabbing about, anyway’? And keep your dirty tongue off Ireland, with your sneers about peasants and bogs and hovels! (Accusingly) The less you say about Edmund’s sickness, the better for your conscience! You’re more responsible than anyone!


JAMIE(stung) That’s a lie! I won’t stand for that, Papa!

Jamie is on the defensive again. While both are still on the attack, they actually, and not very subtly appealing for sympathy—which will be forthcoming.

TYRONE—It’s the truth! You’ve been the worst influence for him. He grew up admiring you as a hero! A fine example you set him! If you ever gave him advice except in the ways of rottenness, I’ve never heard of it! You made him old before his time, pumping him full of what you consider worldly wisdom, when he was too young to see that your mind was so poisoned by your own failure in life, you wanted to believe every man was a knave with his soul for sale, and every woman who wasn’t a whore was a fool!

JAMIE(with a defensive air of weary indifference again) All right. I did put Edmund wise to things, but not until I saw he’d started to raise hell, and knew he’d laugh at me if I tried the good advice, older brother stuff. All I did was make a pal of him and be absolutely frank so he’d learn from my mistakes that—(He shrugs his shoulderscynically) Well, that if you can’t be good you can at least be careful. (His father snorts contemptuously. Suddenly Jamie becomes really moved) That’s a rotten accusation, Papa. You know how much the Kid means to me, and how close we’ve always been—not like the usual brothers! I’d do anything for him.

Jamie’s truculence completely gives way, replaced by self-pity, then by affection for Edmund.

TYRONE(impressedmollifyingly) I know you may have thought it was for the best, Jamie. I didn’t say you did it deliberately to harm him.

Mutual feelings of concern and love for Edmund are expressed,

JAMIEBesides it’s damned rot! I’d like to see anyone influence Edmund more than he wants to be. His quietness fools people into thinking they can do what they like with him. But he’s stubborn as hell inside and what he does is what he wants to do, and to hell with anyone else! What had Ito do with all the crazy stunts he’s pulled in the last few years— working his way all over the map as a sailor and all that stuff. I thought that was a damned fool idea, and I told him so. You can’t imagine me getting fun out of being on the beach in South America, or living in filthy dives, drinking rotgut, can you’? No, thanks! I’ll stick to Broadway, and a room with a bath, and bars that served bonded Bourbon.

But the Broadway theme sets off new explosions.

TYRONEYou and Broadway! It’s made you what you are! (With a touch of pride) Whatever Edmund’s done, he’s had the guts to go off on his own, where he couldn’t come whining to me the minute he was broke.

JAMIE(stung into sneering jealousy) He’s always come home broke finally, hasn’t he’? And what did his going away get him’? Look at him now! (He is suddenly shamefaced) Christ! That’s a lousy thing to say. I don’t mean that.

TYRONE(decides to ignore this) He’s been doing well on the paper. I was hoping he’d found the work he wants to do at last.

JAMIE(sneering jealously again) A hick town rag! Whatever bull they hand you, they tell me he’s a pretty bum reporter. If he weren’t your son—(ashamed again)  No, that’s not true! They’re glad to have him, but it’s the special stuff that gets him by. Some  of the poems and parodies he’s written are damned good. (Grudgingly again) Not that they’d ever get him anywhere on the big time. (Hastily) But he’s certainly made a damned good start.

(Yale edition, pp. 20-26, 29-36)

Jamie’s precise zig-zagging of emotion in these four utterances is a paradigm of the feelings of both characters throughout the exchange: from (1) attack to (2) sympathy, to (3) attack again, and (4) back again to sympathy. All the feelings are genuine, none pretended.


The two segments quoted are obviously quite different in mood. The Shaughnessy episode is comic, the James-Jamie exchange serious. The tone of the first segment suggests the “everyday” kinship I spoke of earlier; the second, prompted by emotions under increasing stress, foreshadows the dialogue of the last act. But the progression of feeling in both episodes is of the same order. Hurts and frustrations of long standing breed hurtful comments until a full-scale pattern of attack and counterattack ensues. Then, at some point, the deep sympathies among these people emerge to reassert the basic kinship among them. Though the hostility may give rise to responses approaching violence, the hostility itself never destroys the kinship so long as it is part of this all-important rhythm, as it is throughout all the scenes of this play in which more than a single member of the family is present.


