2008 THR413

Desire [W]

text online :

3 Acts (parts) with 4 scenes in each

"Exterior of the Farmhouse. It is sunset of a day at the beginning of summer in the year 1850. There is no wind and everything is still. The sky above the roof is suffused with deep colors, the green of the elms glows, but the house is in shadow, seeming pale and washed out by contrast." [first stage direction]

... back to amdrama

3 X 3 in American drama = [ O'Neill, Williams, Miller] + [ Mamet, Shepard, Albee? ]

Last 25 years of US Theatre ...

In 1941 O'Neill completed Long Day's Journey into Night. A few of his close friends were permitted to read the manuscript, but the author stipulated that the play was not to be produced or published until twenty-five years after his death. Copies were placed in the vaults of O'Neill's publisher, Random House, and in the Yale University Library (along with early drafts and notes). When reporters at the Iceman interview had asked him to explain the restriction, O'Neill had answered, "There is one person in it who is still alive." In February of 1956, however, three years after O'Neill's death, Long Day's Journey was published with Mrs. O'Neill's permission. [ Doris V. Falk ] ROSE: D'yuh suppose they'd keep me any place if they knew what I was? And d'yuh suppose he wouldn't tell them or have someone else tell them? Yuh don't know the game I'm up against. [Bitterly.] I've tried that job thing. I've looked fur decent work and I've starved at it. A year after I first hit this town I quit and tried to be on the level. I got a job at housework -- workin' twelve hours a day for twenty-five dollars a month. And I worked like a dog, too, and never left the house I was so scared of seein' someone who knew me. But what was the use? One night they have a guy to dinner who's seen me some place when I was on the town. He tells the lady -- his duty he said it was -- and she fires me right off the reel. I tried the same thing a lot of times. But there was always someone who'd drag me back. And then I quit tryin'. There didn't seem to be no use. They -- all the good people -- they got me where I am and they're goin' to keep me there. Reform? Take it from me it can't be done. They won't let yuh do it, and that's Gawd's truth. (O'Neill, The Web)

Eugene O'Neill: A Critical Study by Sophus Keith Winther; Russell & Russell, 1961

[ - I: The Destructive Power of the Romantic Ideal - II: The Anathema of Puritanism - III: Religion - IV: The Pagan Way of Life - V: The Relativity of Good and Evil - VI: Determinism, Fatalism and Free Will - VII: Social Implications - VIII: Pessimism and Tragedy - IX: Optimism and Comedy - X: Technique - XI: This Sickness of Today - XII: O'Neill and Modern Tragedy ]

THEMES: Family and ...

Pirandello -- Self and "Characters" ("private in public"):

"This is O'Neill's own family, and their story was torn from the depths of his consciousness. With an effort compounded of "tears and blood," O'Neill forced himself to examine them honestly and objectively, from their own points of view as well as his. The result was that the figures most deeply rooted in that consciousness have emerged from it not simply as symbols of their meaning to the author, but as memorable, fully created individual personalities. But in each of these full portraits lurks the outline of a psychological type who has appeared and reappeared in O'Neill's work. Each type with its problems dominated a period in O'Neill's development, but there are only four Tyrones, and there are more than four stages in O'Neill's own journey into night; the other stages are to be found in the themes of this play and in O'Neill's very compulsion to write it." (p.9)

The Tyrone Anthology: Authority in the Last Act of Long Day's Journey into Night by Lawrence Dugan [ Comparative Drama, Vol. 37, 2003 ]

In the summer of 1939, at the age of 50, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill began work on what he called "a play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood," finally summoning the courage to write an autobiographical masterpiece that confronted the truth about his own family. (PBS) Thirteen/WNET.presents Great Performances *

Study Questions (SparkNotes):

Discuss O'Neill's use of language in the play. How do the characters' different attitudes find expression in the words they use to describe themselves?

