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Social Implications

SECOND VOICE. The child was diseased at birth, stricken with a hereditary ill that only the most vital men are able to shake off.

FIRST VOICE. You mean?

SECOND VOICE. I mean poverty--the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases. Fog.


A PLAY which resolves itself into an argument against capitalism or against anything else loses its value as art even though sympathy for the author's point of view may be quite universal. The opposite is likewise true. A work of art which is divorced from man's struggle with an unfriendly and an unmoral universe loses the most abiding appeal that art can have for man. O'Neill's tremendous success as a dramatist depends to a great extent upon the fact that he has had something to say about the modern social order that has been worth saying. His technique and his form have been admirable vehicles for an interpretation of the conflict which arises out of the circumstances of the world in which we live.

In Fog, an early one-act play, O'Neill's point of view is clearly stated. It is more of an argument than a play, but for the purpose of understanding O'Neill's philosophy it has real value. The poor workmanship of the young artist is often the key to understanding the implication of the mature work. In O'Neill's early plays his point of view is clear. Fog is symbolic of the state of mind of the business man who is adrift in a boat with a poet, a woman and a dead child. When the business man expresses concern over the child's death, the poet replies by giving a lecture on social injustice which surrounds the lives of the poor. He says:

What chance had that poor child? Naturally sickly and weak from underfeeding, transplanted to the stinking room of a tenement or the filthy hovel of a mining village, what glowing opportunities did life hold out that death should not be regarded as a blessing for him ? I mean if he possessed the ordinary amount of ability and intelligence--considering him as the average child of ignorant Polish immigrants. Surely his prospects of ever becoming anything but a beast of burden were not bright, were they?

The business man answers with a doubtful negative, which implies that he thinks there should be some Way out. He expresses the usual vague hope of those who find it hard to face reality. The poet then pushes the problem still further by asking an embarrassing question:

If you could bring him back to life, would you do so? Could you conscientiously drag him away from that fine sleep of his to face what he would have to face? Leaving the joy you would give his mother out of the question, would you do it for him individually?

The implications of these questions are very general They apply not only to the dead child in the boat, but to millions of unfortunate victims of our industrial system. It is as though O'Neill had said: "If you were God would you not prevent this monstrous abortion called the living poor?" What right have we to permit life to be born that exists only for slavery or worse than slavery--a life of neglect and suffering to end in a charity bread line, and a pauper's grave? The poet is explicit, and defines his terms:

I mean poverty--the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases.

The business man is irritated by such a statement and tries to escape by asserting that he is "not responsible for the way the world is run." And the poet replies, "But you are responsible," continuing:

I mean supposing we--the self-satisfied, successful members of society--are responsible for the injustice visited upon the heads of our less fortunate "brothers-inChrist" because of our shameful indifference to it. We see misery all around us and we do not care. We do nothing to prevent it. Are we not then, in part at least, responsible for it? Have you ever thought of that?

O'Neill has thought a great deal about that and has given his answer in many different plays. It is because he has thought of man in relation to his social system that his plays have become something more than a moment's entertainment. It is not man as an individual alone that concerns O'Neill; it is man in a social order, tortured, starved, disillusioned, thwarted and driven to disaster by the forces of a system which cares nothing for the general welfare of society. Man moves across the stage of an O'Neill play not as a free and detached individual, not merely as an individual in relation to a few characters who are associated with him in the immediate drama which makes the play, but he treats man against a rich background of social forces. Beyond the backdrop, before the beginning of the play, and beyond the ending lies a definite social system that is as important to an appreciation of the play as is the action which takes place on the stage in the presence of the audience. It is the skill with which the dramatist has made his audience aware of this larger significance of his theme that lends to O'Neill's drama its rich, sympathetic tone. It is the social implication that makes his play have a life in the mind of the audience after it has left the theater and scattered to the quiet of individual thought.