What destroys the kinship is never hostility but withdrawal. Edmund withdraws toward the end of the first episode in a miniscule version of his mother’s withdrawals. That withdrawal relieves the pressure on him for the moment, but for the long run it is the harbinger of the loneliness that all O’Neill’s characters find the greatest of all terrors. Significantly, it is implicit in these episodes that while Jamie is alienated from his mother and has withdrawn from her in response to her withdrawals from him, he never withdraws from his father, no matter how virulent the attacks become. His kinship with his father is secure. On the other hand, Edmund’s responses suggest a habit of withdrawing from his father when the going gets rough, while he stays in touch with his mother up to the very edge of her ‘leave-taking.” Thus, Edmund is in closer kinship with his mother than are the other members of the family; but since Mary ultimately denies kinship with everyone, Edmund is the one most left out in the cold. Ultimately, he must establish genuine ties with his father, which he does in the final act.


Before turning to the all-important last act, however, let me examine the middle acts in greater detail. The emotional pattern of Edmund’s conversations with his mother must be looked at because they describe the way in which kinship is destroyed in the play, and thus make the kinship the men are able to establish in the last act the more significant. These mother-son conversations are spaced at regular intervals, the first coming late in Act One, the second late in Act Two, and the third late in Act Three. The first takes place just as Mary’s relapse is beginning to become apparent, the second constitutes a kind of eleventh hour appeal by Edmund spoken on behalf of all three men, and the third is made up chiefly of Edmund’s report that his illness is indeed consumption. In each confrontation, Edmund tries to get his mother to face a fact: in the first, the fact that her affliction has embarrassed the family socially; in the second, the fact that the affliction has recurred; and in the third, the fact of his illness. In each instance, Mary struggles to accept, but then she rejects—totally and uncompromisingly. This pattern constitutes the basic rhythm of their conversation—the movement between her acceptance of the fact, which creates a tentative bond between them, and her cold rejection of the fact, and concomitantly of Edmund. Edmund meanwhile encourages and supports her as she struggles to accept the facts—then hurts her, first by innuendo, later by outright assault, as she coldly denies them.


The second-act encounter between Edmund and Mary is the most frustrating for both because it is here that he tries hardest to get through to her and she comes closest to accepting herself— that is, of reasserting her kinship with him and with the others:

I don’t blame you. How could you believe me—when I can’t believe myself’? I’ve become such a liar. I never lied about anything once upon a time. Now I have to lie, especially to myself. I’ve never understood anything about it, except that one day long ago I found I could no longer call my soul my own.

(Yale edition, p. 93)

In lines following these, Mary ties that acceptance closely to her religion, which, to O’Neill, in spite of his nihilism, is clearly more acceptable than the morphine. Mary’s religion may be thought of as an illusion, but all O’Neill seeks, in this play as in The Iceman Cometh and Hughie, is the illusion which will permit the two people to remain in touch with one another, and religion would more than adequately fulfill this function. But Mary’s illusions when she is under the influence of her drug deny rather than in any way perpetuate her relationships with others. Despite her impassioned pleas and her half-acknowledgments, in the end there is always the “blank denial”: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” And Edmund must feel for the thousandth time the loneliness of the small child deserted by his parents followed by the bitterness of the adolescent who is reacting against that desertion. Despite the clamorous sounds of battle between James and Jamie, their kinship is always there; whereas the deep affection between Edmund and Mary, which is so penetrating when it comes through, always ends by being stamped out — by a withdrawal in words first and then in fact. By the third act, the desertion which is the effect of Mary’s denials becomes so pronounced and Edmund becomes so frustrated that he turns from innuendo to direct attack, and he utters the killing phrase which has been one chief source of O’Neill’s many matricide fantasies in his earlier plays:

It’s pretty hard to take at times, having a dope-fiend for a mother! (She winces— all life seeming to drain from her face, leaving it with the appearance of a plaster cast. . .)

(Yale edition, p. 120)

At this point, all contact ceases. Mary cannot accept Edmund’s attempts to right things with his ensuing apologies.