... Discuss O'Neill's use of broken dreams in the play. What do they mean to the characters, and what do they symbolize? How are the dynamics between characters affected by broken dreams?


James Tyrone - The husband of Mary and the father of Jamie and Edmund, he was once a famous actor who toured the U.S. with his wife. Because his Irish father abandoned him at age 10, forcing him to work immediately to support himself, he has a strong work ethic and an appreciation for money that leads to strong financial prudence--bordering on stinginess.

Mary Tyrone - The wife of Tyrone and mother of Jamie and Edmund, she struggles from a morphine addiction that has lasted over two decades. While she has broken the addiction several times, she always resumes her morphine use after spending more time with her family. She is on morphine in each scene of the play, and her use increases steadily as the day wears on. Although she loves Tyrone, she oftentimes regrets marrying him because of the dreams she had to sacrifice of becoming a nun or a concert pianist.

Jamie Tyrone - The elder Tyrone son, he is in his early thirties. Because he squanders money on booze and women, he has to rely on his parents for support. He dropped out of several colleges and has very little ambition, much to the dismay of his parents.

Edmund Tyrone - The younger Tyrone son, he is ten years younger than Jamie. An intellectual and romantic dreamer, he learns during the play that he is afflicted with consumption (tuberculosis), which means that he will have to spend up to a year in a sanatorium. Like his brother and father, he is partially alcoholic, and he has a tendency to squander money, although he works harder than Jamie. Mary always holds out hope that he will become a success one day.

"War on Drugs"? Why not "war on pain"? Or -- on life? Or on the lack og meaning of life?

The rest of the world is to follow...

O'Neill: American Drama

... Voltaire, Rousseau, Schopenauer, Nietzsehe, Ibsent! Atheists, fools, and madmen! And your poets! This Dowson, and this Baudelaire, and Swinburne and Oscar Wilde, and Whitman and Poe! Whoremongers and degenerates! Pah! When rye three good sets of Shakespeare there (he nods at the large bookcase) you could read. (135)

script.vtheatre.net/amdrama & amcentury

O'Neill - Script Analysis

When men make gods, there is no God! EUGENE O'NEILL, Lazarus Laughed

There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now. EUGENE O'NEILL, A Moon for the Misbegotten

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.

Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night by Harold Bloom; Chelsea House, 1987 :

- Long Day's Journey - The Theatre of Revolt - Long Day's Journey into Night: Eugene O'Neill - Through the Fog into the Monologue - Life in Terms of Lives - The Door and the Mirror - Significant Form: Long Day's Journey into Night - Long Day's Journey into Night - Eugene O'Neill: The Life Remembered - The Retreat behind Language

... It is an inevitable oddity that the principal American dramatist to date should have no American precursors. Eugene O'Neill's art as a playwright owes most to Strindberg's, and something crucial, though rather less, to Ibsen's. Intellectually, O'Neill's ancestry also has little to do with American tradition, with Emerson or William James or any other of our cultural speculators. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud formed O'Neill's sense of what little was possible for any of us. (Intro)

Yet O'Neill, despite his many limitations, is the most American of our handful of dramatists who matter most: Williams, Miller, Wilder, Albee, perhaps Mamet and Shepard.A national quality that is literary, yet has no clear relation to our domestic literary traditions, is nearly always present in O'Neill's strongest works.


TYRONE ( trying to shake off his hopeless stupor ). Oh, we're fools to pay any attention. It's the damned poison. But I've never known her to drown herself in it as deep as this. ( Gruffly.) Pass me that bottle, Jamie. And stop reciting that damned morbid poetry. I won't have it in my house! ( Jamie pushes the bottle toward him. He pours a drink without disarranging the wedding gown he holds carefully over his other arm and on his lap, and shoves the bottle back. Jamie pours his and passes the bottle to Edmund, who, in turn, pours one. Tyrone lifts his glass and his sons follow suit mechanically, but before they can drink Mary speaks and they slowly lower their drinks to the table, forgetting them.)