In the early one-act plays this is stated in direct speech; but as his technique developed, O'Neill made the background more implicit than explicit, which is exactly as it should be. But O'Neill like all great dramatists is not afraid of the direct criticism which, from a technical point of view, may be considered as a digression. No man ever made more digressions to generalize about life and its tragic lot than did Shakespeare or Goethe. They had something to say and they would say it no matter what the consequences might be. O'Neill is far more restrained than any of his predecessors in the drama, even than his modern contemporaries, but that he is concerned with the problem of man in relation to the present social order is apparent in all of his plays. Even those that use an historical background come under this classification. The social implication of the greed for empire is boldly set forth in The Fountain, and the direct criticism of modern business ideals is the whole theme of Marco Millions. In such a purely fantastic drama as The Emperor Jones, O'Neill does not permit us to forget the social implication. When Brutus Jones lost his nerve in the forest, the grim shadows of his past came to haunt him. And what were they? Slavery, crime, penitentiaries, the whole vicious, illogical structure of our modern industrial world, which goad the poverty-stricken day and night to commit crime, and then when it is committed, punishes the criminal it has helped to make-punishes without reference to the causes that inspired the crime. Jones escaped the direct punishment, but he could not escape the deep scars left by a vicious system. In the pantomime of the prison scene and at the auction mart our social order as well as the character of Jones is clearly revealed.

But in the plays mentioned above, the social criticism supplies only a rich background. It is in Anna Christie, Strange Interlude, The Hairy Ape and All God's Chillun Got Wings that the modern social order is directly, and in some cases, bitterly criticized.


In The Hairy Ape O'Neill presents a problem that has broader implications than the immediate success or failure of Yank. Yank becomes aware of the fact that he does not "belong." He finds out that while he has been doing his work the world has been gradually but quite rapidly revolutionized by machinery, a revolution that has not carried him with it. He finds that a new world which disregards human rights and aspirations has left him stranded. The one thing which made his life endurable was that he felt that he "belonged," that he was a necessary, vital and human part of a social order. But one day he awoke to the fact that he counted for nothing as an individual. If he could have reasoned it out clearly, he would have known that as soon as a machine known as an automatic stoker could be invented, he would be thrown overboard. He would have known that the progress of invention is for the benefit of those who exploit the workers and not for the good of society as a whole. And this is not Yank's problem alone, but the problem of our whole social system. There are literally millions of men and women who are blood relations of Yank in this modern industrial world. Like Yank they have grown up in the faith that they "belonged," that they were a necessary and respected part of a social order, but they have lived to find out that they are nothing of the kind. As they walk up and down the world looking for work only to be turned away with a brutal word; as they stand in thousands of bread lines to receive food not much better than slop that charity flings them; as they shiver from cold, and see their loved ones die from want, consoled only by the fact that they, too, will soon be dead, they come to the realization that they do not belong. They see an abundance of food, clothing and shelter lavishly wasted on every hand, but nothing is offered them. They taste only the food that has been allowed to rot, because of a system which does not or cannot change its ideals. They stand on the sidewalks of the world, desolate, abandoned, even hated and despised for being something they did not ask to be. They are forced to listen to the empty talk which flows like a garbagechoked river from the vacuous minds of the protected ones. Like Yank they must listen as he listened one bright Sunday morning on Fifth Avenue while the fat ones came past him talking of the church service in the following manner.

Dear Doctor Caiaphas! He is so sincere!

What was the sermon ? I dozed off.

About the radicals, my dear--and the false doctrines that are being preached.

We must organize a hundred per cent American bazaar.

And let everyone contribute one one-hundredth per cent of their income tax.

What an original idea!

We can devote the proceeds to rehabilitating the veil of the temple.

But that has been done so many times.

Nothing could reflect more clearly than does this scene the utter bankruptcy of the modern system to deal with the problem that confronts Yank and millions of others, The system has evolved beyond control and each day the gap between Yank and his needs grows wider.