The middle acts of Long Day’s Journey, which quite possibly by intent are the closest in feeling to the plays of O’Neill’s middle period, are melodramatic. In addition to the Edmund-Mary exchanges we have just looked at, we also see the men spying on Mary, Mary deceiving and evading, and all the characters wearing a variety of masks. Jamie “discovers” for his crestfallen brother and father the “truth” about Mary’s backsliding, and Mary grows increasingly suspicious about what the men suspect. Even the dialogue between Edmund and Jamie now concentrates on themes of suspicion and intrigue. But the melodrama is really a facade. It is not action seriously intended to grip us with its suspense. We are never in any doubt that Edmund is actually ill or that Mary has returned to her morphine, and we are never in any doubt that son and mother will both have to be hospitalized. What we are really seeing is all the members of the family acting melodramatic in the face of unalterable facts and damaging their kinship in the process. Individuals start to abuse, exploit, and gang up on one another, as they do in the middle acts of The Iceman Cometh, rather than confront one another in whole human terms. Mary and James use Edmund’s illness in attacking each other, the sons gang up on their father, James’s increased bully and bluster hide his deepening pain.


It is in the later stages of these middle acts that Mary makes her histrionic progression, or retrogression, from nervous mother to hardened addict. But here we must be extremely careful to recognize the effect O’Neill wishes to achieve. What we see on stage in Act Three is melodrama, yes, but not the kind of frightening melodrama we witnessed in Strange Interlude, when Mrs. Evans spoke vaguely and mysteriously of a mad sister wasting away in an upstairs room. There O’Neill was in the full grip of his fears concerning his mother. Here, having triumphed over those fears, he wishes to elicit understanding and compassion; and the scene which is most important to that understanding and compassion is the one in which Mary, increasingly drugged, makes her long, rambling speech to Cathleen the tipsy servant girl. In this speech Mary, like James an act later, develops the motifs relating to her past, and we come to understand her as Edmund later comes to understand his father. These motifs have to do with her lost dreams: of becoming a nun, of becoming a concert pianist, of marrying a swashbuckling hero. They creep into her conversation early in the play, she keeps returning to them in her increasingly rambling monologues, and she withdraws into them as the drug takes possession of her. But what is most important about her Act Three “confession” to Cathleen and her “mad scene” late in Act Four is that the effect has been reduced to size. Mary is only an ill, troubled woman drifting away from reality, not the central figure of a nightmare, as are so many earlier characters who represent O’Neill’s mother. We are asked to have perspective on her illness, not be absorbed by it. That is as far as O’Neill goes with the memory of his mother in this play. He will not in this play, as he has so often in the past, seek to reestablish a kinship with his mother which he never reestablished in his life. But he can present his mother honestly and objectively, plead for our compassion, and go on to other matters.


By the end of the play, of course, Mary has totally withdrawn, but even then the effect is hardly intended to horrify. She appears in pigtails, like a young girl, and Jamie quite aptly compares her to Ophelia, whose “mad scene” should elicit extreme compassion but never the horror which accompanies other mad scenes in literature. The feelings which accompany Mary’s appearance in the final scene of this play are finally not those terrified ones underlying the scenes in earlier plays which anticipate that appearance, scenes such as Mrs. Keeney wildly playing the organ in Ile or Ella Downey attacking her husband with a knife in All God’s Chillun. Mary in Act Four is an extremely sensitive woman whose fear and loneliness have become intensified by a drug. In Act Four, as in Act Three, we feel sorry for her and we feel sorry about the fear and dismay she creates for her husband and children; but in no way do we feel drawn into the web of her “madness,” as Simon Harford feels drawn into his mother’s “little Temple.” We need no longer identify with a character representing O’Neill’s mother, as O’Neill no longer needs to identify with her. The figure created to represent his mother here is in fact finally lost to him. The long guilt has subsided; this play is not primarily associated with O’Neill’s mother. It is the men, not the woman or even the memory of a woman, who finally create the full impact of this work. It is the men who in their kinship of Act Four keep the light burning in the night that this has been a long day’s journey into night.


