Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey into Night deals with tragedy and its attendant focus on character rather than plot. Another emphasis on the play is on the past that ceases to haunt his characters. O’Neill’s characters of A Long Day’s Journey into Night struggle with the past. These characters all seem to agree with Mary Tyrone who claims that a person “can’t help being what the past made him” (Baym 1313). The fact that a character can struggle with his or her past suggests that the past is something open to question, changeable, and perhaps even unknowable. Patricia Schroeder says “The past as it invades the present or as individual characters interpret it had little currency on the formally realistic stage” (Schroeder 30). O’Neill’s characters of A Long Day’s Journey into Night reveal the ongoing past gradually and continuously throughout the play. As one reads the play, he or she can see O’Neill deal with his own past through these characters.
For Eugene O’Neill, there is only one real subject for drama: The subject here is the same ancient one that always and always will be the one subject for drama, and that is man’s struggle with his own fate. The struggle used to be with the gods, but it is now with himself, his own past. Implicit in this statement are a number of O’Neill’s fundamental principles in this play and his own life. O’Neill embeds principles of Greek tragedy within a naturalistic play and so fully realizes his lifelong goal of dramatizing “man and this struggle with … himself, his own past” (Schroeder 30). In this play it is, indeed, the “struggle” to understand the formative past that s...
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...less present of the Tyrones”. “O’Neill not only challenged the distinction between the past and present, he also broke down the barrier between stage and spectator that had been erected along with the proscenium arch”.
The man’s struggle with self, fate and the past is a common theme among many modernist writers. Through O’Neill’s experimentation of eliciting an emotional response through his realistic settings and characters, we learn more about the “common man.” We all struggle with our pasts and our place in this world. At least through works like A Long Day’s Journey into Night we know that we are not alone in having a “dysfunctional” family with problems and conflicts. We all have problems, struggles and fears. These elements are just a part of life. Life is taking our past and learning from it so that we can live our present and prepare for a future.
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