Yank tries desperately to cope with the problem and for his pains is thrown into jail where a fellow prisoner makes a plain and direct criticism of the social order by reading a senator's puerile defense of a system that offers imprisonment or starvation as its only answer to social injustice. This speech, quoted in full, shows the extent to which O'Neill introduces a direct approach to the social problem. Thus spoke Senator Queen as reported in the Sunday Times:

There is a menace existing in this country today which threatens the vitals of our fair Republic--as foul a menace against the very life-blood of the American Eagle as was the foul conspiracy of Catiline against the eagles of ancient Rome! I refer to that devil's brew of rascals, jailbirds, murderers and cutthroats who libel all honest workingmen by calling themselves the Industrial Workers of the World; but in the light of their nefarious plots, I call them the Industrial Wreckers of the World. This fiendish organization is a foul ulcer on the fair body of our Democracy--Like Cato I say to this Senate, the I. W. W. must be destroyed! For they represent an ever-present dagger pointed at the heart of the greatest nation the world has ever known, where all men are born free and equal, with equal opportunities to all, where the Founding Fathers have guaranteed to each one happiness, where Truth, Honor, Liberty, Justice, and the Brotherhood of Man are a religion absorbed with one's mother milk, taught at our father's knee, sealed, signed, and stamped upon in the glorious Constitution of these United States. . . .

They plot with fire in one hand and dynamite in the other. They stop not before murder to gain their ends, nor at the outraging of defenseless womanhood. They would tear down society, put the lowest scum in the seats of the mighty, turn Almighty God's revealed plan for the world topsy-turvy, and make of our sweet and lovely civilization a shambles, a desolation where man, God's masterpiece, would soon degenerate back to the ape!

Literature of all types during the last sixty years has dealt with social problems. Social protest has been the moving spirit in literature since the days of Zola. In The Hairy Ape O'Neill reveals himself in sympathy with this tradition, with the one difference that he is not dealing with the condemnation of a particular political order. His problem is the deeper one of the psychological implications of the machine age. His predecessors might have shown how Yank lost his job and finally through starvation was led to crime to support himself and family, or some similar theme. But it should be remembered that Yank's problem was not loss of work. He could have had all the work he wanted. Furthermore, O'Neill does not appeal to the emotions by having Yank lose a sweetheart, mother, or children. Yank is alone as far as any family connections are concerned. It is not work that Yank is seeking. What Yank wants is to know that he "belongs." He wants to find out what it is that has happened to the world which separates him from the realization that what he is doing is a necessary and a fitting part of the life of the world.

In pursuit of the answer to this problem he receives blows and insults--no insult greater than that which is expressed in the typical speech of the senator who attributes to the workers all the sins of which he and his class are guilty. The real danger to modern civilization is the stupidity and timidity of the ruling classes. Therein lies the real drama of this play. It is not that Yank as an individual moves the audience very deeply. He is neither charming nor likeable, nor capable of arousing deep emotion as a person. Had O'Neill meant this play to be the tragedy of Yank, he would have made him a more likeable character. But Yank is more than an individual. He is a symbol of the deep protest that rises like a wave against the whole structure of modern civilization. He is man crying out against a system which has not only exploited man's body but his spirit as well. The play is not a protest against low wages and unemployment as is the case in the traditional social drama, Hauptmann's The Weavers, for example, but it is a condemnation of the whole structure of machine civilization, a civilization which succeeds only when it destroys the psychological well-being of those who make it possible. It is this which gives the play universality and enlists the sympathy and understanding of the audience. It is a play which might be called by any of the many titles of books that describe the disintegration of modern civilization; it is a part of the Decline of the West.

Because of its deep psychological and philosophical implication The Hairy Ape cannot be classed with a type of social drama which solves a problem and points a way out. The sickness of the machine age is not wholly a problem of relating production and consumption. It goes much deeper than that. The whole concept of life, of man's relation to the world, of his place in it is involved. Yank was not concerned about distribution --vitally important as that is--he wanted to be a creative part of the social structure, and no man working in the stoke-hole of a liner, or making the two hundred and fifty-sixth part of a shoe in regulation eight-hour shifts can ever "belong" in the same sense that man belonged as a creative worker in the eighteenth century. Yank is a protest against the mordant success of the machine age.