As I observed earlier, at no point during this play does the basic rhythm of kinship entirely disappear. Even at their most acrimonious and duplicitous in Acts Two and Three, the characters periodically burst into expressions of undeniably authentic affection. But these portions of the play provide little hope of survival. Mary’s denials and the mutual distrust are too intense for the expressions of love to complete the kinship. There is always a desperation, even in the affection, which portends a calamitous conclusion of the sort we have known in most other O’Neill plays. The last act comes, then, as a change of pace for O’Neill, anticipated only in the small-scale Hughie. The Iceman Cometh enacts much of the same triumph over the past that this play does and dwells extensively on the rhythms and sounds of human kinship, but Iceman still contains a suicide and a murder. O’Neill there must still make actual violence a metaphor for his psychological state. In Long Day’s Journey, O’Neill abandons such metaphors. Its ending is hardly a happy one, certainly not in the sense of sentimentality or escape. But that ending is also far from being the all-out denial of life that some would have it. The overall tone of the last act becomes quite different from that in Acts Two and Three—and even from that in Act One. It is a tone suggestive of man’s capacity to survive under the worst emotional circumstances.


Opening the last act, a drunken Edmund confronts a drunken James, taking over, as O’Neill did in real life, his brother Jamie’s various postures and attitudes. With biting, cynical wit, Edmund attacks his father for his miserliness and for his treatment of Mary over the years. James in turn counterattacks, criticizing Edmund’s cynicism, his avant-garde tastes, and his own undeniable but hardly avoidable complicity in bringing about Mary’s condition through his birth. But the bond between father and son is stronger than the antipathy. There is no impulse toward withdrawal on Edmund’s part here. The flow of their affection begins with their mutual awareness of the perilousness of Edmund’s condition and becomes stronger with their mutual anxiety over Mary as she paces back and forth in her spare room above their heads. Finally, their bond comes to be expressed in poetic terms. Though James disparages what he considers to be the “morbid” sentiments of Edmund’s quotations from Dowson and Baudelaire, he is obviously moved by what he hears—the blend in these poets of philosophic pessimism with a confidence in the value of human contact. Concomitantly, James’s allusions to Shakespeare suggest to Edmund the essential similarity of much in Shakespeare to the sentiments of his favorite poets.


Edmund’s attacks on his father early in this scene are more vitriolic than any attacks made in the play—even Jamie’s. James’s desire to economize on Edmund’s hospital costs provokes Edmund to say that his father’s attitudes make him “want to puke”; and he ends by calling James a “stinking old miser,” directly paralleling his calling his mother a “dope fiend” a few hours earlier. But the difference is that whereas following that earlier attack, Edmund flung himself out into the night and the fog asserting his right to the isolation that ultimately kills, here he remains with his father, ready to give as good as he gets; and as a result Edmund finds a kinship with James greater than any he has previously known. Edmund’s virulent attacks lead James into the long autobiographical statement out of which Edmund comes to understand his father better.


Edmund has heard all the facts in James’s long account before, the facts of James’s poverty-stricken childhood and of the ups and downs of the old actor’s career; but he has never felt about them the way he is brought to feel this night, when his sensibilities have been intensified by his advancing illness, his drink, and his mother’s deteriorating condition. I suggested earlier that James’s “confession” is not basically different from Mary’s in Act Three. Like Mary, James dwells on experiences of his childhood and adolescence in sincere if exaggerated terms; and he similarly dwells longingly on his frustrated ambitions—notably to have been “a great Shakespearean actor.” But unlike Mary, James makes his confession to someone, with the clear understanding on his part that that person is listening —which is hardly Mary’s state in regard to Cathleen. James speaks as powerfully and sincerely as he can in order to bring the perspective of someone close to him into focus with his own, and he achieves that purpose. James’s drunkenness is thus not the equivalent of Mary’s narcotic state, as some have felt it to be, because he is always aware of the communal nature of what he says. Like his sons, James is always conscious of the presence of a listener, a consciousness which is heightened by his inebriation rather than reduced. Like the pipe dreamers at Harry Hope’s, James is carried away by what he is saying, but at the same time is bound emotionally to the person he is saying it to, in this case the close friend and alter ego who happens to be his son. If James is ever the old actor in his long oration, he nevertheless speaks out of love for his son and out of need for love in return.


