The Concept of Time in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night

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The Concept of Time in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus said in his theory of the Universal Flux that "everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed. You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go ever flowing on... Time is a child moving counters in a game." (Allen 103)

And so it is with the characters in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. Time is little more than a game in which they move as checkers, if not pawns. In their repetitions and habits, the family seems to be stepping towards the same river again and again; but each time, the step falls into a different stream. In its seeming droning inaction, the play moves sharply and excruciatingly through eternities.

Long Day's Journey Into Night, is unique in that it has no plot, no action, and yet is a complete story. Stephen Whicher comments that, "It austerely ignores every means, including action, by which the usual play interests an audience... (But) Long Day's Journey Into Night describes the more normal events of daily life...having explored the dark night of the human soul." (Austen 57)

But even, and especially, in its timelessness, the play circumscribes and explains time in three major ways. First, either through dreams--the epitome of timelessness--or the bitter mystical musings of the drug-addicted Mary Tyrone. Second, its treatments of

a past when things were better, or, paradoxically, infinitely worse. Finally, there is the vision of the future along with the denial of the present: the hope that

things will change, for good or bad; and in some cases the bizarre fatalism that things will never, and can n...

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...eir dull and scratchy past. Only Edmund holds hope, is clear-headed. He remembers of good will pull the future through.

Works Cited

Allen, David E., ed. Quotable Quotes. New York: Bantam, 1986: 103.

Austen, Eric, ed. Essays On American Playwrights. Detroit: Gale, 1983: 56-64.

Goldberg, Nathan. "O'Neill's Journey Into Time." 6 Mar. 1991. Online posting: 3.

Grines, John. "An Interpretation of An Author." 11 May 1994. Online posting: 1-6.

O'Neill, Eugene. Long Day's Journey Into Night. New Haven: Yale University Press,


Smits, Jacob. "The Future in A Long Day's Journey." 3 Jan. 1995. Online posting: 1-4.

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