O'Neill makes this clear as Yank moves from one defeat to another striving vainly to find some answer to his problem. In prison he heard of the I. W. W.s and thought to find among them an answer. They threw him into the street, just as the Communists of today would deny him a place. The Communists would not accept Yank, because Yank is an individualist not a party man. What he wants is to be a creative worker proud of what he as an individual has created.

Yank's speech after he has been thrown from the I. W. W.'s headquarters is an explicit summary of the whole situation. O'Neill shows that wages, distribution, shorter hours and all the rest of it is no solution. Yank in the pose of "The Thinker" reviews the whole situation, ending by admitting that his greatest crime was that of being born. Yank speaks, referring first to the men who threw him out into the street:

YANK (Bitterly) So dem boids don't fink I belong, neider. Aw, to hell wit 'em! Dey're in de wrong pew --de same old bull--soapboxes and Salvation Army-no guts! Cut out an hour often de job a day and make me happy! Gimme a dollar more a day and make me happy! Tree square a day, and cauliflowers in de front yard--ekal rights--a woman and kids--a lousy vote-and I'm all fixed for Jesus, huh? Aw, hell! What does dar get yuh? Dis ring's in your inside, but it ain't your belly. Feedin' your face--sinkers and coffee--dat don't touch it. It's way down--at de bottom. Yuh can't grab it, and yuh can't stop it. It moves, and everything moves. It stops and de whole woild stops. Dat's me now--I don't tick, see?--I'm a busted Ingersoll, dat's what. Steel was me, and I owned de woild. Now I ain't steel, and de woild owns me. Aw, Hell! I can't see--it's all dark, get me? It's all wrong! Say, youse up dere, Man in de Moon, yuh look so wise, gimme de answer, huh? Slip me de inside dope, de information right from de stable--where do I get off at, huh?

A POLICEMAN (Who has come up the street in time to hear this last--with grim humor) You'll get off at the station, you boob, if you don't get up out of that and keep movin'.

YANK (Looking up at him--with a hard, bitter laugh) Sure! Lock me up! Put me in a cage! Dat's de on'y answer yuh know. G'wan, lock me up!

POLICEMAN. What you been doin'?

YANK. Enough to gimme life for! I was born, see? Sure, dat's de charge. Write it in de blotter. I was born, get me!

POLICEMAN. God pity your old woman! But I've no time for kidding. You're soused. I'd run you in but it's too long a walk to the station. Come on now, get up, or I'll fan your ears with this club. Beat it now!

YANK. Say, where do I go from here?

POLICEMAN. Go to hell.

A careful reading of Yank's analysis makes further comment unnecessary. The machine age has done something to man that wages, food, home, family, shorter hours and a "lousy vote" won't remedy. As the machine created wealth it destroyed the joy of living, the only thing that wealth is good for. O'Neill has presented the paradox of modern civilization with great insight into its fundamental tragedy. Like Yank we all say, "where do we go from here," and the answer is "Hell."


The importance of O'Neill as a social critic lies in the fact that he emphasizes the psychological aspect of the modern social order. He points out the disease of our acquisitive society. He does not merely stress the fact that workers are exploited to create wealth for the few, but shows how in our modern machine-made world they are deprived of the sense of harmony and mental well-being that comes from doing something that seems important and necessary. Man's work is a necessary part of his personality; it is an extension of his ego; it makes him feel that he is a necessary part of the life of the world in which he lives. Modern industry tends to destroy this psychological counterpart of work, and in so far as it does, it leaves the worker a nervous, irritable and dissatisfied misfit. Yank was such a worker, and at the same time, conscious of the thing he had lost. He didn't want a job simply because it would be a means to earning a living; he wanted a job in which he could live.