Edmund feels the love and the need to return it. He feels he should make a statement of his own dreams and aspirations which will assure his father of the similarity in their feelings. O’Neill here is in the position of having to determine what he would have said in frankness to someone close to him at the age of twenty-four and put it in a play written when he was over fifty, a play which was itself a much deeper and larger “confession” than any Edmund might here deliver. He solves his problem by refitting Paddy’s oft-varied speech from The Hairy Ape, that lyrical description of the beauties and harmonies of the sea which obviously grew out of O’Neill’s own experience on shipboard. Accurately simulating the romanticism of his young adulthood, O’Neill here allows the speech to culminate in the great Emersonian mystery. Recalling the beauty of nights at sea, Edmund says: “For a second you see, and seeing the secret, are the secret.” O’Neill thus makes the yearning for unity between man and nature the sum and substance of Edmund’s “confession.” He is saying through Edmund’s speech that the experiences of his young adulthood had taught him to feel things powerfully and authentically. But O’Neill has gone past the romanticism of his youth. The kind of experience that James talks about in his confession, that Jamie will shortly talk about, and that Eugene O’Neill in his early fifties has come to know constitutes truer experience in this play. O’Neill has not altogether forsaken the old romanticism of Edmund’s confession, but he treats it in this play more in terms of man’s need for authentic human contact than in terms of vague, if powerful, yearnings about the mysteries of nature.


Having established the kinship between Edmund and his father in what is the longest single scene in any published O’Neill play, O’Neill turns finally to the kinship, deeper still, between Edmund and his brother.3 The relationship between Edmund and Jamie conveys both a detailed sense of the nature of close human relationships and of the penalties such relationships must involve. The key figure here is Jamie—who becomes the chief focus of O’Neill’s vision in all his final works. Jamie’s massive contradictions are central both to his character here and to the way O’Neill comprehends life in these plays. Jamie is a hardened alcoholic, but his drunkenness never leaves him out of touch with reality. His drunken weeping, O’Neill observes, always “appears sober.” He fornicates, but he treats whores with genuine grace and compassion. He is the cause of wit in others, yet he alone possesses a genius for getting others to think seriously about their lives. He cynically insists that money is the only thing worth having, yet he is utterly indifferent to financial gain. His language is blasphemous and at times vulgar, yet he best of any character expresses the joy of existence. He loudly announces his contempt for mankind, yet his commitments to anyone he is close to, and some he is not so close to, are authentic and uncompromising. He is indolent, yet in emotional terms, no one works harder. As a material provider, especially for himself, he is a total failure, yet as an emotional provider, he is a total success. He is, in short, the means by which O’Neill is finally able to honestly celebrate man.


It is clear that the brothers have the kind of understanding most brothers who are very close have. They speak in a kind of code, and they seem to read responses as much in each other’s eyes as from what they hear each other say. They are always more together than apart, even when hostilities approaching violence break out between them; and the very subjects which excite those hostilities are the subjects which draw them closest together. Their father is always the first subject of their discontent, yet they share an instinctive love for “the Governor” which parallels that of the pipe dreamers for Harry Hope. They suspect and resent one another to the point of Jamie’s letting slip that he just might like his sick brother out of his way, yet their mutual compassion and Jamie’s concern about “the Kid’s” illness are extreme. Their most intense feelings are about Mary. They quarrel most violently about her, yet it is their mutual concern for her that makes them most interdependent in their love. Theirs is a relationship which O’Neill sees as one involving the closest human kinship.


One of the means by which the brothers express their kinship in this play is the poetry they mutually love and quote. Again, O’Neill turns to his favorite nineteenth-century poets, this time emphasizing Kipling, Wilde, and Swinburne. The importance of the poetic quotations in this play cannot be over-stressed. O’Neill cites these poets in a time (the early 1940s) when their popularity was in decline, when the mode of the moderns (Pound and Eliot) was just cresting, when pain and joy were feelings to be intellectualized by means of tonal complexity and obscure symbolism. O’Neill instinctively could not intellectualize his feelings, and his was a pessimism communicated not through images of dessication, of “wastelands,” but through direct, raucous outbursts of rage and disillusion. Kipling suits Jamie because his poetry approaches life’s disappointments with bitterness that is directly and boldly stated. Wilde and Dowson write poems about people who actively engage in life, are desperately vulnerable and show their feelings freely —people who in Jamie’s quoted Kipling “‘ave tried ‘em all.” The very least that can be said of this poetry is that it is vital, and it is to vitality that O’Neill, sick with his “old passion,” made his primary commitment throughout his canon. Thus, vitality is the most important word to be associated with the Jamie who becomes O’Neill’s keystone in his final plays.


