Today’s post is about Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night! Warnings for drug and alcohol abuse, references, and representation. You’ll like this play if you like psychological workings, family drama, or Irish-American history.
Plot: A family of a cheapskate father, a morphine-addicted mother, a drunkard older brother, and a younger brother dying of tuberculosis attempt to deny and justify their failings.
Initial reaction: I’ve heard this is the pinnacle of American theatre, so I’ve been meaning to read this play for a long time. It was a captivating read, mostly because there were many themes both I recognized (the symbolism of the fog, the profession of the actor, the importance of Catholicism for the Irish-American family) and I did not recognize (rhematism, the mother’s addiction, the importance of electricity). For me, the most interesting character was Mary, the mother, who literally would react as if she had not heard the things she did not like. Maybe it’s because I have known such people, but it really hit home.
Itty bitty Research: My research for this play were mostly words that I did not recognize. One of the most interesting finds was “plutocrat,” which is an oligarchy political system whereby the wealthy rule (24). Considering so much of the play focuses on James Tyrone’s wealth, which he cheapens, I was not surprised to see this word used in context. I’m a little intrigued why this word fell out of fashion, since I think the current state of the USA would agree that we are ruled by a plutocracy.
Another interesting note of research was the reference to Jamie’s “aquiline nose” (19). This nose is often called the Roman Nose, and it’s associated with intelligence, strength, and nobility. It’s also associated, therefore, with whiteness, in contrast to flat noses characteristic (though not scientifically proven to be associated with) racial minorities such as Africans and Asians. Race plays an interesting part of the play, given that it focuses on an Irish-American play where the “Irish-ness” plays a crucial role in the formation of James’ and the family’s identities. I’d briefly considered how this play might appear on stage with black Irish-Americans – or any other racial minority, which I still believe could be done – and it’s interesting how ethnicity and racialism still have a vitality in this play.
Finally, I decided to focus my research efforts on Mary. She was the most complex character to me and, not knowing a morphine-addicted person, I had a hard time figuring out what drug she could be addicted to, and I was delighted at many of her poignant lines, which I consider some of the best in the play. Her rheumatic nervous twitch was easy to relate to, in my case, so I wanted to focus on that.
The featured picture of this post is an extreme case of rheumatic hands, similar to what Mary may have. Rheumatism in the hands is commonly conflated with arthritis, but arthritis is merely an umbrella term for various kinds of join inflammation. Rheumatism is now considered an archaic term in the medical field, now favored by “rheumatic arthritis,” which encompasses pain, fatigue, and inflation in a local area of joints on both sides of the body, as well as affecting the immune system. This seems likely for Mary, given that she talks about laying down and not eating a lot, addressing potential fatigue and a failing immune system, and both of her hands have swollen knuckles. It’s interesting to note the relationship of new medicine (rheumatism diagnosis) and Victorian medicine (the prescription of opium or, in this case, morphine). It certainly seems that in some ways, this family cannot escape the past, and Mary’s hands and the way she addresses her treatment is certainly a means of that. The history of medicine in context is certainly not something I’m an expert on, but it’s something I would certainly be interested in researching in the future.
Works Cited: O’Neill, Eugene. Long Day’s Journey Into Night. New Haven and London: Yale Nota Bene, 1956. Print.