In All God's Chillun Got Wings this problem is carried out still further and applied to one of the great problems of social inequality in modern America. The American Negro is technically free, but psychologically he is still in bondage. I don't want to give the impression that he is not also in economic bondage, as, indeed, we all are, but that may be taken for granted. O'Neill has not overlooked that, but he has turned to the more subtle and dangerous kind of slavery for his dramatic materials. The serfs of the Middle Ages were economic slaves, but they belonged to a system and were recognized as important individuals in that system. In the terms of Yank, they "belonged." The modern worker does not belong. He is a number on a tin badge, not a unified and significant personality.

Jim Harris the principal character of All God's Chillun Got Wings is a Negro whose problem is to "belong." It is the story of Yank over again from a different angle. Like Yank, Jim's trouble is not primarily economic. He seems to have the means of a livelihood. It is not a problem of physical starvation but of psychological persecution. This persecution leads Jim to fed that only through marrying a white girl can he win the position in life that he craves and that is necessary to his happiness.

The love of Ella, the white girl, and Jim, the Negro, is genuine, but in the end it is destroyed, or it destroys them. The social pressure of a society that cannot overcome its race prejudice makes Jim a failure and drives Ella to insanity. It may well be argued that the Negro needs economic security, but beyond that, then what ? Jim tried it and failed. He failed because the social system denied him something that he wanted more than wages and votes, it denied him the right to belong.

O'Neill has selected the material out of which the modern Negro's tragedy is perpetuated beyond the termination of his physical slavery. He has arraigned the deep and powerful prejudices of American civilization before the bar of true justice, and he has convicted our civilization of enforcing a slavery as gross, disgusting and deadly as any that our forefathers supported before the days of the Civil War. Because modern American civilization is steeped in the prejudices of its past injustice to the Negro, it is now a slave to its own sins. In order to escape the opprobrium of an economic slavery, it has changed the terms but kept the facts as they were. O'Neill is not so naive as to believe that this is the result of a conscious program. Few significant social attitudes are. But it is none the less deadly.

After seventeen years of struggle Jim Harris finally abandons his program. He was generous, sincere, kind hearted, brave and very able as a student. These qualities might have made a white man successful, but because Jim was a Negro, he failed. Even his marriage failed, and his white wife, in spite of herself, turned against him. White supremacy is maintained at the price of social injustice to the Negro. O'Neill has made the personal story of Jim Harris and Ella Downey into a drama of great social importance for America. He has gone beyond the problem of economic slavery to the greater dangers of psychological bondage, and through the tragic love of these two characters has written an indictment of one important phase of American civilization.

The self-righteous recognized the indictment, and acted, as only "good" people can, with vicious hatred and destructive power. A brief quotation from The Provincetown reveals how "Virtue" tried to deal with a play that should have been welcomed for its deep, sympathetic understanding of an American tragedy:

The fact that it dealt with a marriage between a Negro and a white girl, and that the wife at one point in the action kisses her husband's hand, had been avidly seized upon. Ku Kluxers, Citizen Fixits and Southern Gentlewomen, most of whom did not trouble to read the play (which had been published in the American Mercury) were goaded into action. Facts were enlarged and distorted, and expressions of opinion from pastors in Mississippi, from Colonels of the Confederate Army, from champions of Nordic integrity in Iowa, were printed and reprinted from one end of the country to the other. A picture of Mary Blair, who was to play the wife, was syndicated hundreds of times with the caption 'White Actress Kisses Negro's Hand,' and a harmless little paragraph by Irvin S. Cobb about how 'All God's Chillun' would need their wings in Paducah, Kentucky, where he came from, echoed and reŽhoed in print like a thunderbolt of the demigod Authority. The envelopes from the clipping bureau grew larger and larger until great boxes began to arrive. The office soon gave up the gargantuan task of pasting dippings into the press book and began stuffing them into shoe boxes and storing them in the back of the most remote closet in the theater. In the final totaling it was found that the press-clipping bill exceeded the cost of the scenery.