Jamie, breaking into verse as easily as he downs his drinks, concentrates mostly on familiar topics with Edmund in their midnight conversation: booze and women, of course; their father; their mother; Edmund’s illness; and finally Jamie himself, a subject less familiar as a topic of conversation. They begin with the usual comments about their father, Jamie launching the familiar attack on his miserliness, with the now genuinely forgiving Edmund in the unusual role of the old man’s defender. Since Jamie knows that James is on the porch overhearing their conversation, much of Jamie’s drunken vitriol is really meant to directly insult his father. But James is not really the chief subject on Jamie’s mind. He turns quickly to his evening’s activities—booze, of course; then women. Jamie’s tale of his experience at Mamie Burns’s bordello is the most important element in this scene, up until his great confession, because it reveals much about Jamie which is never otherwise revealed in this play. It tells of his relationship with someone other than a member of his family, someone he is not close to, and subtly prepares us for what we will later see of his relationship with someone he is close to, his brother. What we see in both cases is Jamie’s unique version of what constitutes authentic human giving.


Beginning in the spirit of sniggering cynicism young men universally and meaninglessly reserve for their discussions of sex, the story blossoms into a parable of Christian love—resist that phrase as Jamie might, It is a story that is brief enough to allow Jamie to recount it in his own words:

Mamie began telling me all her troubles. Beefed how rotten business was, and she was going to give Fat Violet the gate. Customers didn’t fall for Vi. Only reason she’d kept her was she could play the piano. Lately Vi’s gone on drunks and been too boiled to play, and was eating her out of house and home, and although Vi was a good-hearted dumbbell, and she felt sorry for her because she didn’t know how the hell she’d make a living, still business was business, and she couldn’t afford to run a home for fat tarts. Well, that made me feel sorry for Fat Violet, so I squandered two bucks of your dough to escort her upstairs. With no dishonorable intentions whatever. I like them fat, but not that fat. All I wanted was a little heart-to-heart talk concerning the infinite sorrow of life. She stood it for awhile. Then she got good and sore. Got the idea I took her upstairs for a joke. Gave me a grand bawling out. Said she was better than a drunken bum who recited poetry. Then she began to cry. So I had to say I loved her because she was fat, and she wanted to believe that, and I stayed with her to prove it, and that cheered her up, and she kissed me when I left, and said she’d fallen hard for me, and we both cried a little more in the hallway, and everything was fine, except Mamie Burns thought I’d gone bughouse.4

(Yale edition, pp. 159—60)

 Not only Mamie Burns but a large section of his audience might also assume that Jamie had “gone bughouse,” but that bughouse is the essence of Jamie Tyrone. It constitutes altruism in the most earthy terms O’Neill can conceive, and which he repeats, with considerable variation, in A Moon for the Misbegotten. In that play, Jamie really does love Josie Hogan, of course, but who is to say that what he does for Fat Violet here is not also one kind of human love? Jamie is certainly no do-gooder. He has simply experienced a genuine feeling for his obese companion, an uncomplicated desire to make her happy which has resulted in satisfaction quite different from the satisfaction he went to Mamie’s seeking. And even that earlier satisfaction was not sexual only, because he has already told us that he went to find a “motherly bosom” to weep on. Having gone to find motherly affection and sexual release, he attained more than either by giving love—both in sexual and non-sexual terms. The story of Fat Violet is a story of the essential Jamie, and to understand that it is created out of the same impulses that led O’Neill to create the character of Lazarus is to begin to understand O’Neill’s vision of his brother.


In keeping with the rhythm, of course, Jamie turns cynical once more and talks about being the lover of the fat lady at the circus. The harmony between the brothers is then broken as Jamie issues his virulent attack upon their mother and Edmund physically assaults him. This action is followed in turn by the inevitable regrets and apologies, and they in turn by new grounds for attack and counterattack. This time, all Jamie’s old resentment of Edmund for being the favored son comes out, and Edmund is brought even to the point of suspecting that his brother might really wish his death. But always, there follow the reversals: the mutual remorse, the apologies, and the peacemaking in drink. The feelings of both brothers fluctuate wildly in this scene—the attacks increasing in intensity, the reconciliations becoming ever more profound. Finally, the reality of Edmund’s possible death becomes too much for Jamie, and he feels the need, as he calls it later, to go “to confession.” He must purge himself of all his accumulated guilt toward his brother, and in so doing give “all he has to his Brother.”


