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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill


Edmund: (Bitterly) I remember all right. It was right after that Papa and Jamie decided they couldn't hide it from me any more. Jamie told me. I called him a liar! I tried to punch him in the nose. But I knew he wasn't lying. (His voice trembles, his eyes begin to fill with tears.) God, it made everything in life seem rotten! (Act III, page 121)

About the Book (from Wikipedia): Long Day's Journey into Night is a drama in four acts written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill in 1941–42 but only published in 1956. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork. The action covers a single day from around 8:30 am to midnight, in August 1912 at the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones—the semi-autobiographical representations of O'Neill himself, his older brother, and their parents at their home, Monte Cristo Cottage. One theme of the play is addiction and the resulting dysfunction of the family. All three males are alcoholics and Mary is addicted to morphine. In the play the characters conceal, blame, resent, regret, accuse and deny in an escalating cycle of conflict with occasional desperate and sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation.

My Thoughts:
     I have always enjoyed reading dramas but don't often select them when picking up a new book to begin. Prior to reading O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, I read another of his incredible dramas, Mourning Becomes Electra, and was reminded of what an enjoyable format plays can be. O'Neill never disappoints. Long Day's Journey Into Night (Yale University Press, 1955) begins with the perception that the Tyrone family is a typical American family spending time together at their summer cottage in Connecticut, but the reader quickly interprets that there is an underlying current of turmoil beneath this facade. Their dialogue with each other is uncomfortable and you can sense that they are merely communicating on the pleasantries, like the weather or appointments and projects for the day, rather than addressing anything of a serious nature that is plaguing the family.
     Thought to be largely autobiographical, it is a story laden with heavy content under an umbrella of depression and bitterness. O'Neill clearly sets the scene for the reader so that the script is easily interpreted and literally visual apart from the stage. His development of character through physical description is brilliantly detailed in its simplicity. "Her most appealing quality is the simple, unaffected charm of a shy convent-girl youthfulness she has never lost- an innate unwordly innocence." (Act One, page 13)
     While addiction is the prevalent theme of the story, Long Day's Journey Into Night also explores how we handle disappointments when our expectations for life are not met. This is a powerful story that strips away the ability to project an image and reveals the weakness in each presentation. In many ways, O'Neill's Tyrones are play acting among themselves, portraying characters of a father, mother, and sons in order to avoid accusations and judgement. Their interactions revolve around their denial of their circumstance. Mary, the mother, moves through the scenes in a trance-like state, convinced that she is hiding her own addiction and that her husband is to blame for the family's turmoil. Edmund, the younger son, uses humor as his mask for shading how ill he has become due to his own alcohol addiction. James, the father, and Jamie, the eldest son, cast their guilt on each other and showcase the unfolding destruction through their bitterness.
     Long Day's Journey Into Night is a timeless tale that inspects the family dynamic and the impact of one members actions on another. Like the domino effect, each Tyrone serves as a crutch for the next until they can no longer bear the weight and tumble into desperation, unraveling the ties that bind.

For more information on Playwright Eugene O'Neill, visit www.eoneill.com.

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

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