MARY (staring dreamily before her. Her face looks extraordinarily youthful and innocent. The shyly eager, trusting smile is on her lips as she talks aloud to herself). I had a talk with Mother Elizabeth. She is so sweet and good. A saint on earth. I love her dearly. It may be sinful of me but I love her better than my own mother. Because she always understands, even before you say a word. Her kind blue eyes look right into your heart. You can't keep any secrets from her. You couldn't deceive her, even if you were mean enough to want to. ( She gives a little rebellious toss of her head—with girlish pique.) All the same, I don't think she was so understanding this time. I told her I wanted to be a nun. I explained how sure I was of my vocation, that I had prayed to the Blessed Virgin to make me sure, and to find me worthy. I told Mother I had had a true vision when I was praying in the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, on the little island in the lake. I said I knew, as surely as I knew I was kneeling there, that the Blessed Virgin had smiled and blessed me with her consent. But Mother Elizabeth told me I must be more sure than that, even, that I must prove it wasn't simply my imagination. She said, if I was so sure, then I wouldn't mind putting myself to a test by going home after I graduated, and living as other girls lived, going out to parties and dances and enjoying myself; and then if after a year or two I still felt sure, I could come back to see her and we would talk it over again. ( She tosses her head— indignantly. ) I never dreamed Holy Mother would give me such advice! I was really shocked. I said, of course, I would do anything she suggested, but I knew it was simply a waste of time. After I left her, I felt all mixed up, so I went to the shrine and prayed to the Blessed Virgin and found peace again because I knew she heard my prayer and would always love me and see no harm ever came to me so long as I never lost my faith in her. ( She pauses and a look of growing uneasiness comes over her face. She passes a hand over her forehead as if brushing cobwebs from her brain—vaguely. ) That was in the winter of senior year. Then in the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time. ( She stares before her in a sad dream. Tyrone stirs in his chair. Edmund and Jamie remain motionless. )


[ mono sample for auditions? ]

Scene study ( in class):

( She puts her arms around him and hugs him with a frightened, protective tenderness. )

EDMUND (soothingly). That's foolishness. You know it's only a bad cold.

MARY. Yes, of course, I know that!

EDMUND. But listen, Mama. I want you to promise me that even if it should turn out to be something worse, you'll know I'll soon be all right again, anyway, and you won't worry yourself sick, and you'll keep on taking care of yourself—

MARY (frightenedly). I won't listen when you're so silly! There's absolutely no reason to talk as if you expected something dreadful! Of course, I promise you. I give you my sacred word of honor! ( Then with a sad bitterness. ) But I suppose you're remembering I've promised before on my word of honor.


MARY ( her bitterness receding into a resigned helplessness ). I'm not blaming you, dear. How can you help it? How can any one of us forget? (Strangely.) That's what makes it so hard—for all of us. We can't forget.

EDMUND ( grabs her shoulder ). Mama! Stop it!

MARY ( forcing a smile ). All right, dear. I didn't mean to be so gloomy. Don't mind me. Here. Let me feel your head. Why, it's nice and cool. You certainly haven't any fever now.

EDMUND. Forget! It's you—

MARY. But I'm quite all right, dear. ( With a quick, strange, calculating, almost sly glance at him.) Except I naturally feel tired and nervous this morning, after such a bad night. I really ought to go upstairs and lie down until lunch time and take a nap. ( He gives her an instinctive look of suspicion—then, ashamed of himself, looks quickly away. She hurries on nervously.) What are you going to do? Read here? It would be much better for you to go out in the fresh air and sunshine. But don't get overheated, remember. Be sure and wear a hat. ( She stops, looking straight at him now. He avoids her eyes. There is a tense pause. Then she speaks jeeringly.) Or are you afraid to trust me alone?