Jamie’s confession is the only genuine confession in this play because it deals with life as it is more than with life as it was—which so possessed both Mary and James in their confessions. Though Jamie’s confession alludes to the past, its world is the present, and the play is a play about the present. The theme of Jamie’s statement is that envy has always made him a corrupting influence on his brother. He might, he says, one day do his brother real harm—but despite this he not only loves his brother but regards him as “all I’ve got left!” There is nothing that has not already been touched on in Jamie’s statement, but, like James, he lives his feelings out so vividly that Edmund feels them fully and most painfully:

JAMIE. . . Want to warn you — against me. Mama and Papa are right. I’ve been a rotten bad influence. And worst of it is, I did it on purpose.


EDMUND(uneasily) Shut up! I don’t want to hear— Jamie Nix, Kid! You listen! Did it on purpose tomake a bum of you. Or part of me did. A big part. That part that’s been dead so long. That hates life.. . . Never wanted you to succeed and make me look even worse by comparison. Wanted you to fail. Always jealous of you, Mama’s baby, Papa’s pet! (He stares at Edmund with increasing enmity) And it was your being born that started Mama on dope. I know that’s not your fault, but all the same, God damn you, I can’t help hating your guts—!

(Yale edition, pp. 165—66)

Jamie relives each of his earlier emotions precisely as Hickey did, but Jamie is ahead of Hickey in knowing his own nature as Hickey did not until the very end of his confession. What Jamie knows, of course, is that there are two sides of his nature and always will be—one “dead” and therefore murderous, the other alive, and therefore capable and in need of both giving and receiving love. This division has been evident in every character throughout the play, but in being as explicit and as emotional as he is here, Jamie gives the idea new meaning.’


The special qualities of Jamie’s speech are the intensity of his feelings and the diction he uses to communicate them. When Mary McCarthy said some years ago of The Iceman Cometh that you “cannot write platonic dialogue in the language of Casey at the Bat,”5 she was saying something quite important about the later O’Neill. She was wrong, of course—you can write platonic dialogue in any language at all—but by associating O’Neill’s language with the lingo of American baseball she did identify an important ambience of the language used by the Jamie-figures in all these plays. (She might have come still closer with horse-racing.) It is a wide-open, early twentieth-century urban slang which when tied to the intelligence, the extremely acute sensibilities, and the education of a character like Jamie Tyrone produces sounds and images of a uniquely American hero:

Oscar Wilde’s “Reading Gaol” has the dope twisted. The man was dead and so he had to kill the thing he loved. That’s what it ought to be. The dead part of me hopes you won’t get well. Maybe he’s even glad the game has got Mama again!

(Yale edition, p. 166)

It is the juxtaposition of Oscar Wilde and the racetrack dope sheet, the identification of his mother’s affliction as a deadly “game,” that so characterizes Jamie. This is a man who can quote Latin in sentences which are otherwise spoken in the diction of the “Broadway sport,” who can mock Shakespeare even as he is intensely sensitive to the very lines he is mocking, who is “all show biz” even as he pours out the deepest pain of his soul.


Jamie’s confession reveals man at both his gut-level worst and transfigured best—unsentimentalized and unadorned, yet capable of giving as much as it is possible to give to another person. And that is a great deal. Jamie warns of his certain propensity to harm his brother even if that warning loses him the one thing in life which makes him capable of going on—his brother’s love. The warning reveals love which risks the sacrifice of one’s own emotional life support system. Jamie gains great dignity his confession, a dignity often lacking in the central figures of modern drama while essential to the heroes of ancient drama, heroes who had to face terrible truths about themselves which others had not the stature to face. It is a dignity which grows out of the strength to be completely self-knowing and the strength to admit that self-knowledge to others. Created out of the same antiphony of brashness and guilt, blasphemy and penitence, mockery and self-condemnation which is the voice of Jamie in all O’Neill’s later plays, Jamie Tyrone transcends that everlasting rhythm of hate and love by recognizing it, comprehending it, and taking the risk of passing his comprehension on to his brother—even if the message be misunderstood and earn him his brother’s permanent distrust. Jamie’s legacy is O’Neill’s legacy: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he saveth his brother from himself” (Yale edition, p. 167).