Marco Millions is an excellent study in the social concept of the Western business ideal. Marco serves as a symbol for big business. Although the play deals with Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, one has no difficulty in recognizing him as a good American business man whose ideal of life is to buy cheap and sell dear. O'Neill has given to this play a touch of light satire which makes his criticism of modern society all the more penetrating.

O'Neill shows how Marco began his career as a normal child with an idealistic attitude towards life. He was romantic in love, sensitive to beauty, generous in his relations to other people, and unmaterialistic. But under the training of his father and his uncle he gradually lost the gentle sweetness of his character and assumed the character of the stereotyped business man. This means more than simply the occupation of trading. Trading for profit in itself seems innocent enough. An uncritical thinker might even hold that a man could pursue the ideal of profit and at the same time maintain a certain personal integrity, love of beauty, generosity and creative imagination.

It is on this point that the significance of O'Neill's play turns. For he seems to hold that the profit motive is at the root of the evil in Western civilization. The profit motive destroys that which is best and noblest in man, making him into a beast who is capable of no great passions and no real love of the beautiful and the good. Under the deadly influence of this practical ideal, he becomes an excellent judge of quantity, and believes that quantity is synonymous with quality.

The limitation of this concept leads to others even more destructive. It leads to a narrow selfish bigotry which finds expression in condemning every point of view that does not harmonize with the desire for bigger and better profits. Maffeo expresses it well when he says "All Mahometans are crazy." To the rulers of our Western world all theories which run counter to the profit seeking motive are considered manifestations of insanity. When Maffeo saw a dervish dancer, he was deeply moved, but not by the art of the performer, but by the thought that "If we had him in Venice we could make a mint of money exhibiting him."

Trade with profit is this man's ideal. He will endure any hardship, work long hours, endanger his health and his life for profit. He pursues profit with the passionate intensity of a fanatic. As Maffeo puts it: "Any climate is healthy where trade is brisk." He knows no leisure, for his mind is forever stewing in the stink of his profits. He is tortured by new visions of greater incomes wherever he goes. Only that which is innocuous can give him pleasure. Thus Marco liked the theater, that is, he liked to go to a play that did not rise above his belly's needs. His excellence asa dramatic critic has been copied by that New Yorker who wrote "Evening Becomes Intolerable."* He and Marco are blood Brothers. Marco summarizes:

There's nothing better than to sit down in a good seat at a good play after a good day's work in which you know you've accomplished something, and after you've had a good dinner, and just take it easy and enjoy a good wholesome thrill or a good laugh and get your mind off serious things until it's time to go to bed.

Marco is the perfect business man. "He has memorized everything and learned nothing." His capacity for experiencing life is limited to his trade. His greatest thrill is a balance in his favor on the day's business. As Kublai says of him: "He has not even a mortal soul; he has only an acquisitive instinct." This leads him to deal with all human values in the terms of profit and loss in the market place.

One of Kublai's counsellors described Marco's exploits as mayor of Yang-Chau, saying:

I talked recently with a poet who had fled from there in horror. Yang-Chau used to have a soul, he said. Now it has a brand new Court House. And another, a man of wide culture, told me, our Christian mayor is exterminating our pleasures and our rats as if they were twin breeds of vermin!

Marco Millions is a satire on the modern business man. If it were no more than that it might be amusing, but it would scarcely be very important in the study of O'Neill's criticism of life. He chose Marco Polo as his principal character because through him and his exploits he could contrast the East and the West. Through him he could picture the mordant disintegration of Western civilization as it undermines all things beautiful and good in its pursuit of profits. This play, then, is a further indictment of the whole system of Western ideals. Marco is the ruler of the Western world, and with Marco in power, how long can it last? That is what O'Neill asks, and from what the world looks like today it might well be said that his question is of vital importance. While economists and bankers worry over Communism and a new system of distribution, O'Neill points to the whole philosophical conception of life which dominates our world and indicates where the real cause of disaster ties. Life is the only justification for living, and life is not measured by mechanical inventions and profits in dollars and cents.