EDMUND ( tormentedly ). No! Can't you stop talking like that! I think you ought to take a nap. ( He goes to the screen door— forcing a joking tone.) I'll go down and help Jamie bear up. I love to lie in the shade and watch him work. ( He forces a laugh in which she makes herself join. Then he goes out on the porch and disappears down the steps. Her first reaction is one of relief. She appears to relax. She sinks down in one of the wicker armchairs at rear of table and leans her head back, closing her eyes. But suddenly she grows terribly tense again. Her eyes open and she strains forward, seized by a fit of nervous panic. She begins a desperate battle with herself. Her long fingers, warped and knotted by rheumatism, drum on the arms of the chair, driven by an insistent life of their own, without her consent.)


* The Old World arrived. Between the two wars; Chekhov in Connecticut.

* Americans got it -- and became unhappy. What did they discover?

... One day. One family. One story?


EUGENE O'NEILL, The Great God Brown

AmDrama: 3 + 3 = (O'Neill - Williams - Miller) + (Albee - Shepard - Mamet) and Kushner and others



The Plays of Eugene O'Neill
Book by John Henry Raleigh; Southern Illinois University Press, 1965 :


It is easy, first, to forget or overlook the simultaneity of O'Neill's work with that of such writers as Eliot, Pound, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lewis, Faulkner, Stevens...

Mono Studies: O'Neill, Anna Christie:

ANNA: [Trying to keep up her hard, bitter tone, but gradually letting a note of pitiful pleading creep in.] I supose if I tried to tell you I wasn't that no more you'd believe me, wouldn't you? Yes, you would! And if I told you that yust getting out in this barge, and being on the sea had changed me and made me feel different about things, 's if all I'd been through wasn't me and didn't count and was yust like it never happened you'd laugh, wouldn't you? And you'd die laughing sure if I said that meeting you that funny way that night in the fog, and afterwards seeing that you was straight goods stuck on me, had got me to thinking for the first time, and I sized you up as a different kind of man' a sea man as different from the ones on land as water is from mud' and that was why I got stuck on you, too. I wanted to marry you and fool you, but I couldn't. Don't you see how I'd changed? I couldn't marry you with you believing a lie, and I was shamed to tell you the truth, till the both of you forced my hand, and I seen you was the same as all the rest. And now, give me a bawling out and beat it, like I can tell you're going to. [She stops, looking at BURKE. He is silent, his face averted, his features beginning to work with fury. She pleads passionately.] Will you believe it if I tell you that loving you has made me' clean? It's the straight goods, honest! [Then as he does't reply' bitterly.] Like hell you will! You're like all the rest!
[ T-blog ]

Natasha & Liam Neeson talking about Eugene O'Neill


1958 movie [trailer]


eOneill.com -- "The play is reminiscent of the circumstances of the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus, and in Abbie’s murder of the child, the dim outline of Euripides’ Medea appears... " [ The Greeks ]

"If tragedy is in any way ritualistic or if its enactments are to be purgative in any sense, the narrative must be a matter of important public concern. Sociological or political theories wrought into tragic stories are insufficient to provide more than the show of ritual. Great tragedy bespeaks the most profound psychological needs of the culture which produces it. The mythic qualities of the Oresteia or of Oedipus reflect qualities of Greek life which analysis more profound than that of history must reveal. These dramas are responses to myth, assuming its qualities and its relation to the central needs of the culture which cherished them. In their characters, language and action they give articulate form to the submerged communal desires of a people, and thus bring it to a level of popular awareness, provocative of passion and purgation. In search of such awareness, O’Neill reached back in time to mythic circumstances derived from an earlier culture and reshaped them to the basic story of human desire and its aftermath he narrated for modern America. In this way, he formed a story in a typical tragic pattern: his characters follow a course of sin and find redemption in recognition of error and the assumption of responsibility. Yet he did not do so in an attempt to be “Greek.” The pattern is reformed and domesticated, ultimately assumed as O’Neill’s own, and told for the sake of his own time. "