Thus has this play transcended the unashamed autobiographical statement it set out to make. It is more than simply the story of the “four haunted Tyrones.” It is a story of how past fear and disappointment become so crushing a part of the present. It is a story of the massively destructive effects of prolonged self-imposed isolation. And it is a story of man’s potential for redemption in kinship. The play does not end with Jamie’s great paraphrase of the line from the Mass, probably because O’Neill was determined to the end to eschew Messianic conclusions. The concluding statement of the play is instead a scenic image: a tableau of family disintegration and family unity in one—the men assembled in awe around the unhearing Mary, with Jamie reciting Swinburne and Mary delving ever deeper into the “little Temple” of her memories. No easy conclusions, positive or negative, are to be drawn from this tableau, but Jamie has already said what is to be said. The larger vision of the play frees man to ‘live in that it frees him to love and reciprocate love—in the way men and women do those things, by attacking and defending, appealing and succoring. Only the fears associated with the past destroy kinship—and those fears are what father and son, brother and brother, clear away briefly in their deep encounters late in this play. Long Day’s Journey is the most far-reaching of O’Neill’s dramatic explorations of what it is to be a human living among humans.6




1.  Long Day’s Journey Into Night (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1955).


2.  See Judith E. Barlow, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night: From Early Notes to Finished Play,” Modern Drama 22 (1979): 19-28. Barlow has discovered in the typescript of the play far more hostility and recrimination than appears in the published version. She suspects that O’Neill may have gained in compassion as he re-worked the play. Under any circumstances, however, and using a different metaphor from mine, she recognizes what I have been calling the language of kinship. Of both earlier and later versions of the play, she says: ‘The warp and woof of Journey are the inextricably woven threads of love and hatred in the family” (p. 28). See also Chothia, Forging a Language, pp. 168-81, a section she entitles “Empathy and Alienation: O’Neill’s Structuring of the Play.”


3Carpenter, Eugene O’Neill, p. 161, finds in the confrontation of Jamie and Edmund in Act Four, and in Jamie’s confession, the “true climax of the play.” Jamie’s description of the existence and nature of their conflict “provides the final moment of illumination, and of tragic catharsis.” Waith, on the other hand, finds only that Jamie reveals all the hate which resides under his “guise of love,” in “Eugene O’Neill: An Exercise in Unmasking,” pp. 190-91. Similarly, Robert B. Heilman sees the “love-hate paradox” implicit in Jamie’s confession as a “dividedness” which “deepens into a permanent malady,” in The Iceman, the Arsonist, and the Troubled Agent: Tragedy and Melodrama on the Modern Stage (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973), p. 107.


4Bogard, Contour in Time, p. 438, notes the similarity between Fat Violet and Josie Hogan.


5.  Mary McCarthy, “Dry Ice” (review of the original production of The Iceman Cometh), Partisan Review 13 (November-December 1946): 577-79. The acerbic Mary McCarthy later tempered her opinion of O’Neill, thanks to Long Day’s Journey, which in 1961 she described as “the great play of his old age,” suggesting that it “achieves in fact a peculiar poetry.” See On the Contrary (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1961) pp. 306-7.


6.  Joseph Golden praises the play in terms which may serve as a corollary to what I have said. The following comes from The Death of Tinker Bell: The American Theatre in the Twentieth Century (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1967), pp. 44-45: “Long Day’s Journey will remain perhaps the most singular triumph of his entire career and one of the legitimate glories of the American drama. Tempered by twenty years of bravado, of ghost-hunting, of personal anguish that bordered, at times, on suicidal impulses, he was ready to face himself, somewhat more wary of the extravagances of the past. And the result was remarkable. Here is a play that derives its ultimate power not from plot—which is at best a crude mechanical ‘system’— but from a process of character revelation that is awesome in its grinding inevitability; not from the usual sordid probes into the subterranean streams of humans compulsively tearing away from one another, but from a compassionate insight into profoundly lost humans groping blindly, sometimes viciously, often pathetically, toward one another; not by melodramatic swirls and eruptions, but by a tightly compressed, well-controlled development of human interrelationships.”


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