The Eugene O’Neill Season: Family Affairs O’Neill was America’s Nobel laureate in Literature. His plays are among the first to introduce into American drama the techniques of realism, associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg. His plays were among the first to include speeches in American vernacular and involve characters on the fringes of society, where they struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations.
Desire Under the Elms
The setting is 1850′s New England. Widower Ephraim Cabot abandons his farm to his three sons. Eben, the youngest and brightest sibling, feels the farm is his birthright, as it originally belonged to his mother. He buys out his half-brothers’ shares of the farm with money stolen from his father, and Peter and Simeon head off to California to seek their fortune. Later, Ephraim returns with a new wife, the beautiful and headstrong Abbie, who enters into an adulterous affair with Eben. Soon after, Abbie bears Eben’s child, but lets Ephraim believe that the child is his, in the hopes of securing her future with the farm. The proud Ephraim is oblivious as his neighbors openly mock him as a cuckold. Abbie has fallen madly in love with Eben and becomes fearful it would become an obstacle to their relationship, Abbie commits a terrible crime. An enraged and distraught Eben turns Abbie over to the sheriff, but not before admitting to himself his responsibility.
Now I Ask You
"Now I Ask You" is one of the few comedies from O’Neill. It is essentially a farce stemming from America’s "cultured" youth being fascinating by the latest (1916) intellectual fads. The play is light-hearted farce taking on free love, female independence, "modern" art, Nietzsche.. anything in opposition to the bourgeois lives of the well-to-do. Lucy is the product of such a life. She marries Tom under an agreement that they have no children (for sociological reasons). She is preoccupied with Strindberg’s Hedda Gabler, a huge hit of the time. Her friends are her prototype of bohemian living, Leonora (a painter) and Gabriel (a poet). The journey of the play is Lucy’s realization that all is not how it seems. The play was also the product of O’Neill’s wife, Agnes Boulton, a successful commercial writer.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is considered to be O’Neill’s masterwork, earning the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. The action covers a fateful, heart-rending day from around 8:30 am to midnight, in August 1912 at the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones – the 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. They all constantly conceal, blame, resent, regret, accuse and deny in an escalating cycle of conflict with occasional desperate and half-sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation.