Term Paper: Eugene O'neill Long Days Journey

Pages: 10 (2712 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Williams takes the standpoint that life is not a static condition, and O'Neill successfully captures this idealism. The extend to which this idea is "haunting" however is left at best to interpretation.

J. Robinson

James Robinson's (1982) examination of Long Day's Journey into Night is completely different from the majority of other studies conducted. Rather than merely explore the negativity and despair of man's plight so many other author's attempt to comment on, Robinson attempts to compare the "dynamic polarities that correspond to the ideas of Taoism" (Robinson, 1982:8). Robinson, as many classical criticisms attempt, suggests that man's hopes and beliefs are addressed in the work, but compares them with a "veil of maya that obscures the void at the center of reality" (p.8). He supports this by discussing the characters that seek peace in passive transcendence of the "desires and struggles of existence" (Robinson, 1982:9).

Robinson further attempts to argue that O'Neill attempts to embrace Oriental approaches to reality. Robinson suggests that O'Neill in his work Long Day's Journey into Night is attempting to view "man and nature as one, to move beyond the separate self, and to reconcile dualistic oppositions" so that a unified connection can be accomplished (Robinson, 1982:9). Robinson supports his argument by claiming that science, art and religions of America all attempt to answer the questions that O'Neill posed in his work regarding the "inscrutable forces behind life." Robinson further suggests that many turn to Buddhism. Robinson feels that O'Neill also turns to Oriental thought to conquer his inner torments.

The features of Taoism that are represented in O'Neill's work according to Robinson are those which focus on the mystical unity of man and spirit in a world that is constantly changing, the idea of a passive resignation to destiny and the suspicion that what man perceives as true is only an illusion (Robinson, 1982:30). Supporting this argument Robinson suggests that O'Neill struggle din life similarly to unite his life and work, and these struggles come out in his play Long Day's Journey into Night.

Robinson's argument is interesting because it takes a completely different approach from that of other critics. Robinson fails however, in a large part of his work to support his claims with actual text from O'Neill's play. His arguments are easily perceived as logical to anyone that has read O'Neill's work, yet Robinson fails to present textual arguments for inexperienced readers. Thus, one not familiar with the work might be left wondering what Robinson is referring to. That said, Robinson does do a good job of describing the philosophies and ideologies of Taoism and similar Eastern style religions. Robinson wants to claim that O'Neill's work is a reflection of his "own inner conflict between Western and Oriental approaches" but fails to support this with examples.

Robinson does attempt to discuss the mysticism that O'Neill might have encountered during childhood, but fails to adequately describe O'Neill's childhood so that the reader might make his/her own conclusions regarding his fate. Robinson argument however is supported by other critics, including Liu and Swortzell (1992) who point out that O'Neill attempted to investigate the mysticism of the East, and that his play subconsciously adopts many of the principles of Taoism (p.4).

E.L. Shaughnessy

Eugene O'Neill recognized during his life that he was no more responsible for his destiny, birth and circumstance than any other man, a concept supported by Edward Shaughnessy (1988). Shaughnessy examines O'Neill from the perspective of his life, and evaluates Long Day's Journey into Night as a correlation to O'Neill's actual experiences. "What blame could be placed on his father for leaving Ireland, a child taken away by his parents" explains Shaughnessy regarding O'Neill's depiction of James Tyrone. He remarks that O'Neill loved "the sorrowing Mother" and attempted to "keep the candle burning in his soul for the alma matter" (Shaughnessy, 1988:6).

Shaughnessy suggests that some of the verbiage used in the play, such as the lines "I got rid of an Irish brogue you could cut with a knife" were in fact likely lines that O'Neill himself heard many times as a child (Shaughnessy, 1988:6). Shaughnessy supports the premise that Long Day's Journey follows O'Neill's life by discussing similarities between James, who suffers a "lifetime of ambivalence" for choices he made and for hating himself for betraying his loyalties to the "the class that had cast a shadow across his earlier years in America" (p.7) and O'Neill.

O'Neill grew up and wrote his play during a time when immigrants coming to America often suffered many hardships and as Shaughnessy points out, were told many romanticized legends about the old land, causing a sense of bittersweet sadness among many children of immigrants, including O'Neill.

John Henry Raleigh (1959) supports Shaughnessy in his notion that Long Day's Journey into night is fundamentally an autobiographical study. Shaughnessy suggests that anyone familiar with O'Neill's life will realize his play is a tale of his life's history. These claims are well documented through his literary criticism. Atkinson (1974) also supports Shaughnessy's premises by detailing the Irish-American existence and experiences O'Neill partook of in his early and former years.


There are many ways to interpret O'Neill's dramatic work "Long Day's Journey Into Night." The critics examined all make important statements regarding O'Neill's literary influences and intention. There is strong supporting evidence from authors such as Atkinson and Shaughnessy suggesting that Long Day's Journey as well as O'Neill's subsequent plays were autobiographical in nature, at least to the extent that they depicted the hardships American's faced growing up in a changing society.

O'Neill's work has also been interpreted above as dark and haunting. There is also evidence to support this frame of reference. Simply by reading the work one gets the feeling that the characters are struggling with influences that are at best, just beyond their control to manipulate.

Perhaps the most interesting interpretation comes from Robinson, who claims that O'Neill sought to follow or examine Taoist principles in his work. Surprisingly this premise is supported by other critics, including Liu and Swortzell. Though Robinsons uses few selected textual citations to prove his theories, the work of other critics seems adequate enough to support the notion that Taoist principles may have been present in the dramatic work. Whether or not this was intentional is a matter of opinion.

Long Day's Journey, much like other dramatic works of its time, attempts to portray the struggles and hardships that every day people faced in early American times. The work much like that of other authors entails examination of intense emotion, despair and the nature of the human condition.


Atkinson, Jennifer McCabe. "Eugene O'Neill: A Descriptive Bibliography." Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974

Bloom, H. "Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night." Chelsea House, Philadelphia. 1987.

Liu, Haiping; Swortzell, Lowell. "Eugene O'Neill in China: An International Centenary Celebration." New York: Greenwood Press, 1992

Pfister, Joel. "Staging Depth: Eugene O'Neill and the Politics of Psychological Discourse." Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Raleigh, J.H. "The Plays of Eugene O'Neill." Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1965

Robinson, James A. "Eugene O'Neill and Oriental Thought: A Divided Vision." Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale: 1982.

Shaughnessy, E.L. "Eugene O'Neill in Ireland: The Critical Reception."… [END OF PREVIEW]

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