Essay: Symbolism in the Hairy Ape

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SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] Yank is saddened by his station in life.

In New York on Easter Sunday, we see Yank filthy, depressed and stumbling up Fifth Avenue insulting every aristocrat he encounters. They all politely ignore him. Yank's self-confidence been shaken and he is obsessed with the idea that he does not belong. He wants revenge. He is consumed with fear and horror. "I ain't got no past to tink on, nor nothing dat's comin on'y what's' now and dat don't belong & #8230; I ain't no earth and I ain't in heaven, get me? I'm in de middle takin' all de worst punches from bot? Of 'em. (The Hairy Ape, page 258.). His verbal assault on the wealthy symbolizes his frustration and resentment.

Arrested for disrupting the peace, he is sent to Blackwell's Island, where the prisoners advise him to join the I.W.W. Like the stokers, the prisoners are mere nameless voices allowing the reader to concentrate on the obsession of Yank and his deteriorating state of mind. Yank soon realizes that the I.W.W. is not where he belongs either. His frustration is spiritual and not physical. The comment being made here is that the spirit is often ignored in the modern mechanized age. Man can find himself degraded and dehumanized because of advancements in technology and industry. The Hairy Ape has a central theme: humanity's frustrated search for identity in a hostile environment.

In the last scene of the play, we see Yank rejected by the labor organization and entering the local zoo to see the ape in the cage, the only creature with which he can now feel kinship. This fully illustrates Yank's tortured personality. He calls the gorilla a brother and thinks that they both belong to the same club, the club of the hairy apes. He is no longer capable of any reasoning or rational thought and is operating with a mind that is completely off balance. The gorilla, he reasons, at least belongs to nature, but Yank does not belong even to that beautiful world. He states: "Sure you're de best off! You can't tink. Can yuh? Yuh can't talk neider & #8230; But you, yuhre at de bottom. You belong! Sure! Yuhre de on'y one in de world dat does, yuh lucky stiff! And dat's why dey gother put yuh in a cage. See?" (The Hairy Ape, page 258.)

Yank belongs to the world of man and sadly, has been rejected by it. He lets the gorilla out of the cage (revenge) and shakes hands with it. The gorilla ends up crushing him to death, and as he dies Yank mumbles in deep anguish, "Even him did not think I belonged. Crist, where do I get off at? Where do I fit in?"(The Hairy Ape, 261). The symbolism in the ape's killing of Yank is that of alienation and isolation -- the ultimate fate of all men in the modern industrialized and urbanized society. Yank dies without achieving the sense of belonging that he has so desperately sought.

Reference

Cardullo, Robert. "O'Neil's The Hairy Ape." Explicator 68.4 (2010): 258-260. Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

O'Neil, Eugene. The Hairy Ape: A Comedy of Ancient and Modern Life in Eight Scenes.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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