The following rather lengthy quotation summarizes the business ideal of the Western world, and by implication reveals the thoroughness of O'Neill's indictment of the prevailing ideals:

MARCO. My tax scheme, Your Majesty, that got such wonderful results is simplicity itself. I simply reversed the old system. For one thing I found they had a high tax on excess profits. Imagine a profit being excess! Why, it isn't humanly possible! I repealed it. And I repealed the tax on luxuries. I found out the great majority in Yang-Chau couldn't afford luxuries. The tax wasn't democratic enough to make it pay! I crossed it off and I wrote on the statute books a law that taxes every necessity in life, a law that hits every man's pocket equally, be he beggar or banker! And I got results!

CHU-YIN. In beggars?

KUBLAI. I have received a petition from the inhabitants of Yang-Chau enumerating over three thousand cases of your gross abuse of power!

MARCO. Oh, so they've sent that vile slander to you, have they? That's the work of a mere handful of radicals--

KUBLAI. Five hundred thousand names are signed to it. Half a million citizens accuse you of endeavoring to stamp out their ancient culture.

MARCO. What! Why, I even had a law passed that anyone caught interfering with culture would be subject to a fine! It was Section One of a blanket statute that every citizen must be happy or go to jail. I found it was the unhappy ones who were always making trouble and getting discontented. You see, here's the way I figure it; if a man's good, he's happy--and if he isn't happy, it's a sure sign he's no good to himself or anyone else and he better be put where he can't do harm.


The world revealed by Eugene O'Neill is tragic because it is without intelligent social organization. Ignorance, brutality, selfishness, greed and hatred are the dominant forces in this world of O'Neill. The multitude of men and women who pass by in the imagination as one tries to vision the sum total of life that O'Neill has presented in his plays is a sorry lot. Here by the roadside lies a young man coughing his lungs out as he cries for the beauty which lies beyond the horizon; here is a girl tortured into committing a murder; another passes with a fixed look of dry-eyed sorrow that is just breaking into insanity over her lover killed in war; a handsome Negro passes with the sorrow of hopeless despair furrowing every line of his face; in a narrow room another breaks under the strain of life as his fevered imagination turns gilded trinkets into gold; in the cold seas of the north a woman goes mad from loneliness; in a beautiful New England home starved and misguided love brings endless tragedy; and so one could go on with the enumeration.

And what has turned potential happiness for these human beings into sure and grim tragedy? Is it that there is something in nature that makes these hard hearts? Is it that man is doomed by his humanity to make every third thought his grave? No doubt that is partially the truth, or at least the only truth that we have tried and practiced. But O'Neill also emphasizes the fact of a social system which is destructive in itself, which thwarts every effort to achieve happiness, which puts a value on misery and pain as a good in itself, and worst of all encourages and rewards everything that is predatory and destructive, condemning beauty, wellbeing and happiness as a sin. O'Neill's interpretation of the world is grim and terrible. Many have called it lopsided and monstrous. There is no denying that people may feel that he over-emphasizes the gruesome, but if O'Neill is to be condemned for his interpretation of life as essentially tragic, then he may take it as an honor to be by such a device classed with Sophocles, Dante and Shakespeare among those who considered this world "an unweeded garden, where things rank and gross in nature possess it merely."

It may be that in such protest against injustice as O'Neill reveals in his social dramas lies the hope for a better world. He has given dramatic power to this particular 'aspect of our modern social order and by so doing has helped to make the problems real to his audience. This may disappoint those who go to the theater to rest as did Marco, but to those who go to the theater for a memorable experience, O'Neill has something to say that is worth saying.

* J. George Frederick in Vanity Fair, Jan. 1932.

Pessimism and Tragedy

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